Something that needs to be said is that addiction is a mental illness. There are many people who would disagree with this statement, saying that “it’s a choice.” Wrong. People who are coping with addiction have brain structures that look and behave differently than people without addiction. Addiction is a mental illness and if we are to help people with addiction recover, we must stop blaming them for making “bad choices” and dismissing them as inherently bad or weak.
Statistics from 2017 say that 20 million Americans struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. 20 million people. And that’s only in the United States. Did you know that overdose is one of the top three causes of accidental deaths in the United States? 47,600 deaths in 2017.
So, what can you do if someone you love suffers from dependency?
– Speak with positivity and optimism. Try your best to be empathetic. Be understanding and patient.
– Give encouragement when your loved one achieves a goal; even if that goal is one day sober. Baby steps.
– Address the underlying reasons for the substance abuse. Understand that sometimes “I don’t know” is their reason.
– Educate yourself on the addiction of the relevant substance. Learn warning signs.
– Encourage treatment for your loved one.
– Punish the person for failing to maintain sobriety. It’s not easy.
– Speak negatively or accusingly. Do not trigger feelings of shame or guilt.
– Place the entire responsibility with your loved one. Understand that they do and will need help.
– Give ultimatums. They’re a catalyst for failure.
The best thing you can do is offer to be there, and actually be there. Remind them that they are loved and that they are not alone. Remember: the choice to seek treatment, to be sober, to get clean… it has to be their choice. You can not make that choice for them.
To my loved ones who have and who are struggling with dependency, know that I love you. I want you to wake up every morning and face your demons head on. I will be there to hold your hand, literally or figuratively. I may not fully understand what you’re going through but I will always be there to listen. I can give you advice to the best of my ability. I can (and do) love you without judgement.
If you are looking to seek treatment and don’t know where to start, here are some helpful resources:
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline: 1-800-622-HELP (1-800-622-4357) It’s confidential, free, open 24/7 365 days a year. It’s available in English and in Spanish.
You can search for a treatment facility near you.