June 13, 2017
When you care about someone, you want to do all you can to provide healing as they face something as challenging and complex as addiction. It’s a difficult situation to tackle, as many people who involve themselves want to control the outcome. The helper may end up feeling helpless, guilty and ashamed when the sufferer's state doesn’t improve.
You can only help a person struggling with addiction when they are ready to be helped. The most effective thing you can do is be there for them along the journey. Getting educated and understanding common misconceptions will make you a more productive ally.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to help:
Addiction is a disease. Approaching someone with the mindset that they have a chronic condition rather than that they are making a choice will help you better understand their struggle.
In our brains, the neurotransmitter dopamine produces a sense of pleasure when triggered by addictive substances and tricks receptors into thinking that the feeling must be kept up for survival. When this reward circuit is initiated, the brain feels that it must be repeated and trains itself to engage in involuntary actions to perpetuate the feeling.
Drugs can release up to 10 times the amount of dopamine in the brain when compared to natural releases like a “runner’s high.” When someone realizes that you understand the mechanics behind addiction, they will feel more accepted. Having empathy for the burdens they face is one of the best forms of support you can offer.
The individual who decides to help must also understand that the road to recovery is personal. Aim to be an ally rather than the sole source of support or the reason a person decides to try to recover. Understanding where you stand and the power that you have over the situation is crucial for both parties.
Those with an addiction are not only battling the established chemistry in their brains, but they are also fighting internal challenges. It is important to understand that you can’t fill the void that drugs temporarily fill and cannot control the outcome.
Talking about addiction openly and honestly can be difficult. Sometimes just sharing an open, non-judgmental dialogue goes a long way in helping someone feel more accepted. Despite what you see on television, interventions are not always effective. They can promote feelings of helplessness, isolation and shame. A low-key, honest conversation can ease the pressure that they already feel from themselves and their immediate environment.
Although there is no way to force someone to try recovery, there are plenty of helpful programs that focus on addiction recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of those with alcoholism and those recovering that follows a 12-step program that promotes spiritual development.
Narcotics Anonymous identifies as a society of people who are seeking freedom from drug abuse. Both AA and NA have groups that meet in most cities in the United States and promote a strong sense of community amongst those currently addicted and those in recovery.
Additionally, organizations like The Moyer Foundation serve at-risk youth affected by a loved one’s substance abuse. With support from the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, The Moyer Foundation has expanded its programming into community-based settings.