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Watching a loved one struggle with an addiction is not only heartbreaking, it can leave you struggling to cope too. How do you deal with someone who is allowing addiction to rule everything in their life including their thoughts, words, and actions? How can you possibly love an addict who clearly cares about nothing more than the substance that he or she is addicted to? Obviously there are real struggles occurring, but there are safe ways that you can love an addict without harming yourself in the process.
1. Keep it Simple
Remember that for most addicts, the addiction that rules their thoughts and actions are not desired. You can love an addict simply by keeping it simple—don’t expect something that won’t happen, don’t rely on something that isn’t there, and be sure you are caring for yourself first and foremost. Offer support without pointing fingers when possible, and if you can’t do that, consider simply walking away and taking some time for yourself.
2. It’s nothing Personal
Addiction isn’t about blame or shame, it’s about a real personal struggle that the user has with the substance that he or she is addicted to. The addiction isn’t about you, it’s not about hurting you or shaming you (even though this is likely occurring as a result of the addiction). No matter how much you love an addict, you will not stop their addiction—only the addict can do that. Your love and support can help them to make the decision to get well, but in the end, the addiction is part of your loved one and it will be up to that individual to fix the problem.
3. Be Caring and Compassionate
Addiction is so shameful for the addict—despite what loved ones often believe about addiction, the addict really does suffer. They feel shameful about their actions, their inability to give up a substance for the love of their spouse, their inability to control cravings that constantly nag at them to use despite good intentions to quit. If you can love the individual without placing blame or shame, even just once in a while, this compassion can go a long way for the addict.
4. Addiction is a Disease
People who suffer from addiction are sick, not evil. While some people who are addicted may seem evil because of their actions or words, this is the drugs or alcohol talking. Love an addict by recognizing that they are sick but not lost forever. With proper treatment these sick individuals can get sober and the actions that they take part in as a result of their addiction will quickly dissipate.
5. Never Give Up
There may be times when you feel like there’s just no hope left. But if you love an addict, you will find a way to keep pushing forward. Don’t give up hope—relapse may occur over and over again, but recovery happens too! For some addicts, the only saving grace that they later claim helped them to get sober was their loved ones not giving up on them—even when they had already given up hope themselves.
6. Tough Love Isn’t Always the Answer
It’s easy to fall into the process of tough love when you’re dealing with an addict, but easy isn’t always right. Pushing an addict away, threatening them, and using other so called “tough love” tactics may help, but in the end, it’s up to the addict to decide what it will take for them to get well.
7. Talk to Each Other
Loving an addict is difficult, but not impossible. Communication is key to any relationship, including a relationship with an addict. If you’re not open to communicating, if you don’t feel like talking, it’s important that you tell the addict how you feel and why. Open communication can go a long way, even if that communication is to say “Hey, I’m not happy with you right now because you’re not sober, but I’d be happy to talk to you when you are sober.” So trivial sounding, but these words can actually help an addict to make the decision to want to get sober so that they can communicate with the person that they love.
8. Needs Change
The journey to recovery is an ever-changing process. Loving an addict requires an ability to accept change and realize that needs can change rapidly or they may gradually change over time—regardless, the point is that things change. Be flexible with treatment, be flexible with communication, ad be flexible with the individual needs of the addict.