Addiction is a complex and challenging problem. Family members, friends, communities, and professionals all need to work together to support those trying to break addiction and stay in recovery.
In this blog we discuss:
- How to help a family member or friend with addiction
- How communities play a critical role in helping people overcome addiction
- How professionals in medicine, therapy, and social services help people with addiction
How to Help a Family Member or Friend with Addiction
If you are a family member, friend, or colleague who is trying to support someone with addiction, keep these guidelines in mind:
Educate Yourself: Learn about addiction–its causes and effects on individuals, their families, friends, and communities. Understanding the nature of addiction will help you approach this serious and challenging medical condition with more empathy and knowledge.
Communicate Openly: Encourage non-judgmental and open communication. Let your loved one know that you are there to listen and support without blame or judgment. There is a lot of stigma around addiction and talking about it, so asking questions, just being there to listen, and sharing safe space can mean a lot to someone who is struggling.
Ask Questions & Offer Support: Ask your loved one to share about how they are feeling and what they need. Express your willingness to help in ways that you can. Let them know you love them, care about their well-being, and that you want to support them on their addiction recovery journey. It is okay not to have the answers. Listen and let them know that you are there to help them find the next step.
Encourage Professional Help: Addiction is a complex issue that requires professional intervention, guidance, and oversight. Encourage your loved one to seek help from a doctor, therapist, counselor, or addiction specialist. Offer to help them find and make appointments for the treatment they need. Be okay with their choice of help. It may not be what you want as their support but sometimes small steps are better in the long run. As a loved one you may want them to go into the hospital or residential treatment but that might be too scary for them. They may be more comfortable talking to their primary care doctor.
Avoid Enabling Behaviors: It is critical that while you are supporting someone with addiction that you are not directly or indirectly supporting their destructive behaviors. If they need cash to buy food, avoid giving them money that could result in supporting their addiction. Instead, buy them a meal. If they missed work again, avoid covering up their mistakes. Instead, let the natural consequences come and be there to help them find solutions. It is the natural consequences that can help move a person towards recovery, even if it looks painful in the moment for them.
Set Boundaries: Establish very clear boundaries to protect your own well-being and prevent enabling. Let your loved ones know what behaviors you will not tolerate and where your limits are and then stick to those boundaries.
Avoid Giving Ultimatums: While setting boundaries, try to avoid giving ultimatums that could push the person further away. Instead, keep expressing your desire to see your loved one recover.
Practice Self-Care: Supporting someone with addiction can be very emotionally draining. Be sure to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Seek support for yourself from a therapist, counselor, family, friends, or a support group. Find time to do the things you enjoy. Your life does not have to revolve around the stress that can come with addiction.
Attend Support Groups: Consider joining a support group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, which were created and designed for the family and friends of those with addiction. These groups can provide you with a community of people going through similar experiences. You will find understanding and guidance from such groups.
Celebrate Victories, however Small: Acknowledge and celebrate your loved one’s progress and achievement in their recovery. These celebrations can be powerful motivators to keep making progress.
Avoid Stigmatizing Language: Be mindful of the language you use when talking about addiction and your loved one. Use non-judgmental and respectful language as stigmatizing language can be both hurtful and counterproductive. This can be as innocent as naming someone as an addict, “my son the addict.” “Aunt Jane is an addict/Alcoholic.” Instead, acknowledge the struggle, “My son struggles with drug use.” “I know that alcohol has a strong hold on you and I want to help; is there anything I can do?”
Avoid language that sounds aggressive, such as “Why do you hang out with those people?” “I did not raise you to be a junkie…” While this may be well-intentioned and meant to motivate someone to do better, in reality it just brings up defensiveness and feelings of shame. Instead, try, “Tell me about the group that you have been hanging out with. What makes you feel safe with them?” “I did not see this lifestyle for you, are you happy with where you are?”
Practice Patience: Recovery from addiction is often a challenging and long process. Practice patience and understanding as relapses can be part of the journey to recovery. Offer support during periods of setbacks.
Always remind yourself that addiction is complex and often a chronic condition that needs careful attention. Addiction requires ongoing support and treatment. While your support as a family member or friend can be valuable, ultimately, the individual with addiction must take responsibility for their own recovery. Their success or returns to use have nothing to do with you and the more you can step back from that responsibility the better you can be there as a support.
Be prepared for the possibility that your loved one may not be ready to seek addiction recovery help immediately. Try to continue to be a source of encouragement and support before, during, and after they are ready and able to make important changes in their life.
