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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Supporting a Loved One in Addiction Treatment


The idea of addiction and everything it represents is a weighty topic in our society today. For some, “addiction” wears the face of their best friend, son, or primary caretaker. For others, it is the shapeless, anonymous face that represents ‘all that is wrong in society’. For others still, it is their best-kept secret or the master puppeteer that keeps them silenced and isolated. 

Those who have been caught up in addictive patterns who have chosen to seek recovery often rely on the support of their family and loved ones in order to persevere through the recovery process, and every day thereafter.  It can be challenging, however, to know how to support a loved one in any stage of the treatment process.  

For many of us, it may inspire frustration, or may even spark the idea that those trapped in its cycle need to “get their act together”. Or it may even bring us back to a time when we were young, feeling small and stuck believing that we have no power. 

Remember: Addiction is a Disease

Since 1956, the American Medical Association has adopted a “disease model” as the best way to understand addiction. This arose in reaction to some believing it to be a “weakness of character”. 

Due to this widespread intolerance for individuals who struggle with addiction, so often, the idea that YOU might have an addiction holds such a negative connotation that can inherently make someone want to cower in shame when they recognize themselves within its insidious grip. By its very design, it keeps individuals isolated from those who could offer their help, and stuck instead in a cycle of shame.

However, in the same way in which we would not place blame on our loved ones for their cancer diagnosis, it does not do much good to place blame on those struggling with addiction. 

We can, however, hold them accountable for their actions and set boundaries as it relates to patterns of enabling and codependence. We also must be willing to understand that recovery from addiction can be a lengthy process and in order for it to be successful, it requires participation from both the individual seeking the change and their supporters. 

From the Support Team Perspective

We must ask ourselves as the family or friends of someone struggling with addiction, how can we help and show our support? 

Many times this looks like first becoming educated on the typical methods of treatment for addiction, involving yourself in the process, and seeking your own support system that can help you to also seek new patterns of relating to your loved ones. 

Becoming educated on the different rehabilitation centers (both inpatient and outpatient) in your area or in key locations across the country and the services they offer is important because it allows a realistic picture of what your loved one may require and experience while in treatment. 

Whether this means gathering more information on family therapy, group counseling, twelve-step integration, and any other holistic or experiential elements, this is helpful to know what sort of supports are required in order to help your loved one recover. More importantly, this also helps you to know how, once they’ve returned home, you can help them establish a similar system of supports.  

How to Best Communicate with a Loved One in Recovery

When talking and when listening to your loved one who is struggling with addictive patterns, it is important to approach the situation with the mindset that this person is not acting entirely of their own accord. Their brain’s reward system has been hijacked by the substance or behavior and has reorganized their ability to effectively prioritize the health of their bodies, finances, relationships or desire for a better future.

These are not actions that this person necessarily wants to be taking, and it does not mean that because they make bad choices, that they are a bad person, or deserving of a bad outcome. Those who suffer from an addiction to alcohol or drugs are no longer in control, even if they can see the damage that their actions are having, or have had.

As a supporter of this person, it is your job to provide encouragement. This can be related to their willingness to seek treatment or to participate in a therapy session while informing them that these actions are important, noticed, and appreciated.

Family Integration at The Haven at Pismo

A central goal of The Haven at Pismo is to train family members on how to interact more positively regarding their loved one’s substance abuse, and open the door to having constructive and even healing discussions. The approach we believe is most helpful calls for expressing concern for the person in an empathetic and caring way while avoiding blaming or shaming them. We also recommend working to remain centered with a calm demeanor, even though responses from the person may be unpredictable or hurtful. 
The goal of the most effective approaches in these types of conversations is to create a dialogue. This is not the opportunity to berate the person or to tell them about all of the struggles that their addiction is causing you, however tempting that may be. Rather, time is used most beneficially when we allow them to share their perception of the changes they are seeking and the new life they are creating with the support of The Haven community. Using open-ended questions shows that you are interested in their point-of-view and want to be involved in their recovery process. 

We need to remember that the main thread here in supporting someone in treatment is entering each encounter with an open mind. It is seeing the addiction from a place of concern, but also a place free of judgment. It is holding our family member or friend accountable and placing boundaries when necessary. But, mainly it is being a part of their treatment process and whatever else may arise while on their recovery journey.