Five things to do if you think you have an addict in your house.
When addiction enters your home, it can be very disorienting as questions flood your mind.
Should I say something to my loved one? Do we have an intervention?What is rehab, anyway?
If this sounds all too familiar, know you are not alone. These are the same questions everyone living with an addict must eventually answer.
And there are certain things to do—and not to do—if you think you are living with an addict.
- Talk to your loved one—in a very specific way.
If you’ve lived with the effects of a loved one’s addiction for any amount of time, you are likely confused, scared, and possibly even angry. These are all normal emotions to feel when the person you once knew and loved is no longer himself, and those feelings often spill over into how you speak to him. However, as addiction grips your loved one’s mind, concern often translates into a perceived attack on the one thing he believes is keeping him alive: his substance of choice.
So how do you talk to him truthfully and effectively? These guidelines are a good start.
- Do be truthful, but don’t vent. Speak honestly about your personal experience of his addiction, but stick to the facts versus unloading your emotions on your loved one.
- Do ask your loved one to consider getting help, but don’t ask him to quit using. It is far easier for your loved one to consider talking to a counselor than to be asked to abandon the thing his mind, body, and emotions have come to completely depend upon to feel “normal”.
- Do identify specific forms of help, but don’t hound them about it. If you’ve offered your loved one a therapist’s phone number and he has it, do not pester him every day to find out if he’s called. This feeds into the idea that you are trying to manage his addiction, and that responsibility lies squarely with your loved one.
- Do listen, but don’t advise. While you don’t want to engage in futile debates with the addict in your house, actively listening to him can be very helpful when he hears his words out in the wide open space between you. However, resist the urge to hand out advice no matter how obvious or logical it may seem. Instead, actively listen by repeating back what you heard him say: “I hear that you feel overwhelmed by school right now. That must be difficult.”
- Do acknowledge positive signs, but be careful with praise. Any sign that your loved one is beginning to understand the seriousness of his addiction is reason for celebration—that is a significant step. But be careful not to praise in such a way that communicates your loved one is responsible for your feelings, such as, “You made me so happy!” A better response would be, “I can see a bit of hope in your eyes when you just told me that. I share your hope too.”
- Set strong, healthy boundaries.
Setting strong, healthy boundaries is a must. They provide clarity and certainty amid chaos. And they help you actively protect your own emotional and mental well-being by establishing what is your responsibility, and—more importantly—what is not.
Healthy boundaries have seven important qualities:
- They’re sustainable: can you maintain your end of them no matter what?
- They’re clear: the more specific and lacking in ambiguity, the better.
- They’re about you and not the addict: “I won’t talk to you if I think you’ve been drinking” leaves the determination to you.
- They lighten your load: they should provide you some relief.
- They help you in tough moments: establishing boundaries ahead of time helps you make the right choice in a stressful situation.
- They are in effect now, not some point in the future: they reflect your current reality.
- You can change them later if you want to: you can change them when they no longer serve you in the ways listed above.
- Consider an intervention.
Interventions can be an effective means to help persuade your loved one to get help when done correctly. The best way to ensure this is to recruit professional help. But first you must determine if an intervention is the most appropriate step for you addicted loved one.
Ask yourself if your efforts to communicate and set boundaries, as outlined above, have produced meaningful results. If not, it may well be time to contact a therapist specializing in addiction or an interventionist to guide you through the next steps.
- Understand the various treatment options.
Getting into treatment is the most effective way to help your loved one heal from his addiction, but figuring out which type of treatment to seek can be confusing.
Here is a brief overview of the various treatment options.
- Mental health evaluation and assessment: This is the first step in any treatment placement in which a trained mental health professional determines the best next step for your loved one.
- Inpatient treatment (rehab, residential): This is perhaps what most people think of when they think of treatment. Your loved one lives in a home or facility for a set period of time (at least 30 days, but longer is better), and he attends therapeutic groups and individual therapy and is attended to by a treatment team.
- Outpatient treatment (IOP, PHP): The primary difference between outpatient and inpatient treatment is where your loved one lives. When he attends an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) or Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), he lives at home and attends groups several days a week at a treatment facility.
- Therapeutic communities (sober living): These are group homes in which several people in recovery can live drug- and alcohol-free and take supported steps toward everyday sobriety.
With any treatment, it is possible it may not “work” the first time, but the experience is nonetheless an important step in laying a strong foundation for long-term sobriety.
- Take care of yourself.
Your well-being often suffers when you live with an addict in your house as your energy drains into the ongoing tornado of destruction addiction creates, so taking care of yourself is essential.
Seeing your own therapist can be invaluable to your emotional and mental health, giving you a safe place to vent and learn healthy coping skills.
Regularly scheduling time to engage in activities that restore and bring you joy is worth making non-negotiable. Go to the gym, read a book, meet with friends, or go to the movies—if it fills you up, put it on your calendar.