How To Help Someone With Addiction and How To Support A Person Who Does Not Want To Change
To understand how to help someone with addiction, there are a few things you need to understand:
- Addiction is the continued use of a substance despite negative consequences. The person using will use no matter what you say or do, or the repeated harmful effects.
- Substance abuse (of alcohol and other drugs) is a disease. In 1956 the American Medical Association declared alcoholism a disease. When you are learning how to help someone with addiction, it is important to remember that it’s a disease, not a personality or moral disorder.
- Addicts and alcoholics react differently to alcohol and other drugs than other people do. Most addicts and alcoholics are unaware of their behaviour. As neuroscience now understands, changes have happened in the brain processing. People suffering from the disease of addiction commonly see drugs and/or alcohol as the solution, rather than the problem. When you are working out how to help someone with addiction, remember this: it’s easy to assume this so-called “alcoholic or addict” personality has caused the disease, whereas it has, in fact, resulted from it.
- The “Disease” concept of Alcoholism: for some people, there is an abnormal reaction in the brain, an undesirable side effect, an allergy, to alcohol and other drugs. The drug reacts abnormally with the neurotransmitters of the brain in such a way as to create a demand for drugs/alcohol. In time, this develops into recognisable craving and addiction.
- One of the hardest things to understand when it comes to learning how to help someone with addiction, is denial. Denial is a key symptom of the disease of addiction/alcoholism. The chemical changes have occurred at such a deep level that the alcoholic/addict doesn’t realise what’s happened. This inability for self awareness in relation to their substance abuse is called denial. They don’t realise their relationship to substances is abnormal. Ask an alcoholic why they drink; they will give you reasons ranging from plausible to ridiculous. Only rarely do they realise that they drink because they must. Alcoholics need alcohol, they do not merely want it, and this is the same for addicts.
How to help someone with addiction who does not want to change?
Rather than looking at this from the angle of how to support someone who doesn’t want to change, you need to look at this more like “How to help someone with addiction”. This shift in perception and framing will allow you to remember that whilst it appears that someone may not want to change, chances are, they are caught in the grip of a terrifying disease and need help.
So, how to help someone with addiction:
- Firstly, if a person does not want to change you can’t make them. You can be patient and supportive and either wait for them to accept they have a problem, or help them understand they have a problem.
- Maintain a good relationship and know that when they are ready, they may talk to you
- Even as you learn how to help someone with addiction, do your best to have clear boundaries and don’t tolerate unacceptable behaviours.
- When you are working out how to help someone with addiction, you can tell them you are concerned about their continuing alcohol or other drug use.
- Discuss the link between their use and other negative consequences.
- As you begin to understand how to help someone with addiction, remember that the person may not change their behaviour if they do not have to face the consequences of their actions.
- Set boundaries around what behaviour you are willing and not willing to accept and what you are/are not willing to do.
As you do your best to work out how to help someone with addiction, here are some things that may help:
First of all, remember you are learning how to help someone with addiction – keyword here is learning – so, do your best to:
- Avoid feeling guilty or responsible
- Avoid drinking or using drugs with the person
- Not support their habit financially
- Avoid using negative approaches e.g. lecturing, bribing, nagging, shaming, threatening.
- Make no excuses for the person
How to help someone with addiction who does not want professional help?
As hard as it may be, as you learn how to help someone with addiction, remember to take care of you too!
The person may not want to get help when it is first suggested to them. As you navigate how to help someone with addiction, try to gently explore and discuss some of the reasons why this may be.
It can be so hard trying to work out how to help someone with addiction, how to talk about these things… All you can do is give it your best shot!
If the person is finding it difficult to accept that they need professional help – you could suggest that you do not need to be an alcoholic or addict to benefit from talking to a professional. A counsellor is helpful to get clarity around what you are struggling with.
If the person feels shame or is worried about what others will think of them, reassure them that they are not alone and that there are discreet services available.
How to support yourself whilst trying to understand how to help someone with addiction?
We understand that you are reading this “How to help someone with addiction” blog because you are most likely concerned about a loved one. There are services available to support you too.