This section will guide you in how to help someone with an addiction. It is important for family members and friends to recognise the signs and symptoms of addiction. These can differ depending on the drug they are addicted to. When challenged, the reaction of someone with an addiction is usually to conceal their addiction, ignore the problem, not admit it to themselves or others, or even lie. Sometimes it is hard to confront the problem, talk to them and get the help they need. This section will provide you with the information on the signs to look out for, how to approach the loved one and how you can help with their recovery.
Helping someone with a drug addiction
What we treat
With an estimated 1 in 11 adults aged 16-59 years having taken drugs in the last year, an increase of cocaine deaths, and a 6% increase of hospital admissions for poisoning by drug misuse, drug addiction can’t be taken lightly. The BONDS Clinic specialise in detoxing many different types of drugs. To find out more about a specific drug click on the link below:
What to look out 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
Common symptoms of addiction:
- Changes in mood such as being unusually happy, sad, or anxious
- Changes in energy such as being very tired or equally being unusually energetic or “hyper”
- Changes in weight
- Changes in sleep such as sleeping a lot more or a lot less than usual
- Looking unwell at certain times but rapidly looking better soon after, in a repeating cycle
- Pupil size can change and look different to normal
- Unexpected persistent cough without having a cold or flu
In general, if someone is addicted to something, they tend to:
- Always think about the addiction
- Change their lives to fit around the addiction; it seems to “rule their life”
- Experience difficulty controlling the addictive behaviour, even when the addiction is hurting them or their loved ones
- Need to do more and more of the addictive behaviour
- Feel withdrawal effects when they cannot engage in the addiction
Be cautious though: Both symptoms and signs can be due to other causes. Therefore, it is much more useful to look for groups of lots of these symptoms and signs rather than just one or two in isolation.
Barriers to overcome
Denial is a common coping strategy for many problems, including addiction. Being honest with ourselves about a serious problem like addiction can be painful and difficult, but unless we accept that there is a problem first, it is impossible to start on a path to recovery. It is very common to hear a patient say “I can handle it, one more session won’t hurt, I can control it”.
Fear can feed both denial and anger. For instance, fear of stigma, fear of loved ones learning that there is a problem, fear of withdrawal, or fear of treatment.
Anger is a common reaction to being questioned or pushed on the subject of misuse or addiction. Anger usually stems from feeling defensive and arguments with loved ones are very common in misuse.
Avoidance is also linked to denial and to fear: a person will start to avoid those who have questioned them or who have been suspicious that there is a problem with misuse. They may not want to talk to you or see you and may make lots of excuses to avoid interacting with loved ones / friends.
Overcoming these barriers can be difficult. In such circumstances, interventions can sometimes help, whether from loved ones or with help from health professionals. We have found that family therapy sessions can be useful, and sometimes cathartic.
Helping with Drug Addiction
How can you help
Respect and compassion
One of our most fundamental principles at The BONDS Clinic 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 BONDS Clinic 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!
What is an intervention?
An intervention is usually a group of people coming together to meet with the person with the addiction. It can be family, love ones, friends, work colleagues and may include a professional.
Should I stage an intervention?
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.
What should we do?
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.
(*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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