How to Help a Drug User

If someone you know and love is using, abusing or addicted to drug substances, chances are that their life isn’t the only one that’s being damaged. In addition to struggling with worry over your loved one’s drug problems, frustration over their dishonest and deceitful actions and anger over their dropped responsibilities you may feel confused about why they would apparently willingly throw their life away for these substances. And therein lies the simple answer to how one can begin to help a drug user: one must first understand exactly what the drug using individual is going through.

Understanding Drugs

When your loved one is struggling with drug abuse or addiction problems you may be tempted to simply approach them and appeal to them in some way in order to get them to quit their drug use. Individuals may believe that emotional appeals or even angry commands should be able to get their loved one to do what it takes to “just quit”. However, while this may work in limited situations, these appeals are not actually helping the individual overcome the problems they are struggling with, and therefore can often lead to further frustration and emotional upsets. The fact is that on some level the individual is aware of how drug use is affecting their life and they desire to be free from the stranglehold these substances have over their life. If it were really as easy as mustering one’s willpower and “just quitting”, the individual would likely have done this already. There is far more to drug abuse and addiction, though, than simply exerting one’s willpower.

An individual turns to drug use when they feel that they have encountered some problem in their life that they are either unwilling or unable to address and resolve. However it happens, this individual comes to believe that drug substances may be able to help them in some way, and this causes them to reach out, take a chance and try them. There are some individuals who try drugs once and decide they will never use them again. There are also some individuals who try drugs once, continue to use them for a period of time, and then decide they will never use them again. Then there are those individuals who try drugs, experience much-desired relief through drug use, and decide that drugs are helpful enough to continue using indefinitely. Members of this final group are the ones who often find themselves falling into drug abuse and addiction problems without a way out.

Once the body learns to tolerate drug substances, the individual finds that they no longer experience the same desirable effects through the same amount of drug use, and they normally increase their drug intake. This pattern can continue until the individual is actually tolerant of dangerously high volumes of dangerously potent and addictive drug substances and is incredibly frustrated because they still are not experiencing the same desired effects they once did. Another danger of drug tolerance is the fact that an individual who relapses into drug use after a period of abstinence may choose to consume the volume of drug substances they last tolerated and can overdose and experience extremely dangerous, and sometimes even fatal, side effects as a result.

When the human body adapts to the presence of drug substances and depends upon these substances in order to continue functioning normally, the individual finds that they no longer have any control over their drug use patterns. They are driven to compulsively continue their drug-seeking behavior, despite the many damaging effects caused, and they may make several attempts to end their drug use on their own without any success. Such an individual may feel embarrassed, guilty and hopeless about their drug problems, and while they definitely need help from others in order to address and resolve these problems, they may not know how to go about getting this help.

Extending Help

Once you understand what drug substances are and how they affect the human body, you may discover that you have more compassion for your loved one because you now know that they cannot “just quit”, no matter how badly they may want to. The next step is to better understand your loved one’s exact drug problems, including what drug or drug substances they are using, how frequently, in what dose, and for how long. Using this information, you can research rehabilitation treatment options that will be well-suited to your loved one’s needs.

The goal of rehabilitation treatment is to help an individual restore their ability to live a healthy, productive and happy life. It does this through a series of treatment steps that help the individual address and resolve each and every cause and effect of their drug use. That said, not all treatment facilities, programs and services are created equally, and simply enrolling an individual in a treatment program will not automatically guarantee their success. They must participate in a program that addresses their own unique drug problems and their own specific needs.

There are two main categories of rehabilitation treatment: inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment. Even within these two categories there are often wide variations from facility to facility and program to program, and these should be carefully researched. Generally speaking, the benefits of inpatient treatment include the fact that the individual is removed from their normal life environments and routines and placed in a safe, supportive and drug-free environment for the duration of their treatment program. They receive around-the-clock care and support from professional, experienced addiction specialists, and they normally receive the length of treatment that is necessary to help them conclusively resolve their drug abuse and addiction problems. These programs work well for individuals who are suffering from extensive drug abuse and addiction problems, and who are also dealing with difficult life environments and situations that may be contributing to their drug problems. The benefits of outpatient treatment are mainly that the individual can carry on with their normal life routines while participating in treatment, and can return to their home each evening. Individuals who have already completed a more detailed inpatient treatment program, who have minor drug abuse or addiction problems and who have a safe, secure and supportive home environment may find that outpatient treatment works well to meet their needs.

Once you have determined that treatment is available to meet your loved one’s needs, the next step is to approach them about their drug problem. It is best to wait until you both have plenty of time to talk without interruption, and then calmly let them know that you are aware of their drug problems and that you desire to help them. They may still become angry with you, deny that they have a problem, deny that they need help, or even deny that their life is any of your business, but it is important to at least open the door for discussion. They may storm out of this casual meeting and swear never to speak to you again, but you may find that if you continue to handle them with compassion and calmness, they may also return to you at some later point and ask for the help you openly offered in the first place.

Another option for approaching your loved one about their drug problems is to stage an intervention with the help of a professional interventionist. Well-planned interventions often end in success, and the professional interventionist can help coach you on what to say and how to act in order to have the best chance at a successful outcome.

Whether you speak calmly with your loved one on your own or stage an intervention with professional help, it is important to remain persistent and supportive. Your loved one may not agree to participate in treatment right away, but this does not automatically mean that your efforts have failed. They made need some time to consider what you have said and what their options are, and then they may choose to return and receive your help in stepping forward toward recovery. Without becoming highly emotional, you simply need to convey to your loved one that while you will absolutely support their efforts toward recovery, you will absolutely not tolerate, condone or support their continued drug use.

Supporting Full Recovery

Even when your loved one has admitted that they have a problem and has enrolled in the rehabilitation treatment program that will give them the help they need, they still are not safely and fully recovered from their drug use problems. They will need your continued support and encouragement in order to make it through the many obstacles, challenges and difficulties that normal arise during the recovery process so that they don’t try to give up before they have won the battle against drugs. All your hard work will pay off, though, when they finally establish and maintain their sobriety and thank you deeply for never giving up on them even when they had given up on themselves.

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