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I Love Someone Suffering From Addiction...How Can I Help Them?

As cliche' as is it sounds, the best way to help your loved one is to take care of yourself first! 

I know this may seem impossible but I assure you it isn't. Addiction is a family disease, meaning that everyone is affected by the effects of the addiction. Because addiction is a progressive disease, the families' response to the addict also progress. 

Can you identify where you are in the progression?

Progression of Addiction                                                                             

1.  Preoccupation - The substance user is preoccupied by using. All thoughts are focused on obtaining the substance, the money needed for the substance, and how long they will be able to continue to use. At this stage the substance user is very defensive and denies having any problem at all. 

2.  Increased Tolerance - The user needs more of the substance to achieve the same effect. The substance user is beginning to realize that they may have a problem but attempts to hide it. They lie about use, lie about why they need money, and lie to their employer about absences.

3.  Loss of Control - The user no longer has the ability to "look" normal and has stopped trying. Their behavior is erratic and unpredictable when they are under the influence. They can't control their emotions. They avoid contact with family and friends, begin to miss work and back out of commitments.

4. Craving - The substance user has a severe physical or psychological craving to continue using the substance. They need to use to keep from getting sick. They will go to any extreme to obtain their substance. They are no longer having fun.

5. Compulsive Behavior - The substance user will put themselves and others in high risk situations to continue their use. They go against their own moral compass, and behave in ways they would never behave sober, such as steeling from employers and/or family and putting their children at risk.

6.  Health Problems - The substance user experiences escalated physical problems related to their use such as liver damage, pancreatitis, injuries that become more frequent. Overdoses or alcohol poisoning become more frequent as tolerance reverses.

Progression In The Family's Response

1.  Preoccupation - You're preoccupied with the substance user, focused on what they are doing, where and how they are getting their substance, and why they are doing this. You attempt to get answers from the substance user, but are met with defensiveness and anger. Often the substance user blames you and the family for their use. 

2.  Increased Tolerance - Your denial sets in as you become more tolerant of the user's behavior. The need to protect your loved one from negative consequences results in enabling behaviors such as taking them to get their substance, or going to get it for them so they don't drive, or calling into work sick for them. 

3.  Loss Of Control - The family's denial break at the realization of how serious the addiction is. You may feel loss of emotional control, be in constant fear, and/or experience anger at the drop of pin. The family feels lost and confused. The fear of losing your loved one keeps you from setting boundaries, setting you up to be taken advantage of.

4. Craving - The family feels a desperate desire or psychological craving for the addict to get help. You beg, bargain, threaten, and make promises in order to convince the user to get help. The realization that life is out of control sets in and the family begins to seek outside help. 

5.  Compulsive Behaviors - Family members behave in compulsive ways such as playing detective when you know your loved one is lying. You may follow them or drive around looking for them when they don't respond to phone calls and texts. You secretly check their phone while they are sleeping to confirm suspicions you have.  

6.  Health Problems - Family members can also experience stress-related health issues such as headaches, stomach problems, high blood pressure, lack of sleep, and/or poor eating habits as a result of being focused on the substance user.

It is important to know you can interrupt your own progression at any stage regardless if your love one is ready to get better. Unfortunately people who are active in addiction don't usually get sober until the consequences become uncomfortable. Often what actually helps a substance user get sober is different than what the family thinks will help and often goes against natural instincts. It is normal to feel unprepared and lost when dealing with addiction. When the family takes care of themselves and learns where the boundaries are, they are helping the loved one. Remember, there is a reason flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first! 


You don't have to figure this out on your own. I am here to help.

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