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Loving Someone with an Addiction

If you love someone who struggles with addiction, you may feel helpless, scared, confused, and unsure how to help them. Though these are common feelings when you’re dealing with a loved one who has a substance use disorder, each person’s situation is different, and the solutions discussed here may or may not work in your situation.
What you will learn:

  • Symptoms of drug and alcohol misuse and addiction
  • How codependency affects relationships
  • Where to find help for your loved one

Symptoms of a substance use disorder include:

  • Using more of a substance than was originally intended.
  • Trying to stop using or cut back on using substances, but not being able to do so.
  • Continuing to use a substance, despite being aware that the substance causes a physical or emotional problem to get worse.
  • Experiencing cravings to use a substance.
  • There is interpersonal conflict due to the person’s use of a substance.
  • The person’s use of a substance results in them not fulfilling their responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • The person uses substances in high-risk situations, such as driving or swimming.
  • The person spends a lot of time seeking out substances and using them.
  • They will give up things that were once important to them, such as hobbies, in favor of using substances.
  • The person develops tolerance to a substance, which means that they need more and more of a substance to keep getting the same effects from it.

If the person stops using certain substances, they will experience physical symptoms of withdrawal.

Codependency in Relationships
If your loved one displays the symptoms of a substance use disorder, your relationship is likely affected by their substance misuse in multiple ways, including emotionally, physically, and financially. You may even find yourself interacting with them in a manner that is called codependency.

Codependency is a pattern of interactions where you try to help the person manage their struggles with addiction, but in doing so, you also enable the person to keep using. An example of a codependent action includes attempting to rescue the person you love from the consequences of their substance misuse.

Codependency may be further defined as over-functioning for another person while under-functioning in your own life and not caring for your own well-being as a result of these behaviors and trying to control the other person’s substance use. If you suffer from codependency, you may tend to neglect your own self-care and instead focus on the needs of your loved one, who may be a spouse, child, sibling, or any person with whom you have a close relationship. Codependent behaviors can include: making excuses for your loved one to other people to protect them from the consequences of their substance misuse, paying for damages to property they may have incurred under the influence, and fulfilling household or other responsibilities for them.

Many people find themselves in a codependent relationship. Yet, to an outsider, it may appear confusing as to why someone would stay in a relationship with a person who struggles with addiction. However, codependency is nuanced, and every couple needs to address their struggles with codependency and substance use disorders in their own way.

The best ways to help a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol may seem counterintuitive, especially for people who struggle with codependent relationships. Some of these methods may seem harsh, but they come from a loving approach with the ultimate goal to help the person overcome their addiction and to help all parties heal. Basic steps are outlined below.

  1. Remember that addiction is not a choice or a moral failing; it is a disease of the brain
  2. Addiction is ultimately a condition that the individual must learn to manage; no one can take the fight on for the addict.
  3. Set boundaries and stand by them.
  4. Encourage the individual to seek help; this may include finding treatment resources for them.
  5. Find a therapist who specializes in addiction counseling and get help. Loved ones of addicts need support too.
  6. Set an example for healthy living by giving up recreational drug and alcohol use.
  7. Be supportive, but do not cover for problems created by substance abuse. The person struggling needs to deal with the consequences of their addiction.
  8. Be optimistic. A person struggling with drug or alcohol abuse will likely eventually seek help due to ongoing encouragement to do so. If they relapse, it is not a sign of failure; relapse is often part of the overall recovery process.

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