Having Difficult Conversations about Addiction

It’s never easy to have conversations about addiction, especially if it involves dealing with a loved one who doesn’t appear ready to confront the issue. As someone who truly cares, you want to be there for the person and help them cope with the issues that are certain to arise from the addiction and behavior associated with the substance. People who are there to help, but have never been in the throes of addiction and the thinking or behavior that accompanies it, may find it difficult to understand everything about the person. The process of dealing with addiction can be terribly confusing.

Having a productive conversation and learning to avoid an argument may be difficult, especially since your loved one with an addiction may send mixed messages. It’s important for you to understand that you are not alone, and even if it is a painful process, there are some things that you can do to help yourself and your loved one.

Recognize the addiction for what it is

It is unfortunate that our society has come to believe that addiction is something over which the person has some degree of control. Despite the fact that the American Psychiatric Association clearly indicates that addiction is “a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence,” popular culture, perpetuated by social media, allows people to believe that alcohol and substance abuse is something that the person can conquer. Loved ones may tell themselves that if the addicted loved one loved us enough, they would stop the negative, dangerous, or self-sabotaging behavior.

The intensive focus on using particular substances that are the hallmark of addiction often prevent people from successfully overcoming this complex condition, despite unpleasant outcomes. Long-time smokers, for example, might experience serious health conditions related to smoking including heart issues, emphysema, and other uncomfortable and unpleasant chronic conditions, but still find it difficult, if not impossible, to stop.

Talk frankly with your loved ones

Open and honest conversations with loved ones is not always easy. While you may be wishing that expressing yourself to an addicted loved one was as easy as getting likes on Instagram, the truth is that telling someone you care about something that is difficult for them to hear can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. It may be something you choose to avoid because it is never easy to tell your loved one that you believe their behavior is negatively affecting their life and causing you pain as well. It isn’t easy to inform them that you believe that they need to change their behavior or that you believe that treatment is necessary.

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease. Left untreated, most addictions worsen over time. The addicted individual, in the absence of help, will continue to hurt himself and perhaps even derail his life entirely. Remember that when you broach the subject of their addiction and bad behavior, it is normal for them to become defensive, get angry, or even threaten to leave. Try not to take their angry words and threats personally, if possible.

Maintain a self-care regimen

Self-care is not selfish, and you should never feel guilty for making yourself a priority. If you are one of the many people who want to help a loved one through an addiction, you need to be as healthy as possible yourself. Online and in-person support groups are available for families and friends of addicts. The disease of addiction changes people, and it is useful for you to talk with others who are facing struggles similar to your own. Educate yourself so that you neither enable bad behavior nor stigmatize your addicted loved one. Remember that accommodating, enabling, and going back on boundaries previously set will ultimately not help your loved one conquer his addictions.

Remember, too, that you deserve and need a healthy plan for eating right, getting plenty of rest, and engaging with others who support you as an individual, not just as a caregiver of an addicted loved one. Set and maintain boundaries with the addicted loved one by reminding yourself that you do not have the power to do the recovery work for them.

Know your options

We live in a world where there are a variety of choices regarding mental health treatment, including addiction. Educating yourself about what treatment options are available for addiction is critical in being a resource when your loved one is finally ready for that first step. From 12-step programs that involve weekly meetings to lengthy stays at residential treatment facilities, there are options for every individual at every level of addiction. Keep in mind adjacent issues such as medical insurance, the need for a health care provider to determine what level of care is required, and coverage of expenses will also affect the outcome.

It is an unfortunate truth that there may come a time when talking with your loved one, and making a decision with them is not enough. Addiction can escalate quickly, and depending on the type of addiction, the need for emergency treatment may occur before you can negotiate a plan. Understand your own limitations, and know when extreme measures or emergency services are required.

Do you have any helpful tips for dealing with a loved one with an addiction? We look forward to hearing your ideas.

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