A common misconception surrounding the topic of substance abuse is that the person who is doing the abusing is the only one who suffers. The truth: watching a family member or friend abuse substances is incredibly difficult. Feeling powerless comes with the territory.
The best, and sometimes only, thing you can do is support them in whatever way you can.
Whether that support is in the form of arranging alcohol counselling, a rehabilitation program or even just lending an ear to listen or shoulder to cry on is up to you.
Supporting Someone Who is Abusing Substances
Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse or addiction, is when a person uses a substance, either legal or illegal, excessively or without medical justification.
Substance abuse can be experienced by anyone regardless of their race, age, background, level of education or financial situation.
There are different ways that you can support someone who abuses substances. Today we’re discussing eight of these ways.
Understand That it’s a Disease
Addiction is a complex condition that can be extremely difficult to understand. One of the first steps of supporting someone going through this is by understanding that it’s not a choice, the result of moral failings or weak will, but a disease.
There are many reasons why people turn to substances. This ranges from peer pressure to curiosity and a bad home life to pressure at school or work.
With the online resources available today, information is literally a click away. Research the substance that your loved one is abusing and familiarise yourself with its effects & side effects.
Firstly, this can provide some insight as to why your loved one began using, and eventually abusing, this substance. Secondly, on a less positive note, learning about this substance will allow you to easily identify the symptoms and telltale signs that it is being used again.
Common symptoms of substance abuse include:
- Bloodshot eyes or pupils either larger or smaller than usual
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Deterioration of personal grooming habits
- Slurred speech
- Increased irritability, mood swings or unwarranted outbursts
- Change in personality or attitude
- Change in friends, hobbies or places they ‘hang out’ at
Help Them Help Themselves
Arguably one of the most frustrating aspects of supporting someone who abuses substances is that you cannot force someone to get better.
Sometimes, especially when dealing with adults, all you can do is encourage them to get the help and treatment needed.
Provide information about different treatment options or rehabilitation facilities in your area. These are dependent on the substance that is being abused, the severity of the abuse & if any long-term consequences are already in play.
Some of these options include:
- Alcohol counselling
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy
- Experiential therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- In-patient rehabilitation centres
- Out-patient rehabilitation centres
- Residential treatment
- Recovery housing or sober living homes
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
Help Yourself While You’re at It
Supporting someone who abuses substances can take its toll on you. It’s important that you too seek help if you need it.
By seeing a professional you will be able to better understand why the abuse started and possibly even get advice on additional ways you can support them.
Work Their Recovery with Them
If you’re a user of the substance they abuse, one of the best ways you can show your support is by giving it up while they’re in the early stages of their recovery. Firstly you will experience the benefits of not using this substance. Secondly, you’re also removing possible temptation and showing solidarity, making this journey a little bit easier for them.
Be There for Them
While it’s obviously important that the person participates in a proper rehabilitation program sometimes they’ll feel the need to talk to you. You don’t need to be a therapist to listen but be sure to alert the relevant people if your friend or family members tells you something of concern.
Focus on the Future
Often people who abuse substances have done things in their time of active abuse that they’re not proud of. They can feel wracked with guilt and self-loathing.
It’s important for you to remind them that all the things they’re feeling are from things that have happened in the past. Help them to look forward to their future.
Recovery isn’t a destination but rather a journey. And, most of the time, that journey is a family affair. People are not ‘healed’ overnight, nor do they get better immediately after treatment.
The side effects from substance abuse can continue long after you abstain from using the substance and, for some people, can last a lifetime.
You need to be prepared to support them for a long period of time, if not the rest of their life.