Help for families of drug addicts – How to help a drug addict

Want to effectively help a drug addict in your life? There are two things you NEED to know. Learn how to identify stages of recovery from addiction and then choose what to do next. More on help for families of drug addicts here.

minute read

How can I help the drug addict in my life?

Knowing the right thing to do depending on the loved one’s stage of recovery from addiction is the first step.  Learning how to do it in the right way is the next.

1. Know the stages of addiction recovery

Distinguishing between a needy person and a person  in-need is the first step in effectively helping a loved one in recovery.  A needy person is caught up in compulsive behaviors like substance abuse, and no matter how much you give her, she will always need more.  She is the proverbial black hole into which all light, energy, advice, and money disappears never to be seen again.  A person in-need, on the other hand, has acknowledged and addressed the underlying causes of the compulsive behavior and is now just in a tight situation and needs your help.  Anything you give her will be appreciated and used for its intended purpose.

Let’s make this real. So, what do you do if your loved one asks for $100 to pay the phone bill and says it will get turned off if you don’t help her?  The answer depends on her stage of addiction recovery.  If she is still in what’s called the pre-contemplations stage and has not yet seriously acknowledged that she has a drug problem, then giving her the money enables her to stay in her hole and in fact, just allows her to dig it deeper.  Paying the bill directly is better than just giving her the money because at least you know it’s going to the right place. However, it is likely that you’ve just freed up $100 from some other source to pay for drugs.  Instead, making the assistance dependent on her doing something to address the root problem is an effective way to encourage movement in the right direction.

If the loved one is in recovery already but is still shaky then it would be best to act as her designated payer in this situation.  Paying the bill directly resolves the problem, and because she is actively working on her addiction, it is likely that she will use her other resources for healthy and adaptive purposes. Finally, it is easy to help someone in sustained recovery you just give them what they need.

2. Relate to the addict effectively

Effectively relating with an active addict is a delicate blend of compassion and backbone.  Calmly setting appropriate boundaries that encourage healthy choices is difficult because the addict is adept at the art of button pushing.She knows instinctively that an  exasperated person does not think straight and can be manipulated into doing things that go against best intentions.

For example, I always warn new substance abuse counselors that the addict new to recovery generally wants one of two things.  First, she wants you to get mad and throw her out of your office because this gives her the excuse not to work at recovery – you’re just another person who hates her and won’t give her a chance.  If you won’t do this, then she wants to manipulate you, because if you’re dumb enough not to throw her out, then you’re fair game.  If you do neither of these things not pushing away or getting manipulated, but rather calmly staying in the middle with a solution-oriented pose then the addict becomes discombobulated and is ripe for change. This is where healing begins.

Family support for drug addiction

A non-judgmental, solution-oriented stance can be difficult for a loved one because so many emotions are stirred by the situation.  Therefore, it is imperative that family members of addicts wishing to be helpful get support from professionals in the field and/or support groups like Al-Anon and Alateen.  You can only be helpful to others when you are supported and healthy yourself.  Do what you need to do so you can always tell the difference between a needy person and a person in-need and give help in the right way.

About the author
Nachshon Zohari is a licensed clinical social worker and the Program Administrator for Mental Health and Substance Treatment in a major U.S. city. His private practice includes individual, couples and family counseling; parenting classes; substance abuse education and treatment; and individual and group clinical supervision. He is an expert in the holistic practice of family focused addiction treatment.
I am ready to call
i Who Answers?