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7 Things You Should Know to Better Understand a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

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Finding out that a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drugs can be heartbreaking. While you may feel angry, confused, or hurt by the news, it’s important to tell yourself that this person battling addiction needs your support, not your judgement right now.

There is enough stigma surrounding drug or alcohol addiction. Part of the problem is that people don’t understand how addiction works, which can, unfortunately, end up isolating the person who is suffering from it.

You can learn more about substance abuse and addiction by looking for a programme or an addiction information service to explore and learn more about the specific type of addiction and experience. An addiction information service can also help you discover the right treatment options for the person.

Indeed, it is important to help your loved one as they tread the path to recovery. Here are just some of the things you should know so you can give them the support they need:

Addiction is a disorder

Similar to mental health disorders, drug and alcohol addiction can have specific behaviour patterns and is considered a physical disease. While we cannot hold them responsible for their illness, they are still responsible for their life in recovery.

An affected person may lie, cheat, or steal to get more alcohol or drugs. While this can be very difficult for you to accept, it is an illness, and people who tell you ending an addiction is easy are very much mistaken.

The risk of addiction varies from person to person

There are some people more prone to developing addiction and some less. Several factors can play a part in this:

  • Family history of alcohol and/or drug abuse
  • Genetics
  • Other mental health issues (e.g., PTSD or depression)
  • Early use of alcohol or drugs
  • Physical disabilities
  • Chronic pain
  • Traumatic experiences (in childhood or adulthood)

It’s crucial not to make a person struggling with addiction feel looked down on. Similar to navigating a boat through a stormy night, you need to focus on the long-term goal, which is getting your loved one into recovery.

Your loved one will need treatment, different levels of support, and new coping skills to overcome the substance abuse problem. 

Recovery can be a lifelong process

Expect challenges along the way while supporting your loved one. Don’t get too disheartened with every relapse; this doesn’t mean you should give up. It can be a sign that changes are needed to the treatment or approach.

Consider other possible factors as well, such as the people you surround yourself with or the environment. In such events, you need to stay positive and keep moving forward, taking steps with your loved one to help them get to a healthy place.

Addiction changes how the brain works

Drugs such as opioids can cause a physical change that leads the body to crave more of the substance. In fact, the body can even ‘protest’ when the substance is taken away, which can sometimes lead to physical cravings that are literally painful for the person with the addiction.

These withdrawals can occur with any drug. Often, the best approach is to admit your loved one to a detox programme so they can safely flush out the drug out of their system and start treatments.

Willpower is a myth

One of the common misconceptions about drug addiction is that the affected person is able to ‘will’ themselves to stop. This isn’t the case.

They can’t simply stop any more than a person with heart disease can ‘will’ themselves to perfect health. Treatment is needed, and your loved one needs recovery for his mind, body, and spirit. In fact, many people with a substance abuse problem want to stop but can’t do so on their own.

They need professional help

You may be tempted to help your loved one who is struggling with drugs or alcohol use disorder by covering up their addiction. Everyone wants to believe the best of those they care about, but making excuses for them or hiding the problem won’t help them overcome the addiction.

While it may be difficult for everyone, including friends and relatives, to face the truth of the addiction, it needs to be addressed.

They may be fighting a battle you can’t see

Substance abuse disorder can be accompanied by depression, suicidal tendencies, or abusive and dangerous behavior. Your loved one could be struggling more than they show, and it’s important to know how to choose the right moment to discuss the problem.

In some cases, it’s better to discuss it with your loved one in a group setting so they understand that the problem is something that others have seen.

Don’t turn a blind eye to the problem

Your loved one’s addiction is treatable, no matter how much they may get high or drunk. However, addiction is more than just a drinking problem and drug abuse is difficult to overcome alone, so make sure to seek professional help by reaching out to the right programs and treatment centres.


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Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.


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