Erickson: How can I help someone I love who is struggling with addiction?

The following opinions expressed by Scott M. Erickson are his own and do not officially represent the views of The American Counseling Association or the Wyoming Mental Health Professions Licensing Board. The expression of these opinions does not constitute a real or implied counselor-client relationship.

There are basically two parts to the answer of this important question: do’s and don’ts.  This week we will start with some of the Don’ts.

Don’t demand that they “just try harder.” Please fight the urge to quit reading because you believe from this comment that I believe in a “warm milk and cookies” approach to recovery.  I do not. For someone who struggles with addiction to be successful in recovery they absolutely need to do better, try harder and be more motivated to change.

However, a very complex dynamic has developed for many with addictions.  Expectations on our part to immediately demand substantially more effort from them, especially without the right kind of support, can reinforce their particular cycle of addiction.

Don’t interpret their addictive behavior as evidence that they don’t love you. This can get particularly tricky when commitments about their addictive behaviors are made and subsequently broken. 

When apologies and repairs are attempted, many times those with addictions make promises to friends and loved ones in the vein of “never again” and they really mean it at the time. They make promises that they simply cannot keep and perpetuate a cycle of wounding and hurt. You cannot take this personally.

Don’t make excuses for addictive behavior because of the power of addiction.

Now, this may seem to be the opposite of the encouragement above and I hope to provide some clarity on this point. Fragilizing someone because they have an addiction is hurtful to them and their future. Though they truly may not be able to commit to immediately ending the addictive behavior, they are likely capable of committing to and following through with recovery efforts like workbooks, participating in support groups, and attending counseling and completing counseling homework.

Keep an eye out next week for a brief list of Do’s in supporting someone you love who has an addiction problem.

Scott M. Erickson is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Kemmerer who has provided counseling services in southwest Wyoming for the last eleven years. 

Erickson’s mission is to “be a dynamic catalyst helping you to empower your best self.”  He can be reached at his website or his Facebook page: Erickson Counseling & Coaching LLC.

More In Opinions