My Friend Needs Help: How to Help A Loved One With A Drug or An Alcohol Addiction

I remember the first time I felt replaced.

As an eight-year-old, my best friend Tommy and I shared a love for the game of soccer. Warm summer days were spent outside together kicking the soccer ball into a net again and again— we would play tirelessly for hours. As our twelfth birthdays rolled around, so did tryouts for the premier travel soccer team. We both tried out, but only Tommy made the team. I can remember hearing the news and being crushed. I didn’t see Tommy much that year, only when he could fit me into his schedule—but it wasn’t the same. Tommy became popular, athletic, and made new friends.

The next year I tried out again and made the team, but Tommy’s family moved to the next town over and our friendship became a rivalry. I was replaced by soccer and popularity.

Have You Been Replaced?

Do you feel that you’ve been replaced by drugs or alcohol, or both?

Often when a friend or loved one becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, their addiction becomes their life. They obsess over where the next pill, bag of powder, or drink will come from; and insecurity controls their existence.

Addicts can become physical and/or psychologically dependent on drugs or alcohol, and are many times forced to function based on how accessible their substance of choice is.

No matter the necessary sacrifice or cost, addicts find ways to encourage their addiction. And many times, addictions are accomplished at the expense of a friend or loved one, child or spouse.

Relationships are torn down, as the addiction is intensified.

Maybe you know someone who you think may be in the early stages of addiction, or possibly you’re watching a friend or loved one fade into a lifestyle controlled by drugs or alcohol.

Whatever your situation, you need to understand that there is hope for your friend, and you can help.

If you know someone who struggles, or may be struggling with an addiction, it’s important that you know the answers to the following questions:

What Can I Do? Understand

First of all, you can understand the addict and his addiction—or at least try to.

Understanding their ADDICTION:

You have to face the harsh facts of addiction. If you’re attempting to deal with an addict, or someone who you think may be addicted, and you haven’t fully investigated his addiction, or alleged addiction, you’ve already made a mistake. When you want to help, you have to know what you’re helping—you’re dealing with a disease. 

Hundreds of books and countless studies have been published to help understand addiction. Many easily accessible websites give practical and insightful information that can help you develop a better understanding of addiction. The resources are available, you must be willing to dedicate yourself towards understanding the addiction—it will take time, but you can do it. 

Understanding the ADDICT: 

Not only do you need to know what you’re helping, but you must also understand who you’re helping. And understanding the addict—his emotions, feelings, thoughts and attitude—isn’t easy. 

How does a loved one become a lost one when all that hides them from you is a pill, some white powder or a bottle? This is difficult to understand, but there are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with an addict: 

  • Addicts often feel alone in their addiction: The difficulty here comes when addicts refuse to believe that anyone can understand what they are going through. This mindset of isolation results in an ostracized mentality, and can easily develop into depression and other psychological disorders.  
  • Addicts often hate themselves: Well, really they love themselves, but because that love resulted in addiction and lead to a miserable lifestyle, addicts equate their misery with hate—and they hate their lifestyle.
  • The ultimate goal for an addict is satisfaction: Satisfaction is the goal of every addiction, but satisfaction can never be maintained through drugs or alcohol. When substances lose their appeal, doses are increased, and addictions are intensified—it’s a vicious cycle that spirals towards desolation and ultimately death.
  • Often, addicts are at the point of giving up: Sometimes, addicts have simply surrendered—they have given up on will-power and responsibility, and have simply accepted that drugs, alcohol, or both will continue to control their life.

A Real-Life Scenario
 

John has told you he only drinks socially, but for the last couple months you’ve noticed a trend: he occasionally comes home a little “woozy,” and he seems annoyed when you talk to him about his drinking. Sometimes he makes excuses about his drinking habits and promises he’ll never drink again, but continues to drink. You love John, and hate to watch the effects of alcohol on him.

Based on the steps above, what can you do in this situation?

  • Typically, the first step would be to do some research and investigate alcohol addiction. You should know the general concepts of the biology, the physical and psychological effects, the symptoms, and the difficulties involved with alcohol addiction. Keep in mind as you study, that you’re dealing with a disease, not simply an emotion.
  • Next, you can try and understand the addict as best you can. Place yourself in his shoes—struggling with the same issues, and dealing with the same ostracized mentality that he is—this is difficult to do. Watch the addict. What does he talk about? Where does he usually drink? Why do you think he drinks? Trying to answer these questions will help you understand the addict better.

What Should I Do? Love and Intervene

After developing an understanding of the addict and his condition, there are several things you should do.

  • You should love them unconditionally.
  • You should intervene properly. 

Love them UNCONDITIONALLY… but CAREFULLY!

Love is a key that can unlock one of two doors. Love can unlock the door of addiction and help provide a way of escape for the addict. But love can also unlock a door of enablement—a door that indirectly encourages addiction and ultimately emboldens the addict to pursue his obsession. 

Don’t get me wrong, you have to love them unconditionally, but it needs to be a carefully thought-out unconditional love. Misapplied unconditional love can backfire.

