What to do if someone you love is struggling with addiction
There’s not a set rulebook, but there are ways to help
When we talk about addiction, we talk about how it consumes an substance abuser's life and how, eventually, it sours everything from the inside out. We talk about how statistically most people relapse, usually more than once. When we talk about addiction we talk about it in terms of the addict, because, after all, they're the one visibly struggling.
But what if you're dating an addict? What if your friend is dealing with addiction? There's no guidebook for how to handle the spiraling, bottoming out, and eventual slow, painful recovery (if you're lucky) of someone you love.
If your friend or S.O. is recovering, here's how to be there for them:
Let them come to you
This sounds counterintuitive but when someone is dealing with the secondhand embarrassment of having been outed for abuse, they probably already know you know.
Even if you haven't talked about it in a "clearer" state of mind, they're likely to feel shame, wondering if you knew all along. They will find the words when they're ready.
Don't act like everything is normal
When they do finally come to you, don't brush it off because you think you're being the "cool girlfriend" or friend.
It's not easy for someone to open up about something they're embarrassed about, so consider it a privilege to know how they're feeling.
Do not tell other people
Just because somebody confides in you about something doesn't mean you get to tell other people. With the exception of a best friend, or maybe a boyfriend, you can't trust other people not to talk about it.
If the person telling you wanted to tell someone else, they would have have said so or done it themselves.
Allow yourself to feel angry
People feel it's their responsibility to project a sunny disposition around someone who is recovering, because that person seems fragile. So, even though you're angry, you wait until later to tell them how you feel, but you deserve to be angry.
Maybe they've been lying to you or hiding something from you for months now. Project your anger, but project it into something constructive.
Allow yourself to cry
Like with anger, people think it's counterproductive to be upset when you're watching someone else struggle. But what's even less productive is holding it in.
Allow yourself to be sad, allow yourself to cry. But give yourself a definitive time limit to wallow, like a few days, or a week. Eventually you'll have to stop.
Know they're not your responsibility
After this person has talked to you, it's critical to allow yourself the opportunity to move on. Just because you were there when everything went downhill doesn't tie you to their situation forever.
It is not your responsibility to be a life jacket for absolutely anybody else.
Give yourself the space you need
The thing about someone abusing alcohol or drugs is that they can't keep going up forever. Eventually, after it plateaus, they'll come down and bring the people they love with them.
Even if you weren't the one abusing, it's going to take time to get better.
Substance abuse never stays under the rug long because there are only two real ways it can go: something goes wrong and an abuser is forced to seek help, or the substance kills them in the process.
You did not give that person that substance, you are not the reason they began taking or doing it and if they relapse it won't be your fault either, regardless of how much you love them.
Be there for them when you can, but realize that you'll need space, too.