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: