Many of us, in recovery and outside of it, have family members and friends who also suffer from substance use disorder. It’s never easy to discover a loved one is going through this difficulty, and it brings a lot of heartache to families and friends who often find themselves confused and scared about what to do. Those of us who are already in recovery and know that it is a unique and difficult journey might have some advantage because we’ve been there ourselves and have some ideas as to what’s helpful when helping a “newcomer.” But, at the same time, just because we have that knowledge it doesn’t make it any easier emotionally and otherwise to deal with a person who is active in their addiction.
I’ve had some experience with being on the other side of the fence, and it’s helped me knowing what I knew (about recovery) when I was summoned to help. I was able to direct the person in active addiction toward safety (getting them to stabilize in a hospital setting, first), and. having experienced a variety of recovery groups and what has worked for me and what was harmful, I’ve been able to offer some helpful advice in terms of where to go to sustain sobriety.
If you, however, are brand-new to this kind of heartbreaking challenge, I encourage you to educate yourself – arm yourself with knowledge so you what you’re talking about. At the very least, the person you’re trying to help will stand a good chance of surviving relatively unscathed (and maybe even improving). The fact that you want to and/or that you’ve been enlisted to help is a major step in improving the situation, and you’re on the right track. And don’t despair—you don’t have to be alone in handling all the drama.
I’m mentioning YOU because, although you might not be the one who’s using, you still need to take great care of yourself and your needs in order to be able to be helpful. Use the good, old analogy of an oxygen mask on the plane—where you’re asked to put it on yourself first before you try to help your fellow passenger.
In the field of addiction, it is my dream to eventually have firmly established services and communities that are trained in how to aid those who need help, but also aid those who are helping. Taking care of a person active in addiction is an exhausting and a challenging journey—one that will guarantee you a few too many sleepless nights and anxiety that might even lead to trauma if not addressed properly and preventatively. So instead of looking at yourself as a savior to your loved one, see yourself as the savior to yourself and your loved one. According to experts , family and friends of someone with addiction (and other mental-health issues) need to be proactive as opposed to reactive: ask questions, seek resources for yourself too. The focus on self-care for caregivers might mean one-on-one therapy, attending group meetings, or both. For the AA-inclined, this might mean attending Alanon meetings (I go to those, too). For others, it might mean going to a group for family and friends of people with substance use disorder—do some research and see what’s available through your local hospital or a community center.
The idea is for you to connect with people who live with someone who’s unwell and share not only strategies on coping, but also the sort of frustrations you might feel. Saving someone with addiction shouldn’t be done in a vacuum—it can be and should be a group effort.
When you get to the point when you’re ready to help your person, when some of the dust has settled, do remember to talk to the medical professional (the therapist) involved in the process and ask for all the resources you can get. Your loved one needs help and you need help—use everything that’s out there! Addiction is the syndrome of disconnect and logically, it’s the human connections that help to overcome it. We are much stronger as a multitude than we are as single combatants.
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