There are lots of things you will naturally do or not do when your loved one comes up against the predicament of substance abuse and addiction. We all naturally react in some way, usually fear, anger, rejection, desperation, etc. But do these negative emotions and actions support our friends and family or do they push them further away from their support group and deeper into addiction?
With this question in mind, let’s look at ten things we should not do under any circumstances and why this is the case.
1. Do not become ashamed or disgraced.
First off, acting in this fashion of being embarrassed will pass off all kinds of obvious symbols to your loved one. We need to remove the stigma of addiction as some morally degenerate thing and realize it’s a mental illness issue and nothing more. It’s not a measure of good or bad.
So let’s realize first off that another person’s actions are his or her own and not yours. They do not reflect on you or your family as a whole. And anyone who thinks it does doesn’t matter, and anyone who matters won’t think it does! We don’t feel ashamed of someone who becomes depressed, and neither should we feel that way here. Do not ostracize your loved one over this.
2. Do not preach at or lecture at your addicted loved one.
Most people simply have a hard time accepting advice or criticism from someone close to them. We all want to feel on a even level with the people we are around the most and will reject any ideas that they are better off or know more. So lecturing at an addict will not only do no good, but they already know what you’re saying. It’s not a logical issue you can rationalize your way out of.
You should suggest that they seek professional help and offer to help arrange this for them. Pushing the issue will only cause them to feel that they need to start lying to you to avoid your criticism and non-support.
3. Do not act holier-than-thou towards them.
The thing to understand is that you are not holier than your addicted friend or family member. We are all equally worthy. Don’t even think it. An addict will be sensitive to the actions and feelings being projected from someone who knows their struggle. Even if you don’t say it, they will feel it from you. And what a way to kick a person while they are down. Reality check yourself if you feel this way. You are not free from mistakes.
4. Do not guilt your loved one.
Don’t use the guilt ploy. There are tons of ways people attempt to use this method of manipulation. “If you really loved me…” or “Don’t you love our children?” Addiction and substance abuse are compulsively driven and not a matter of willpower. Of course he or she loves you and the kids! So don’t make them feel selfish for something largely out of their control. We don’t guilt people with medical conditions and claim they don’t love us, so we definitely shouldn’t do it here either.
5. Do not make threats.
You should not be making threats. Of course you have conditions set in place about what you will or will not put up with, and you do not have to suffer through decades of mistreatment, theft, or whatever else may be happening. But if you make a threat, you’d best be absolutely resolute about carrying it out, or you’re only telling the addicted person that there is wiggle room and they will be forgiven over and over. If you draw a line in the sand, mean it. Plus threats just aren’t cool unless they are said in a cool and calm manner as a way of relaying intention.
6. Do not “keep the secret.”
Many families will simply keep the secret of addiction from the outside world. What this ultimately does is let the internal world of the family spiral into devastating directions. In the same vein, don’t hide or destroy the person’s drugs or access to them. It will only make the addiction that much worse and the desperate attempts to obtain them can become dangerous and costly.
7. Do not use with the addict.
Some addicts will persuade their loved ones to use with them in an attempt to normalize their own behavior or get the loved one to “understand it’s not a big deal.” Never use with the addict, ever. This will only seem like you are condoning the behavior instead of condemning it.
8. Don’t become jealous of their recovery path.
This one sounds strange, but as the addict starts becoming better and progressing in their recovery, they may put a lot of emphasis and excitement on their substance abuse counselors, support groups, or accountability partners. It’s easy to become jealous of these new passions in his or her life, thinking you weren’t enough but they are. This is irrational. We are not always equipped to help nor are we qualified all the time. And often we are disqualified just by being family or close. That’s just how it is and it is not personal. Please don’t take it that way and try to stop them from being fully immersed in recovery.
9. Do not expect a miracle.
Recovery is not an on-or-off switch. It’s often a lifetime pursuit, a continual journey of maintenance and progress. There will even be relapses that cause much strife, resentment, tension, and ideas of the possibility of giving up on your loved one. Know ahead of time that every road has bumps and potholes, but do lead to the destination!
10. Do not do for the addict what he should be doing for himself.
An addict has to be accountable and responsible. They cannot shift off the responsibility for recovery to anyone else. This means they still need to take care of the normal aspects of life, such as chores, errands, having good hygiene, taking their medications, and going to their support group meetings. If they can’t face their problem alone without someone doing it for them (not including support groups and accountability partners), then they won’t find recovery.
Please keep these ten items in mind as you begin to deal with addiction in the life of a loved one. These will keep you on the narrow path that doesn’t harm or push your loved ones away. They need support, not a verbal and emotional lashing.