How to Support a Family Member or Friend Going Through Substance Abuse

Watching someone you love and care about in the throes of an addiction is incredibly difficult. It may bring up feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, fear and more. What will happen to that person if the addiction continues or worsens? What if that person’s addiction causes irreparable damage to your family, home, finances or life? Many people that have a friend or loved one struggling with addiction often experience both sadness and anger simultaneously but it is important to understand that there are many factors out of control that may be contributing to their addiction. Understanding this and getting educated about addiction will help you support a family member or friend going through addiction.
So often, it is incredibly hard for the non-addict to understand what the addict is “thinking.” Why would they continue to be addicted rather than seek help? Why can’t they just stop? Why can’t they see what they are doing is harmful to themselves and those around them? Don’t they care enough about their friends and family to stop? To understand addiction you must understand brain chemistry. There are three categories of addiction – use, abuse, and dependency. What starts out as use may slowly (or quickly) progress to abuse. And soon, abuse may become dependency. When an addict is in the stage of dependency, the brain has begun to change its biochemistry. Our brain’s function and thoughts release chemicals in our body. When we feel good and relaxed, it is because our body has released chemicals. When we feel fear and anger, our body releases chemicals that cause reactions in our body. As addiction and dependency continues on, particularly for long periods of time, the brain’s structure literally changes shape – holes where gray matter used to be. And those changes can dramatically impact decision making.
When supporting a family member or friend going through addiction, there are a few things you can do, or changes to your approach, that may help improve the situation and better support them to make changes in their lives. First, as previously mentioned, you must educate yourself on addiction. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to understand the situation, understand what might be contributing factors to the addiction, and better support your family member. Further, the more you know, the more likely you will be to have a compassionate approach to your interactions with them. So often, addiction is filled with shame, self-hatred, depression, and fear. When you are compassionate, and you encourage your family member to seek compassionate counseling, they will experience a judgement-free source of support that could give them the courage they need to make a change. As they seek professional behavioral therapy and addiction counseling, it may also be wise for you to seek counseling. A professional counselor will be able to provide you useful tools and a listening ear from an impartial position so that you can feel prepared to support your family member while they experience addiction counseling. For an experienced, knowledgeable, judgement-free addiction counselor in the Phoenix or Scottsdale area, contact Diebold Behavioral Therapy.

There are many topics that are easy to discuss with friends or loved ones, addiction is not typically one of them. While it may not be the easiest thing to bring up, the responsibility to do so may fall on your shoulders. Alcohol addiction can occur at any age or stage of life and there are often other contributing life-factors or psychological disorders that accompany it. Alcohol addiction can be tough to spot and may just look like casual “partying” at first for some. But casual partying can rapidly turn into something more – dependency. For others, the signs may be more apparent – lying, “needing it to relax”, blacking out, inability to stop, neglecting responsibilities, making dangerous choices while under the influence, and more. Your friend or loved one may even joke about it, make light of the situation, or completely insist there is no problem.

If you are concerned that your friend or loved one has an alcohol addiction it is important to approach the conversation without judgement and without shaming them. Though their addiction may sadden you, have caused emotional strain, or hurt you in some way, to successfully encourage them to seek help the best approach is to approach them from a loving perspective or – at a minimum – remain as neutral as possible. Their addiction and treatment is out of their control and beyond their ability which is why it is critical that they seek the help of a behavioral health professional. Addiction counseling is available for them and a good behavioral therapist will always approach treatment without any judgement. Always seek a behavioral therapist with experience and knowledge about addiction counseling because they will be familiar with the addictive process and the true impact of the addiction on the client as well as family, friends and their community. There are a variety of ways to treat alcohol addiction and the behavioral therapist, along with the input of the client, will determine what treatment plan is best. Options include Twelve Steps Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Rational Recovery (RR) – which is a secular discipline, or other forms of treatment and recovery. There is no one-size-fits-all approach because every person is unique and it is vital that the individual finds the right recovery program that they can stick with for the long haul.

If you are in the Scottsdale or Greater Phoenix area and you or someone you know needs a referral to a Behavioral Therapist with extensive experience in addiction counseling, Diebold Behavioral Counseling can help provide guidance and direct instruction on recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs. We have an addiction referral team in place that has a renowned DUI attorney, blood analysis expert and D.J. Diebold, a renowned behavioral health therapist to aid you in your recovery and treatment and help you meet any court mandated addiction counseling requirements as well. We want to help clients establish healthy coping skills and free themselves from alcohol addiction so that they can feel a sense of harmony and balance in their lives but it begins with the first step and sometimes that means a friend or loved one brings up a tough topic and helps restoration begin.

It started in college and let me tell you I had a blast, at least I think I did. And that’s part of the problem. For most of my life, I thought I had so much fun drinking and partying. Do you know anyone who rotted through the rear seat floorboard of their car from alcohol vomit? I didn’t think so. How about impulsively riding down the railroad tracks in your car? That was a trip. From two or three miles away I could see the headlight…yes, of the train. Please don’t think for a second that I’m bragging, though I did many times back then. I would feign this “reluctant” embarrassment with a lowered head. Ahem.

Ah, yes, what happened with the train? We bumped over the railroad ties laughing and raising hell until we saw that light. WHOA! My 3 buddies freaked. So, I slammed it into reverse and with all the concentration I could muster, backed up the half mile to the crossing. Now, just imagine sitting at the light and a car backs up to the intersection and pulls off the tracks and turns onto the street. Oh, by the way, when I did that, the railroad guards came down as if I were a train. Obviously I beat the train to the crossing, as I am writing this from this world.

Despite the thinly veiled self-deprecating humor, this continued until I was near middle age. Here’s a major part of the problem: unless we seriously hurt ourselves or others, this is considered normal! Right? You’ve heard or even said something to the effect like, he’s just a young man, kicking up his heels a bit. Oh, let him get it out of his system. No harm, no foul. Didn’t you kick up your heels when you were his age?

The fact is that the brain is a truly magnificent hunk of protoplasm. But even this amazing thing has its limits. From his ever-brilliant book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” by Dr. Daniel Amen, he displays SPECT scans, a 3D image of the brain, particularly the frontal lobe, our decision-making part of the brain. There are quite often, depending on the drug or alcohol, one inch by 2 inch holes where gray matter used to be. Where did it go? It brings new meaning to the phrase, what were you thinking?