Communities Play a Crucial Role in the Support System that is Essential for Addiction Recovery
Communities play a crucial role in the support people with addiction need for their recovery and well-being. Here are ways communities can help those struggling with addiction:
Education and Awareness: As a community, increase awareness about addiction–its causes, and its effects on families and communities. This awareness helps reduce stigma and encourages understanding. The more education is available in, and to, the community, the more likely that information will find its way to the person struggling. If someone is struggling to ask for help and they see the information readily around them- at doctor’s offices, in government buildings, at schools – they will feel less shame in asking questions themself. These questions can lead to help!
Access to Addiction Treatment: Communities need to advocate for and provide access to evidence-based addiction treatment programs, including detoxification, rehabilitation, and counseling services. Ensure that these services are affordable and accessible to all community members. Advocate to your local government – County commissioners, City/Town Managers, Senators, Governors, and other leaders. Let them know about the resource gaps in your community.
Addiction Support Groups: As a community, promote and facilitate support groups for individuals in recovery and their families. These groups provide a safe space for sharing experiences and learning from others who have faced similar challenges. If you are a community organization and have free space, consider offering it to a support group for an hour or two a week to host a meeting!
Prevention Programs: An ounce of prevention is worth gold. Implement prevention programs, especially in schools and youth centers, to educate young people about the dangers of substance abuse and help them make informed decisions. If you want to help, but you are not a prevention program, donate to a local program, offer space for them to host events, sponsor events, and volunteer. You can even ask your local school what program they use and get involved!
Crisis Helplines: Establish and publicize crisis helplines where individuals or their loved ones can seek immediate assistance or guidance during emergencies. Every county in NC has a local Mobile Crisis Team that can come out anytime – Day or Night – to help! Know your local number (CVH’s Mobile Crisis 828-695-2511) or just dial 9-8-8.
Community Events: Organize events and activities that promote a drug-free and healthy lifestyle. These events can offer alternatives to substance use and create a sense of community among participants. Find or start a local coalition to get people together to host these events. In Catawba Valley, NC, for example, check out Catawba Alliance for Recovery on facebook (C.A.R): https://www.facebook.com/p/Catawba-Alliance-for-Recovery-100064789868268/ or Burke Substance Abuse Network (BSAN) BSAN – Burke Substance Abuse Network (joinbsan.com).
Harm Reduction Practices and Naloxone Distribution: In communities affected by opioid addiction, distribute naloxone kits and educate community members on how to use them to reverse opioid overdoses. If you are a community member who supports this, post it on your doors and windows. Educate your staff and partners about the importance and proper way to use it. Programs like The Olive Branch Ministries (Faith-Based Harm Reduction – The Olive Branch Ministry) can help with education and training.
Employment Opportunities: Support reintegration into the workforce by providing job training and employment opportunities for individuals in recovery. This helps reduce the risk of relapse. Encourage local businesses to hire and support individuals in recovery, creating an environment where they can rebuild their lives. Employers might provide flexible schedules that enable time for an individual to attend partial day treatment programs or support group meetings. Employers can negotiate good health plans that include insurance coverage for Brain Health/Mental Health/Substance Use treatment options. They can create and support opportunities for employees to give back to others in need (donating vacation/sick time to someone who needs to go to treatment). They can partner with a treatment provider to provide opportunities for supported employment during a period of treatment; this has a variety of financial benefits to both the employer and employee.
Housing Assistance: Address housing challenges that often accompany addiction by providing safe and stable housing options for individuals in recovery. Housing is a big challenge in a lot of communities today, regardless of the population in need. If you are a community partner in this area, examine your application process and fees carefully to see if they are supportive to someone in early recovery. Do you permit people with a felony charge to live in your apartment complex? Do you have an application fee that is prohibitively high? Do you allow local support groups to host meetings in a common space? If you are a contractor, are there opportunities for you to partner with a developer or treatment provider to create a project in the community to create more affordable housing?
Legal and Judicial Reforms: Advocate for policies that divert non-violent offenders into treatment programs rather than incarceration. This can help break the cycle of addiction and reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. If you work within your local justice system (a judge, lawyer, corrections, law enforcement, for example.), you know what a serious concern and disruption substance use is. Are there ways for you to partner with a local provider to support or start a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (L.E.A.D.) program, clinical programs within your detention center, prevention programs, Recovery Courts, Pre-Trial Diversion programs etc. Learn more about opportunities here: Jail Services | Catawba Valley Healthcare (cvhnc.org)
Community Outreach: Train community members, including first responders and healthcare professionals, to recognize the signs of addiction and provide appropriate assistance. As a healthcare professional and first responder, are there opportunities to bring training into your staff from local providers to raise awareness about referral possibilities and culturally sensitive issues related to helping your population? Your local providers, such as Catawba Valley Healthcare and others listed in this blog, are willing and able to come into your space and provide education and outreach to staff and clients!
