How to support someone dealing with a substance use disorder
A substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental health condition, not a choice. Addiction is a serious mental and physical battle, and recovery does not come overnight. In 2017, approximately 19.7 million people aged 12 or older had an SUD. Of these, 14.5 million people struggled with alcohol, 7.5 million with illicit drug use and 2.1 million with opioids.
The good news is no one is ever too far gone to recover. If you are close to someone who is struggling with an SUD, there are ways you can help them on their journey to recovery.
Ways to support someone who is struggling
When someone tells you that they are struggling with substance use, the best thing you can do is listen. This helps them feel supported by you and helps you approach their recovery more informed about what they’re going through.
- Offer encouragement. The person who is struggling may experience feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred. Encourage them, letting them know that they are valuable and addiction does not make them a bad person. Make sure to emphasize that you don’t think of them negatively and you don’t see them as a burden.
- Offer to attend a meeting with them. A great resource for recovery is a support group, but these can feel intimidating to approach. Attending a meeting is a vulnerable step, because they are admitting their struggle to several other people. Offering to go with them may help them decide to go.
- Encourage them to speak with a counselor. While your direct support is helpful and important, counselors have dedicated their lives to helping others recover. Help your loved one research the best option for them and support them in moving forward with seeking professional help.
- Remove access to controlled substances. If they are staying with you in your home, make sure you have nothing in your home that will cause them to stumble. Encourage them to remove any harmful items in their home as well.
How to carry yourself
SUDs can have a major effect on the people close to those experiencing them. You may feel uncertain about how to act around your loved one or feel that you need extra support as well. There are ways you can carry yourself to help yourself while still supporting your loved one.
- Manage your response. When you first find out about their struggle, you will likely experience a variety of negative emotions: anger, fear, sadness, etc. All of these feelings are valid, but you still have to be careful with how you respond. Avoid any blaming statements or name-calling, and use “I” statements as much as possible.
- Express your feelings. You may worry that if you let your loved one know you are upset, it will hinder their recovery. While there are some feelings you may want to avoid expressing, such as anger, it is okay to let them know if you are sad or afraid. Keeping your emotions bottled up will hinder your ability to help them.
- Let them have a say in your involvement. Working toward recovery together can be helpful, but staying overly involved every step of the way may leave them feeling patronized. Talk about boundaries, and if they don’t consent for you to be a part of their treatment, respect their privacy.
- Seek out support for yourself. Having someone close to you struggle with substance use can have a serious impact on your mental health as well. It may be helpful for you to find a counselor or join a support group for people with struggling friends or family, such as Nar-Anon.