  • Often it starts out small and your loved one or friend begins showing signs of addiction. Instead of asking questions and dealing with the issue immediately, you chose to take the easy road and respond with forgiveness. Forgiveness is easy at first, but as the addiction intensifies, there becomes an absence of logic in your forgiveness.
  • As their addiction develops, and they are getter sicker, you try harder and begin making attempts to “help” the addict. But your help is met with excuses and lies. Care is naturally responded to with respect, and when an addict respects you for caring for him, he doesn’t want to disappoint you, as a result—he lies.
  • When addiction is accepted and met with care, support, and even money the addict has no real motivation to change—so he doesn’t. 
  • A viscous cycle of fabricated cover-up stories that you respond to with optimistic and determined forgiveness is the result of this improper love. 

The opposite can happen too: you don’t forgive, and instead get mad at the addict. Interestingly, love often leads to anger.

When you lovingly pour your life into someone, you expect change; and when nothing results from your hard work, it’s maddening. Often when you try and help and you don’t see any progress, frustration quickly sets in, and you blow your top.

Basic things to keep in mind when trying to properly love an addict:

  • Don’t change who you are to deal with your loved one’s addiction. When you try and help an addict at your own expense, you’ll end up feeling responsible for his mistakes.
  • Remember, the problem isn’t you. The problem isn’t your loved one. The problem is the disease.
  • You can’t directly change anyone, but you can change the way you deal with someone.
  • Don’t lose sight of the big picture. It’s easy to focus on a solving a single issue in your relationship with the addict forgetting about the big picture.
  • A quick and easy fix to addiction is an illusion. Recovery takes time; and you have to remember this when helping an addict—be patient!
  • And remember—there’s always hope for sobriety.

What's the difference between the right and wrong kind of love for my addict? 

Wrong Right
Often you don’t realize your loved one is addicted. As a result of your ignorance, you allow them to maintain their addiction by forgiving again and again. And your optimistic hope that the addiction will just stop is unrealistic. Don’t use your uncertainty as an excuse. If you’re unsure that your loved one is addicted, be very careful not to ignore problems and signs of addiction. Don’t simply forgive and allow obvious signs to slip by you like water off a duck’s back.  Rather, use your knowledge of the addiction to your advantage, and responsibly love the potential addict.
You know your loved one is an addict. He has told you countless times he’ll never return to the bottle or drug again, but he always does. You try to help, but nothing works so you blow up at the addict, and let him have it. You know your loved one is an addict and he’s told you again and again he’ll never return to the bottle or drug again, but he always does. You respond to his consistent lying with a structured set of rules and punishments, and you begin to plan an intervention.

Intervene Properly 

Before we briefly discuss the principles of a proper intervention, there are a few things you must understand about the concept of denial: that intangible thing keeping the addict on the road of addiction.

  • Addicts are masters of misdirection. They love to shift responsibility, and by doing this they find ways to justify their addiction.
  • Denial disallows opportunity. When you ignore the elephant in the room, the elephant will stay in the room. When you ignore addiction, you can’t recover.
  • Addicts in denial don’t want to face the facts. As I said before, you have a responsibility to face the facts of your loved one’s addiction. The addict will often minimize the consequences and facts of the situation, this mentality results in a refusal to acknowledge the issue.
  • Because of denial, addicts often don’t understand what their addiction is doing to them.

So let’s briefly review. By now you understand that you can help by understanding the addict and his addiction, and that you should help by loving the addict unconditionally. These principles are both necessary for proper intervention. 

Intervention: Basic Principles To Follow

  • Diagnose properly, and this goes hand in hand with understanding the addict and his addiction. If you don’t diagnose the addict’s condition properly, intervention becomes far more difficult.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan and Plan! The prerequisite to an effective intervention is good planning. Investigate, get family and friends together, invite close friends to join you in the intervention, and develop a detailed plan.
  • Don’t forget to communicate with genuine love and care. Don’t let your intervention turn into a yelling match. Don’t win the battle and lose the war. Be careful not to let yourself get angry during an intervention.
  • Intervention isn’t confrontation; it’s a well-organized expression of sincere concern for someone that is diseased with a chronic illness. 

Addicts are unlikely to seek treatment on their own. And because interventions work 80% of the time, and cause the addict to consider his addiction on a deeper level 100% of the time, they are an effective and often a necessary push for the addict to seek professional treatment.

Is it Necessary that I Do Anything?

Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Should I try to help in the first place?

Only help an addict if you can help them. This may seem obvious, but many people have been frustrated because of failed attempts at helping and loving addicts.

I would argue though, that anyone can learn to help an addict by understanding him and properly loving him. You have a responsibility towards your friend or loved one to help, and this can be accomplished in a number of different ways:

  • Unconditionally love the addict.
  • Learn and understand the addiction as best you can.
  • Talk to the addict (he’s still a human being).
  • Intervene lovingly.

But ultimately you should help them by showing them the need to seek help for themselves at a rehab center.