Connected communities are strong and supportive communities.
Peer Support: Establish peer mentoring programs where individuals in recovery can support and guide others who are struggling with addiction. As a community in Catawba Valley, for example, if we try to incorporate Certified Peer Support Specialists (NC Peer Support Specialist Certification Program (unc.edu) ) into as many programs as possible. Peer Support programs show those still struggling that they are valued and that there is a space for them to help others once they find recovery. Communities can use their experiences to enhance the community and give back.
Advocacy: Support advocacy efforts at the local, state, and national levels to influence policy changes related to addiction treatment, insurance coverage, and funding for support services.
Communities, like individuals, need to remember that addiction is a complex issue, and no one-size-fits-all solution exists. Communities need to tailor their support efforts to their specific needs and resources. Collaboration between individuals, families, healthcare providers, and local organizations is critical to effectively support those with addiction and those who have taken important steps toward recovery.
How do Professionals Help Individuals with Addiction?
Professionals play a critical role in helping people with addiction by providing evidence-based treatments and support. The approach to addiction treatment varies depending on the specific substance or behavior involved, the severity of the addiction and the individual’s unique needs. Here are some common ways professionals help those suffering with addiction:
Assessment and Diagnosis: Professionals, such as medical doctors, addiction counselors, and therapists, begin treatment by conducting a comprehensive assessment to determine the nature and severity of the addiction. This assessment might include physical and psychological evaluations in addition to discussions about the individual’s personal and medical history, and current circumstances. If you are a healthcare professional (in the fields of vision, dental, or physical health), and do not have the basic skills to screen for substance use but you do have the resources to make basic referrals, reach out to a local provider who has that expertise and request training on how to refer your patients to the right places.
Treatment Planning: Based on the professional’s assessment, a personalized treatment plan is developed. The plan outlines specific goals and strategies for recovery, taking into consideration the person’s physical and mental health, social support system, and any co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety.
Detoxification if needed: Some substances, especially alcohol and certain drugs, require a supervised detoxification process to safely manage withdrawal symptoms. Medical professionals oversee this process to ensure one’s safety.
Behavioral Therapy: Therapy is a cornerstone of addiction treatment, and professionals such as addiction therapists use a variety of evidence-based therapies such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing, and contingency management, to address the psychological aspects of addiction, identify triggers, and develop coping skills.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, are commonly used by medical professionals for opioid and alcohol addictions to help manage cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms. Other medications can be used to support a variety of needs during early recovery. From antidepressants and other mood stabilizers to medications for physical issues caused by or exaggerated by past substance use (i.e. blood pressure medication, HIV and Hep C medications), these medications can be prescribed to support someone in early recovery to prevent a return to a particular substance use.
Support Groups: Participation in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or other Peer Support driven groups (Celebrate Recovery, SMART recovery etc.) can be extremely helpful. Support groups provide peer interaction and support and offer a structured program for maintaining sobriety.
Family Therapy: Addiction often affects someone’s entire family. Professionals may involve family members in therapy to address codependency, improve communication, and provide support for both the individual with addiction and their loved ones.
Education and Relapse Prevention Programs: Professionals educate individuals about addiction, its effects, and strategies to prevent relapses with coping skills and trigger avoidance. Some professionals advocate holistic therapies like yoga, mindfulness, and art therapy to address the mind-body connection and promote overall well-being.
Long-Term Follow-Up and Support: Recovery is a lifelong process and while it will get easier to manage the longer abstinence is maintained, it needs to be an active process even 20 years down the line. Professionals can provide long-term support and follow-up care to help individuals maintain sobriety and address any potential returns to use and setbacks.
Referrals: Professionals can refer individuals to additional services, such as medical specialists, legal assistance, jail services, or vocational training to address other aspects of their lives that may be impacted by addiction. There are also many professional associations such FindHelp.org and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) Find Help and Treatment | SAMHSA which can help individuals find the professional services they need.
Addiction treatment plans need to be tailored to an individual’s unique needs and circumstances. Successful treatment often involves a combination of approaches and the guidance of a professional is critical in the recovery process. Understanding the nature of addiction and what the road to recovery entails and receiving ongoing support and care is essential for maintaining long-term recovery.
Catawba Valley Healthcare recognizes that recovery from addiction is a lifelong process, similar to other chronic diseases. From medical professionals and brain health/mental health counselors to residential housing, peer support, group therapy, jail services, and more, Catawba Valley Healthcare is here to help anyone on their road to recovery.