Friend or loved one addicted and self-isolated? Here’s how to help them.

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Helping a person who is battling addiction is never easy or simple. It takes patience to withstand the harm and manipulation that is so common to substance abuse, and the fresh requirement of self-isolation due to COVID-19 does little to make the process easier.

It is, however, vital for recovery.

Addiction is about connection

Most people are not fully informed about addiction. Through no fault of their own, it’s common for adults in the UK to simply be aware of the concept of addiction and physical dependency, such as becoming addicted to cocaine by using it.

The reality of addiction is much more nuanced than this. Famous experiments, such as the ‘Rat Park’ experiments done in the 70’s by Dr Bruce Alexander, have long indicated to us that addiction is as much about connection as it is about chemical hooks. In the aforementioned study, isolated rats showed a strong tendency to choose drug-laced water instead of pure water, consuming heroin to the point of death. Rats who had the same options but were placed in a recreational area with other rats rarely drank the drug-infused water – even when it was freely available to them.

Rehabilitation programmes have long incorporated this concept into their treatment processes – and you can help an addict by doing the same yourself. Addiction is a disease that thrives in isolation, and the downward spiral of substance abuse is accelerated drastically the more a person cuts themselves off from their peers, colleagues and loved ones. 

What this means for you

Simply put, an addict needs support and connection the most when they are battling their addiction at its fiercest. Despite their tendency to lash out or cause harm to those close to them, the fact remains that by appropriately extending love and support, you improve their likelihood of entering recovery and beating their addiction for good. 

Practical steps you can take to help an addict during COVID-19

How, then, can you help an addict during the COVID-19 pandemic? You may either live with a person fighting addiction or you may live elsewhere and be unable to visit them due to self-isolation laws. Here are a few steps to consider.

Establish boundaries

One of the most common ways in which harm is caused when helping an addict is through a lack of firm boundaries. Addiction is often a crash-course in manipulation, and addicts may become very convincing and difficult to manage – particularly if their dependency is worsening. 

Establishing firm boundaries while still extending love and support are critical for this reason. If an addict lives with you, consider setting strict curfews and a requirement for them to clean their living area properly. If they live elsewhere, try to arrange regular calls via phone or with video, but keep them to a schedule and don’t answer them if they call outside agreed hours. 

Don’t cushion their falls

Similar to setting firm boundaries, it’s important too to not enable the behaviour of an addict by blindly supporting them. There is a distinct difference between ‘being there’ and being an enabler of addiction, and the more clear you are on where you draw the line, the better for them.

The truth? You don’t own their addiction – they do. This can be a sad and difficult pill to swallow; sometimes, the best thing you can do for a loved one fighting addiction is to do nothing. Examples of this could include refusing to pick them up if they call you late at night, or not answering the phone if they call you drunk or high outside of your agreed contact hours. 

Don’t make it about you

It’s not easy to handle the anger and negative emotions you likely will feel, but it’s important to not let them take centre stage. If you are trying to support a loved one or friend fighting addiction, it’s a mistake to attempt to gain closure on your frustration and anger by addressing it to them.  

Doing this is extremely guilt-inducing for the addict and may leave them feeling even more emotionally drained than they likely are already. Despite the fact that they may cause real distress, financial damage and emotional difficulty to you, your decision to help them mean you must place their recovery above your emotions. This will, in time, aid their recovery. 

We hope this helps!

The Help Me Stop team hopes this short article is of real use to you and your loved ones. The battle of addiction is a game of inches. COVID-19 has placed new and unique challenges in front of addicts and their loved ones, and we believe recovery can and should continue even when self-isolating.

With this in mind, our therapists have come together to create an effective online rehab solution. To learn more about this brand-new Digital Dayhab programme, please click the link. 

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