Life is usually tougher for someone trying to face an addiction who does not have a support system of friends, relatives and others. In the absence of social support, it’s common for them to feel like they are alone and isolated in their struggle with alcohol or drug addiction.
We know that people in treatment for SUD have professional support, but knowledgeable support from people who are close to them is crucial as well. There is sometimes a tendency for friends or family to back away from that person in treatment – especially when you have limited understanding of addictions – but there are a few ways you can help.
Substance use disorder defined
First it is helpful to have some background on SUDs. Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol or drugs causes significant impairment, such as health problems and failure to cover responsibilities at work, school or home. A diagnosis of mild, moderate or severe to indicate the level of severity is made by a clinician.
Oftentimes a person will have a dual diagnosis, also called co-occurrence, which involves experiencing a substance use disorder and mental illness simultaneously. In turn, integrated care is required to help the individual overcome physical addictions and negative habits, to address mental illness and end cycles of returning to drugs to cope.
How you can help
Treatment for SUD could mean treatment in an outpatient facility, in which family interaction continues, or an inpatient facility, in which the consumer is sometimes separated from family for some amount of time, with visitations scheduled along the way. If family counseling is offered to you, it is a good way to gain skills and the right frame of mind to help. Please take part if this is offered. Whether it’s inpatient or outpatient treatment, the consumer usually eventually returns to a familiar setting, and that is when you should be ready to help.
Here are a few tips to consider:
- Overcome stigma: Stigma involves judgmental negative attitudes about mental health and drug/alcohol addiction. It’s important to reverse negative perspectives and recognize that mental health disorders and SUDs are treatable. Equipped with a little knowledge and guidance, you can be an important support for your loved one on the road to recovery.
- Take time to find the right words and perspectives to discuss addiction. For example, rather than saying someone is an alcoholic, better to say they are experiencing an alcohol use disorder and on the road to recovery.
- Focus on day-to-day health. Help set new daily habits if it seems appropriate. New activities and focus on diet and exercise are good steps.
- Be aware of the surrounding culture, behaviors and cycles. Help your loved one make good choices. Friends who act like nothing is wrong and ignore a problem can make it harder to break the cycle. Time with acquaintances who do not have a supportive perspective should be limited with sensitivity but assertiveness.
- Take advantage of support groups: Attend Al Anon or Nar Anon meetings. These programs provide support to the families and friends of those addicted to alcohol or drugs and those with loved ones on the road to recovery. These support groups are very important in helping reduce the fatigue that care-taking can cause.
- Take time to read. Keep learning. There is a wealth of evidenced-based material online from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and countless other sources.
- Trust your caring instincts: The fact that it is more important to show that you genuinely care than to say precisely the right thing every moment is a word of encouragement offered in Mental Health First Aid. Just show the person you care and ask how you can help them in their recovery.
Helping someone overcome a SUD is a weighty task but can be made easier with gained knowledge. If you are concerned that you or someone you know is struggling with SUD, know that Community Reach Center, your north Denver metro mental health center, is here to help. Visit communityreachcenter.org or contact us by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday to learn more about our services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.