A Compassionate Guide to Supporting an Addict

If you are reading this, it is likely because your life has been affected by an addict. Maybe the addict in your life is clean. Maybe not.

Regardless, having a loved one with a substance abuse problem is difficult. There are plenty of questions surrounding how to help them while keeping your sanity.

Those people who are or have been addicted to drugs and alcohol can often feel isolated or worse, make you feel like a bad person for not “being there.”

Hearing the words, “don’t enable them,” may mean little to you. Those words also don’t explain supporting an addict in a healthy manner. We will take a look at how to do so–keep reading for more!

Enabling Versus Supporting

Enabling is something that occurs when an addict is still in active addiction. The sound of this word can cause a lot of tension between a supportive family and the person who is abusing drugs.

When families choose to stop enabling the addict or alcoholic in their life, it may mean no more money, limiting time at the residence, or cutting contact completely. The person who is no longer being enabled may feel abandoned but ending the enabling cycle is one of the first things a family can do for themselves and to support an addict.

To make this picture a bit clearer, enabling someone looks like: giving them money, paying their bills, and not following through on household rules (like a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs in the home.)

Supporting someone in addiction can look similar, but is quite different. Driving your loved one to a detox or rehab facility or securing a bed for them qualifies as support.

When an addict is in early recovery, it can also include attending 12-step meetings with them as support, educating yourself, being patient, offering a safe place to stay, or even a hot meal.

Understanding Withdrawal

Supporting an addict requires a large amount of patience and understanding. This patience extends far past active using and into dealing with a sick individual.

Handling withdrawal is tough for the person going through it. Detoxing from drugs or alcohol is especially hard during the early stages because they will be nauseous, feverish, irritable, achy, and anxious.

This period only lasts a week or so, but it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. A person with a substance abuse diagnosis will also experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS.)

Once the initial illness is over, PAWS begins and can last from a few months to a year. It includes the irritation of learning to live without substance, insomnia, depression and other psychological issues.

This stage is where that understanding comes into play. While you shouldn’t take verbal, physical, or any other type of abuse, showing compassion will be appreciated by the recovering addict.

Staying firm with rules is important, but sometimes a hug, phone call, or even a handwritten note can bring a smile.

Relapse Doesn’t Have to be a Part of Recovery

Relapse can happen to someone with any length of sobriety. It is scary and sad, but out of your control.

Of course, you don’t want to think about your loved one having a slip-up, but there must be a plan in place should this situation happen. This plan can include a relapse track at a rehab facility, not giving money or even an intervention.

Mistakes happen, but many alcoholics will say that a ‘mental relapse’ occurs before their first drink. Simply put, they fall away from the program and people that keep them sober and often end up drunk.

Codependency and Addiction

Many therapists will tell their patients that codependency and addiction go and in hand. Others will say that codependency is an addiction.

No matter the school of thinking, these two problems often exist together and make the other worse. The truth is, a codependent relationship with an addict is as toxic for you as it is them.

While there isn’t a way to make a person in recovery use, codependent behavior can influence their will to stay clean. As a support for someone in addiction or early recovery, unlearning codependency is difficult but can allow for a smoother transition and healthier relationship.

Taking Care of YOU

Wait… this article is about supporting an addict, right?

Sure, but you’re not much help if you’re unwell. Aside from unlearning codependency and educating yourself on addiction and sobriety, there are a few other things to do.

First of all, find a therapist. Addiction does not only affect the person who uses. Previous arguments, things said, or even actions can leave deep emotional scars.

An addict or alcoholic receives a large amount of help and therapy while in rehab. They also have the benefit of support groups, people that understand exactly what they are going through, and working with a sponsor if they so choose.

Level the playing field. Learn what they are going through. Learn why you feel the way you do. Learn how to forgive and that this isn’t your fault.

Supporting an Addict: Final Thoughts

The process of supporting an addict is never an easy one. If your loved one is in active addiction, early recovery, or has long-term sobriety, there are always problems that can arise.

This process takes a toll on the family, mental health, and even relationships outside of the home. However, successfully supporting an addict begins with you.

There is no way for you to truly be supportive and offer a healthy relationship if you, yourself are not healthy.

Finally, learning how to support an addict involves the realization that painful conversations are to come. Not only will these conversations come, hurt, and cause tears, but they will also offer growth and forgiveness.

The central text of a particular 12-step program basically states that growth occurs from the willingness to face the pasts and other families can benefit from the experience.

If you are looking for more ways to help a loved one, check out our blog for tips covering all areas of addiction!


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