Twelve Ideas for Helping a Loved One with AddictionApril 16, 2021
By Linda Verst, KY Certified Prevention Specialist
I’ve heard it said that “what is urgent is rarely important, and what is important is rarely urgent”. That may be true about many things, but it surely did not feel true to me when my husband was in the midst of a destructive addiction to alcohol and other drugs, or later, when our son developed a terrifying love affair with cocaine. Everything felt urgent and life or death. I lost all perspective on decision making. Everything was frightening and beyond my coping skills.
We are in the midst of a heroin epidemic. Many parents, siblings, wives and other loved ones have the urgency I describe. You may be one of these folks, terrified your beloved wife/husband, son(s) or daughter(s) will die if you make the wrong move. Please understand: You can do all the right things, and he/she may still lose his life. But you can move the odds in favor of her survival by what you choose to do or not do. I’ve studied addiction and preventing addiction close to 50 years, but probably more important to you, I’ve lived through it. I want to share some strategies/ideas in the hope they will be of service. This is not an all-inclusive list and my ideas are not necessarily listed in order of importance. They come with my fervent prayer for your own recovery, as well as that of your loved one. There is much good research on substance use disorders and recovery methods. As with any serious illness seek out what works, and choose what’s best for your situation. Use the following as the beginning of your journey:
1. Take steps immediately toward your own recovery. You’ve probably been missing sleep, meals and recreation. Find a way to take better care of yourself. When there is addiction in a family it throws every thing and everyone out of balance. Cancer and other serious illnesses affect family members; so does addiction; this is what the experts mean when they call it a family disease. You need coping skills. Restore your own balance. As an Al-Anon Public Relation ad once said: “You can see what it’s doing to him/her. Can you see what it’s doing to you?”
2. To that end, find a good 12 Step group. Nar-Anon is for family members and friends of addicts. Al-Anon is for family members and friends of alcoholics. If it’s a substance use disorder other than alcohol, and you can’t find a Nar-Anon group close by, go to Al-Anon. It’s been around longer, and as a result there are more established groups to choose from. The only requirement for Al-Anon membership is that you have a friend or relative with an alcohol problem. Who doesn’t?! Just remember everything said about coping with alcoholism applies to other addictions as well. Listen and learn. Remember: Nar-Anon and Al-Anon are self-help groups and not made up of perfect people. Go to at least 6 meetings before you decide it’s not for you. Celebrate Recovery and PAL are also group methods of help. Find the one where you feel safest, attend and get a phone list of members. Find them on line or in the phone book.
3. Before and after meetings, talk to 12 step friends; they will have ideas of places to go for further help. These people can help restore your sense of normalcy and good humor. Get a therapist or counselor for yourself as needed. I used a combination of 12 steps and a therapist. Note: you’ll be a good role model for others close to you who need help!
4. Do not take on any responsibility that is not yours. Is your loved one an adult? Repeat this to yourself as many times as it takes: He’s in jail? Not your responsibility. He owes someone money? Not your responsibility. She’s hungry? Tired? Unemployed? Not your responsibility. Practice saying this to yourself: The longer I do for someone anything that they should be doing themselves, the longer I am aiding and abetting the disease of addiction. Got that? You are helping him stay sick and get sicker, and avoid recovery and sobriety. When you stop this stuff, you are not being cruel, you are loving her. Repeat that, too. You know why? Because your addict will not be happy. Call your 12 Step friends, see your therapist; they will support you. A special note to parents: get on the same page. Playing “good “cop/bad cop” does not work well.
5. Be honest with yourself and the person you love, whose addiction is causing you strife. When he is presenting convincing schemes, all of which lead down the road to your pocketbook, the best thing you can say is: “I love you but I cannot help you. I do not have money for you.” Repeat once or twice if you must. Then leave the room, hang up the phone, don’t return the text. Trust me, she heard you the first time. Practice this, so it’s not so hard to do.
6. Addiction causes a loss of conscience for many. If your loved one with an addiction has keys to your home or even if he doesn’t, lock up anything you do not want stolen. Especially, lock up guns, knives, electronic devices that can be easily removed, family heirlooms and medications. Your loved one may not steal your belongings, but if she’s using, she has friends who will. If something is stolen from your home, report it to the police immediately. If you suspect where items are, or who took them, tell the truth. Don’t protect someone from facing consequences of her behavior. Jail can be a safe place for an addicted person. If it was cancer, you would take him to a hospital. Think of it that way.
7. Remember the 4 C’s: You did not cause this illness; you cannot cure this illness; you cannot control this illness. You can cope with it. Put your energy there.
8. Again, a substance use disorder is an illness. Whether it’s your child, spouse or other loved one it is not your fault. We make amends when necessary, but each person is responsible for his own behavior. I believe that no parent ever held an infant in her arms and whispered into the baby’s ear “I can’t wait to see how much I can screw up your life.” An Al-Anon writer’s remarks in response to a grown child, ranting about her upbringing went something like this: “Yes, dear, some of your problems have my name on them, but ALL the solutions have your name on them.
9. Sometimes I think the American way is to throw money at problems. Please understand that this problem in your life is going to require time and energy, love, compassion, patience. Your loved one may not be ready for help or guidance, but you can get it. It will help you. It’s worth every penny and every moment; Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and other self-help groups are free!
10. Find out where good inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, therapists and the like are in your community and state/surrounding states. Check out more than one or two before you settle in for where you might go for help and support. You or your loved one may never use them, but it is good to be informed. Check on cost, who pays; what the loved one’s insurance may cover. Trust your gut – you will know who you can work with. Some healers are not quite as well as they need to be to help you. Do not give up.
11. Want to take action? An intervention is best done with professional help. For greater Cincinnati Ohio area, the Addiction Services Council of Greater Cincinnati is a great place to start. Call 513 281 7880 or go to www.addictionservicescouncil.org In Northern KY, Transitions Residential Treatment Center can help. To refer yourself or someone else, call 859-491-4435.
Casey’s Law now exists in many states. “The act provides a means of intervening with someone who is unable to recognize his or her need for treatment due to impairment. This law will allow parents, relatives and/or friends to petition the court for treatment on behalf of the substance abuse-impaired person.” This quote is from operationunite.org/treatment/caseys-law. Go there for more information.
12. Take time to slowly, mindfully study the above 11 suggestions. Begin to practice one or two. Breathe. Try not to let your urgency pull you immediately to # 10 & 11. They’re placed there for a reason. If you want the possibility of long-lasting effects, it helps to prepare carefully. Are you a person of faith? Now’s the time to put your beliefs to the test. This will be one of the most challenging issues you’ve ever had to turn over to God. The time to begin is now.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Linda became a “friend of Bill W’s wife, Lois” over 50 years ago. These days she’s retired from the prevention field, but continues to maintain certification and stays interested in current research. She’s a widow, now, with 5 adult children and 11 grandkids on whom she can practice her skills.
She enjoys sharing what she’s learned about treatment and prevention, along with her own experience, strength and hope as a volunteer. Although Covid has put a crimp in her style, she continues to volunteer at treatment centers, her local county detention center and in speaking engagements. Linda says: “I find that while many parents are unaware of the need for research based prevention, newly recovering folks are excited and even anxious to learn there are ways they can assist their kids in growing up healthy and resilient, giving them a better likelihood of remaining drug free.”
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