A person who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction can feel alone, afraid and powerless. Without the support of friends and family, addiction can be difficult to confront and manage. However, friends and family may also feel unequipped and underprepared to help someone overcome addiction.
With education and a willing spirit, however, friends and family members can support someone who faces addiction in finding (and staying in) treatment and maintaining a healthy way of life after rehab.
The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help you, a caring friend or family member, understand how to help a loved one with an addiction.
Identifying Addictive Behavior
For friends and family members, recognizing signs of addictive behavior is essential to helping someone. Recognizing patterns of addictive behavior is not always easy, and the signs of addictive behavior are not always obvious.
Since addiction often maintains itself through secrecy and dishonesty, people who face addiction may go to great lengths to conceal addictive behaviors. Friends and family should not blame themselves if they did not see such signs before addiction manifested in their loved one.
Physical Signs of Addiction
Close friends and family members may notice signs of active drug use, overdose or withdrawal in their loved one.
Physical signs of addiction include, but aren’t limited to:
- Eye changes (enlarged or small pupils, bloodshot eyes)
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Sleep changes
- Hygiene changes
- Skin changes (cold, dry, clammy, sweaty, goosebumps)
- Worsened physical coordination
- Unkempt appearance
- Slurred speech
- Mental status changes
- Shakiness or tremors
Behavioral Signs of Addiction
Behavioral changes may also help a friend or family member identify a drug or alcohol addiction.
Some common behavioral signs of addiction may include:
- Secretive or isolative behavior
- Unexplained financial distress
- Erratic behavior
- Unexplained or atypical mood swings
- A decline in school or work performance
- Depressed mood
- Inability to enjoy usual activities
Someone who struggles with drug or alcohol abuse may display some of these physical and behavioral signs and not others, and not everyone will show these signs. If any sort of physical and behavioral changes occur in your loved one and you’re concerned that drug use is involved, speak with your friend or family member privately. Express your concerns without jumping to conclusions about substance abuse.
Enabling vs. Supportive Behaviors
When you’re helping a loved one who faces addiction, what separates enabling from supportive behavior? Although well-intentioned, your support may be unknowingly harmful if it enables addiction or stems from codependency. You may have heard these terms before, but what does enabling versus supporting a person with addiction mean?
While these behaviors may look the same at first glance, there are important differences between being enabling and being supportive, including:
- Friends or family members with a healthy attachment can commit to a person with an addiction, even during difficult circumstances, but do not tolerate inappropriate or harmful behavior from them. In contrast, an enabling friend or family member usually has poor boundaries and will tolerate abusive behavior.
- Supportive friends or family members show concern for and a willingness to help a person with an addiction, but not in a way that overextends themselves or puts them in harm’s way.
- Friends and family who are supportive do not expect a person with an addiction to behave perfectly, but they encourage a person with an addiction to take responsibility for their behaviors. Well-meaning but enabling friends and family may externalize the blame for addictive behavior, financially support addictive behavior or try to justify harmful behavior — all of which may allow the behavior to continue.
Support Your Loved One to Get Help for Addiction
Before you begin the process of supporting your loved one to seek help, it is important that you have a good understanding of your own feelings about the situation. It is perfectly natural for feelings of sadness, guilt, helplessness, confusion or fear to be present in you. Sometimes loved ones feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of supporting a person with an addiction, or may feel resentful about the situation. It can be helpful to speak with a trusted friend or a professional before talking with your loved one about their addiction.
If talking directly with your loved one about getting help for addiction is not an option, you may wish to speak with an individual who has experience in treating addiction. Health care providers, substance abuse treatment professionals, therapists and 12-step program sponsors can all help you navigate difficult conversations, process feelings and give constructive feedback as you talk with your friend or family member.
Finally, staging an intervention is also an option. An intervention is the act of directly stating — usually by more than one friend or family member, and in a rehearsed way — to an individual that their addiction is causing damage and that immediate help is necessary. Interventions can be performed by or with the support of trained interventionists.
Attend Family Therapy and Support Groups
Family therapy and support groups can help families and friends process the pain and consequences of addictive behavior in a meaningful and helpful way.
Family therapy for addiction treatment can be a critical component of meaningful recovery. However, what is family therapy, and how does it help? Family therapy for addiction is a type of therapy which treats the family as a patient rather than an individual. This approach allows both the individual with addiction and family members to understand the effects of addiction on a whole family system, and approach the management of addiction in a way that benefits this system.
One of the primary rewards of family therapy is that it helps shift the focus of addiction from an individual, overwhelming problem (which may trigger unhealthy responses and delay recovery) to a collective, manageable challenge. The techniques and language used by the therapist to help create this transition are known as family therapy interventions.
Support Groups for Addiction
Families and friends who are helping a loved one recover from addiction have resources available to them. Support groups for addiction are useful for both an individual in recovery and their immediate circle of friends and family.
In support groups for drug addiction, people who have experienced the impact of the addictive behavior on their lives can share their stories, drawing inspiration, gleaning practical information and inspiring hope.
Addiction Resources for Friends and Family
Additional online resources for family and friends of a person with an addiction can be found here.
The following support groups for addiction are available in most regions:
- Al-Anon: This support group uses 12-step principles for friends and family of people struggling with alcohol use disorders.
- Al-Ateen: Al-ateen support groups use 12-step for teen and young adult friends and family of people struggling with alcohol use disorders.
- Adult Children of Alcoholics: This 12-step fellowship is specifically for adults whose parents or caretakers has or had an alcohol use disorder.
- Codependents Anonymous: This group is a 12-step fellowship whose primary goal is learning how to develop healthy relationships.
- Families Anonymous: Families Anonymous is a 12-step fellowship for the family and friends of individuals with drug- or alcohol-related issues.
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA): This non-profit organization provides educational materials and advocacy services to help the children of alcohol-dependent parents.
If someone you love is struggling with addiction and you are looking for ways to help, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can be an excellent resource for you. We can help you and your loved one through the pain of addiction and into a sustainable, healthy recovery. Call us today to learn more about how our programs could work for you.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy.” Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, 2004. Accessed April 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use Disorder.” (n.d.) Accessed April 2019.
Thomas Horvath, Ph.D. “Supporting Recovery Without Enabling.” SMART Recovery, no date. Accessed April 2019.