Everyone wants to help their loved ones, especially if they’re struggling and suffering.
It could be your sibling, significant other, parent, child, cousin, or decades-long friend—the relationship itself doesn’t matter because the desire to help is the same. This love you have for someone can blind you and skew your intentions, however.
You may think you’re helping your loved one, but in actuality you may be simply helping their illness to thrive and take a deeper hold. By saying no to someone you love when they’re suffering from a substance use disorder, you may think you’re letting them down. Don’t let your feelings of guilt feed their problem. Being part of the solution may be uncomfortable, but helping those with an addiction is rarely easy.
One of the most important things you can do to help a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder is to set limits and stick to them. If they are constantly borrowing money, give them a clear number you will not go above—or pay for things directly (rent, bills, etc.) so they are unable to use the money to finance their substance use.
If they constantly show up for things while intoxicated, or fail to show up entirely, set a clear time everyone will be leaving and leave if they don’t arrive on time. Make it clear to them that if they show up under the influence, they will be asked to leave until they’ve sobered up. If they won’t go willingly, be willing to utilize other means. This can create some initial resentment, but that can be worked through and trust rebuilt after they have embraced sobriety.
Sometimes “tough love” is necessary to get your point across. You need to remember that when your loved one is under the influence of their substance of choice, they are not the same person. The substance has taken control and their thoughts are irrational. When they are sober, they may even apologize for things said or done.
Present a United Front
The most important thing is to present a united front. If even one person in your family/friend group continues to cater to them instead of following the boundaries, the problem will continue to snowball out of control and will be harder for them to recover from if the substance use doesn’t steal their life first.
Your feelings of guilt will be immense at times. Your loved one will be angry, hurting, and desperate for their control. Your persistence is important. If you truly love the person, you must help them eliminate what is causing their hurt—the substance addiction.
There is a phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” and it is very appropriate in this situation. You LOVE this person, but hate the substance/addiction that makes them intolerable.
The only way to get the person you love back is to help them discover their sobriety again. It will take just as much hard work and willpower for you to avoid enabling as it will take them to overcome their illness. Don’t give up!
Point Them to a Clean Path
Sometimes, people with substance use disorders come to the realization on their own that they need help to get clean. Sometimes it will take an intervention. This can be done gently yet effectively if you know how to handle the situation. There are some wonderful resources and experienced interventionists available.
These people are educated in ways that will effectively steer conversations to help the addicted person realize how their substance use has been hurting those they love. An interventionist can help your loved one choose recovery over their substance use.
This is not to say that every intervention will have a happy ending. Persistence is again the key. Don’t give up if your loved one refuses treatment the first time, or if they relapse. Your support and love can help them overcome this disease when they find the power in themselves to live a sober life in recovery.
Do Everything in Love
The hardest part about guilt is it makes you think you’re failing at love. Guilt feeds fear, but you can’t let fear control you.
As the song by Zach Williams says, “Fear Is A Liar”. Your loved one is drowning in fear when they are under the influence. Substances alter thinking, and the people addicted to these substances feel fear when they think their next high might not happen.
They fear the world around them—whether it’s fear they’ll be judged for their substance use, fear of finances, fear of failure, fear of something new, or fear of change. Whatever the fear that has driven them into this whirlpool of substance misuse, love is the answer. Your love is the rope you can throw to them to help pull them out.
They might not understand the limits you set are because of love. They may not see the tears you cry when their anger turns hurtful after you’ve told them you refuse to finance their habit any longer. They may even accuse you of hating them. But keep stressing that it is ALL done because you love them—not their addiction—and you want them healthy and happy and sober again.