Helping someone with a drug addiction
This section will guide you in how to help someone with an addiction. It is important for family and friends to recognise the signs of symptoms of addiction.
What We Treat
What To Look For
Common signs of addiction:
- Unexplained outings, often at very short notice and with urgency
- Drug taking equipment such as unusual pipes, small weighing scales and sometimes needles and syringes
- Small packages such as in plastic, paper or foil packaging.
- Changes in social groups or circles, new or unusual friends
- Secretive phone conversations
How can you help?
One of our most fundamental principles at The New Life Centre is mutual respect and a non-judgemental approach with our patients. This allows people to feel safer and helps with their fear and avoidance. This same approach is important at home too. Without it, people with addiction will feel more isolated, more afraid, and more likely to lose hope. Then they are less likely to seek treatment or to stay in treatment. This is a recipe for disaster and risks a person spiralling out of control, alone and unsupported, whereas compassion can have a huge impact on a person seeking treatment and then sticking with it in the long term.
However, compassion is not the same as enabling substance misuse. Practical examples of compassion are:
- Listening and not judging, in a caring way. But still recognising there is a problem, not brushing it under the carpet
- Trying to understand addiction: understand what the person is thinking and feeling; understand what is normal for people with addiction; put yourself in their shoes
- Family therapy (can be cathartic, sometimes)
1. Avoid shaming or guilt
If we aim for respect and compassion, it becomes more natural to avoid a “blame culture” or making a person feel guilty or shaming them. People with addiction nearly always feel a lot of guilt, so if we put more blame and guilt on them, they are likely to respond with anger, denial and avoid you after that. This puts more distance between them and everyone else which just risks them getting worse. It can be very difficult to avoid blaming or shaming a person since they will very likely have already caused strife for loved ones or broken your trust, but it is really important to recovery that we avoid blame and shame.
If we try hard to be compassionate and avoid blame, there is a risk that some people then just enable the person’s addiction. Enabling a loved one’s misuse is usually because of a desire to help and support but enabling just makes things worse in the long term. Common ways of enabling:
- Downplaying an addiction
- Ignoring the effect of addiction on a person’s mental or physical health
- Ignoring the serious risks such as losing family, friends, work, money, homelessness, and in the worst-case scenario, even death
- Funding the addiction
- Covering up their lying or even stealing
- Making excuses for their behaviour
- Ignoring dangerous behaviour
Sadly, a person with substance or alcohol misuse may continue with denial until they are faced with the cold, hard reality of consequences. It can be very difficult to draw a line in bailing them out, but ultimately, a compassionate approach will combine care and love with a constructive approach of helping them get better. This means being kind and caring but also supporting them to seek treatment and to stick with it in the long term.
This same approach of compassion, avoiding blame or enabling is really important if there is a relapse. None of us wants to see a relapse and none of us wants to downplay it, BUT if there is no compassion and there is lots of blame or enabling, then if a person relapses, they are more likely to hide it and not seek help. This usually just snowballs, and a small, temporary and reversible relapse can escalate rapidly and go back to how they were before treatment, or even worse. Therefore, we strive very hard with our patients to use a compassionate and constructive approach to relapse. We ask, “what can we learn from this relapse and how can we work on reducing the risk of this happening again?. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future.
We all know what a healthy lifestyle looks like, but many don’t know that healthy habits can actually be important treatments in mental health and in addiction. For example, regular exercise and healthy eating have been shown to help in depression*
Around 70% of our patients with substance or alcohol misuse have a mental health disorder. Lots of lifestyle factors can affect mental health, and a strong association between mental health and addiction has been seen in the thousands of patients treated with The New Life Centre treatment programmes over the years. Obesity , diet , sleep problems , pollutants in the environment , and high stress levels  may all potentially disrupt an important part of the body’s hormones, the “hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis”. This can result in chronic inflammation in the body. Both this inflammation and brain hormone disruption have been linked to depression [6,7]. Improving healthy habits can help mental health and addiction.
5. Loved ones need support too
Supporting someone through addiction and misuse can be very important but also very draining. It is really important to look after your own mental and physical health. The following can help:
- Exercise and a healthy diet
- Counselling / talking therapies can help you get things off your chest and also learn good coping strategies in thoughts and behaviours
- Support groups – local or online (Adfam http://www.adfam.org.uk/families/find_a_local_support_group, Families Anonymous http://famanon.org.uk/
- Don’t blame yourself!
Denial and guilt can be big barriers to seeking help for addiction. It is often difficult for a person to see how truly serious their addiction has become. Sometimes a crisis point is reached where something sudden and shocking happens such as a bad car accident due to drink-driving or drug-driving, a fall and bad injury due to being intoxicated, or an arrest, to name just a few, and families or loved ones may say “enough is enough, we want to stage an intervention”.
Sometimes an intervention can be the start of a person finally admitting there is a problem and being willing to seek treatment.
It is important to focus on the positive and to be constructive. In most cases, there needs to be a frank and fair discussion about how bad the problem and how worried everyone is, but then this needs to be followed by compassionate support and a discussion about potential options for treatment. Using threats or a confrontational approach is just likely to make the person suffering from addiction feel defensive and angry and increase their denial. It is important to try to remain calm and explain that the intervention is just because everyone cares about the person with the addiction and just wants to help them be well and happy. Even with this approach, there may be a lot of resistance to seeking help, but an intervention can be an important first step towards recovery and to “getting back to life”.
If you’re concerned for yourself or a loved one, please contact us for more information on how to help someone coping with addiction.
We place an important emphasis on helping friends and family to develop an understanding around addiction and dependency. We know it’s difficult to support a loved one through addiction, detox and recovery. As a loved one of a patient, you don’t always have all the tools and knowledge to provide the right support and to look after yourself throughout. The New Life Centre know it’s important for a patient’s recovery to have the best possible home environment to return to, we have tailored our therapy to provide you with all the right tools.
Therefore, at The New Life Centre we offer a comprehensive Family Support Program which aims to assist immediate family, loved ones or others who have been impacted by a patient’s addiction and the co-occurring challenges that may arise.
(*reference to put in footer: Exercise for depression. Rimer J, Dwan K, Lawlor DA, Greig CA, McMurdo M, Morley W, Mead GE. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jul 11; (7):CD004366.)
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2. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women.
Jacka FN, Pasco JA, Mykletun A, Williams LJ, Hodge AM, O’Reilly SL, Nicholson GC, Kotowicz MA, Berk M.Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Mar; 167(3):305-11.
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4. Air pollution and symptoms of depression in elderly adults.
Lim YH, Kim H, Kim JH, Bae S, Park HY, Hong YC. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jul; 120(7):1023-8.
5. Can stress cause depression? van Praag HM. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Aug; 28(5):891-907.
6. Cytokines sing the blues: inflammation and the pathogenesis of depression. Raison CL, Capuron L, Miller AH.Trends Immunol. 2006 Jan; 27(1):24-31.
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