Is someone you love struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol? You may not know unless you first understand what addiction is and what you can do to help.
Understanding addiction can give you an advantage when trying to address this problem. Heavy drug and alcohol use can lead to addiction, especially if someone is looking for a greater or more consistent high.
Addiction is the most serious consequence of the substance abuse spectrum. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. Addiction can be characterized as a medical and mental illness.
Addiction can have serious social consequences as it can lead to failed relationships, legal and/or financial difficulties, loss of employment, and potentially death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths topped 100,000 in 2021 which was an increase of 28.5% from the prior year. Overdose deaths and incarceration have a tremendous negative impact on families associated with those who are addicted to substances or alcohol.
With such high stakes created by being addicted, families can focus on preventative factors that can lessen the chances of addiction or find ways to assist their loved ones to break free of addiction. About half the risk of addiction is genetic, according to the American Psychological Association. Genetics may have an effect on the degree of reward that individuals experience when initially using drugs or alcohol. The heightened desire to re-experience the effects combined with psychological, social, and environmental factors can influence regular to heavy use, which can lead to addiction.
Psychological factors such as dealing with stress or escaping trauma make drug and alcohol use a way to mask the underlying problems or causes.
When the brain changes and there is an increase in cravings, it becomes increasingly harder to regulate the impulse to use. Being impaired also creates less opportunity for risk aversion, which leads to a greater opportunity for an unhealthy consequence.
Understanding the causes of addiction can be the first step to prevention. In the article, “Prevention is the First Line of Defense”, teaching people to manage their pain without opioids helps to prevent those at risk from sliding into misuse.
The scientific literature describes opioid use disorder as a “disease of despair” and finds that many, who are more likely to abuse opioids, have underlying mental health issues. Psychologists using a prevention approach can help avoid “chemical coping” and offer non-pharmacological strategies for treating physical pain. These treatments can help with how people perceive, react to, and handle pain. Knowing how to care for a loved one with an alcohol or drug addiction can be difficult. You are likely to identify addiction when you see visible changes in their mood, motivation, personality, and happiness. They can become easily agitated, irritable, and aggressive.
There can also be physical changes such as tremors, shakes, and changes in speech. They may start to neglect daily living skills such as hygiene, or eating or drinking healthy properly. They could be having social issues like not being able to hold a job, financial problems with a constant need for money. Likewise, they also could show signs of being socially unhealthy by creating strained relationships with loved ones or engaging in disassociation with former friends.
What can you do to help? Besides understanding the disease, you can start encouraging a loved one to seek addiction treatment. Professional mental and behavioral health, or addiction specialists, know how to identify and treat areas of drug addiction. You may want to start the process with your local provider or family doctor. They can usually refer you to the appropriate specialist.
Another source of information can be Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) or Narcotic Anonymous (NA) which can provide you with information and resources from their websites as well as direct you to local support groups.
At Plum Creek Recovery Ranch, we offer a free, no-cost assessment to identify your addiction. We then develop an effective, individualized treatment plan. The assessment will help identify what stage your addiction is in and whether detox is necessary prior to entering residential treatment. When trying to encourage someone to seek addiction treatment, you may want to go it alone or surround yourself with friends or family. Things for you to consider when encouraging someone to seek treatment (from Mind.org):
- Can I offer emotional support?
- Do I have practical support to offer?
- What if they don’t want to be helped?
- What if I’m afraid of what they are dealing with?
- What do I do in an emergency?
- How can I, as a caregiver, take care of myself?
These concerns are real and should be considered before you offer to assist someone who needs next-level care. Encouragement can be one of the easiest ways to engage at the beginning. Listening, reassuring, being patient and nonjudgmental, while staying socially connected can assist them with seeking treatment.
If they do not want your assistance but are clearly struggling, it may leave you feeling helpless. In this case, accept their decision and let them know that you are there for them when they are ready for you to help. You can only do so much, and you may find that there are limits to how you can support an individual dealing with addiction.
As you begin assisting someone, make sure that you are aware of your own wellbeing. Supporting someone who is going through addiction treatment can be a struggle that may have many setbacks. It is best not to be discouraged because overcoming the challenge of addiction is a lifelong process.
It will be important to set boundaries for them and yourself and communicate these limits to your loved one. This will assure you can be realistic in your support and not over-promise things that you cannot deliver. At Plum Creek Recovery Ranch, addiction treatment can take 30, 60, or 90 days depending on how long it takes the brain to shake off the physical and mental influences of the drugs or alcohol. Although the time for addiction treatment will assist with going into recovery, the addiction will remain with you for the rest of your life. Most people find that sobriety is a daily battle.
Plum Creek Recovery Ranch realizes the day-to-day struggle their patients will have with addiction, and that is why they offer a full day’s schedule for those who are in their residential treatment facility. Each day will contain a variety of treatment therapies, cognitive-based therapy, individual or group therapy, experiential therapy as well as activities and planned social and alone time.
Plum Creek Recovery Ranch also knows that addiction treatment is very gender-specific and responsive. This is why the treatment plans are designed as gender-specific programming that ensures that each individual will have their needs met in the safest most comfortable environment possible. Women and men have different paths to addiction, and they require different paths to recovery. Based specifically on how women and men have experienced trauma and are dealing with it, makes separating their treatment is more effective and successful. Helping a loved one discover they have an addiction and the need to seek treatment can be the first step to helping them get their life back. Providing encouragement is priceless. Being there for them by showing how much they mean to you, helping them know they are not alone, and that seeking treatment is nothing to be ashamed of is probably the best gift that you can give them.
Let them know that everyone needs help at some point in their life. Remind them that addiction is an illness and a disease that needs treatment, just like cancer or heart disease. Ask them how you can help and offer them the resources that you have discovered.
Treatment and recovery is a painful journey, but addiction can be life-ending. Help your loved one choose a better life. Plum Creek Recovery Ranch is located approximately 20 miles outside Austin in Lockhart, Texas. Our residential treatment center offers patients a wide array of evidence-based treatment options rooted in helping them find connection, clarity, and hope.
For more information about our Inpatient Residential Treatment Program or for a confidential, free assessment with one of our professional licensed counselors, call 512-398-3000 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.