Anyone who has been close to someone with an addiction knows what it’s like to ride the roller coaster of frustration, heartache, sadness, and helplessness. Whether it’s a friend, spouse, child, colleague, or family member, loving an addict is just plain tough.

It’s heartbreaking to watch someone we love live a life that whittles away the very person we once knew. While we can’t force them into recovery, we can act in ways that may encourage them to naturally arrive at that choice on their own, while still taking care of ourselves. Here are some tips for loving an addict.

Be There for Them

This can be difficult, especially when their choices have personally hurt us. But if we can avoid isolating them even further, there may come a day when they are ready to make changes. Those changes are easier to make when there are friends, family, people who care. Have your boundaries, but let them know you are there for them if they need you.

Protect Your Boundaries

“Be there for them,” doesn’t mean continuing to loan them money, or bailing them out, or trusting them when you know you shouldn’t. Set boundaries with them, and then protect those boundaries. You do not have to put yourself at risk in order to love an addict. Make it very clear what your boundaries are, and don’t waiver from them.

Be Willing to Listen

Living as an addict is not easy. Not only is the addiction hard on the body and spirit, but addiction often arises as a coping method to deal with a lot of pain. Try not to dismiss an addict’s experience. Underneath the behavior is often a lonely, scared, confused person in pain. If we can understand this, and provide a listening, attentive ear, they might just be able to process their pain in more healthy ways.

Get Help for Yourself

Loving an addict can suck the life right out of many of us. When we ride along with them in their addiction, we are often left feeling tired, depleted, and defeated. Get help for yourself. Find someone you trust, such as a friend, a therapist, or your minister. Go to family support groups such as Al-Anon, or SMART Recovery for families. Make space in your day, every day, to practice a little self-care. Meditation, exercise, yoga, coffee with friends, enjoying a movie – whatever it is that makes you feel better, do that.

Allow Room for Natural Consequences

We often want to protect the addict we love from consequences, so we jump in at the first sign of trouble. Calling in sick for them, loaning them money, hiding them from the law, bailing them out of jail, and the list goes on – are all ways in which we protect them from natural consequences. If we continue to shield them from the consequences of their choices, the less likely they will be motivated to change. It can be hard to watch the downward spiral, but it’s important for them to see their addiction is not serving them well. When the aversive effects of their behavior begin to outweigh the pleasurable effects of drinking and using, they may decide the cost is too high.

When someone is active in their addiction, those who love them want nothing more than to get back the person they know and love. Ultimately, it is our loved one’s choice to change their behavior, but if we can offer them support without sacrificing our own well-being, they may just be able to get the other side. And we can be there with open arms.

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