What three things seem to be most helpful for a loved one in active addiction?
Question: My daughter is currently in active addiction. In your experience, what are three things you see loved ones do (or not do) that seem to be most helpful for their loved one in active addiction?
Wonderful question. I have found that, first, loving their child in the moment—exactly as they are, under the influence or not, as difficult as that may be—can in fact be one of the most helpful things a parent can do. We have all been conditioned to believe that love and compassion are not powerful enough to heal the suffering caused by substance abuse. I have found that to be wrong!
Meeting your loved one where they are at, with compassion, and detaching with love can change the trajectory of this life-threatening disease. Setting the necessary boundaries does not have to prevent you from expressing your love or appreciation for the person struggling. If your daughter is under the influence, show her love; she is suffering. When you are thinking about her, send her a text letting her know; it can make a difference, whether she responds or not. When she calls with certain needs or requests, try to express your love and gratitude for her even if you cannot provide what she is looking for. One of the most uncomfortable feelings during active addiction is the feeling of homesickness, or disconnectedness with our parents and loved ones. We know our actions and life choices have forced a wedge within our relationships. Our disease wants to isolate us, leaving us feeling disconnected or unworthy, which perpetuates the desire to self-medicate.
Second, offering encouragement and recognizing the small achievements made by your loved one can have more of a positive impact than most realize. Recognize your child’s progress even if they are currently using. Encouragement does not have to feel like cheerleading. Fear, doubt, and insecurities typically prevent us from stepping out of our comfort zone to achieve our goals. When a loved one has been in the contemplation and preparation stages of change—where they eventually want to stop using five times a day—the day they put action behind their plan and consciously decide to use only four times a day, I recognize and encourage the achievement they have made. Even if your daughter is actively using and making small progress, recognizing her efforts made, offering words of encouragement, and empowering her during the her most difficult times will become a source of hope.
Third, avoid codependency and set limits. While it is natural for parents or loved ones to be the caregiver and “do” whatever they can when their loved ones are struggling with substance abuse, people ultimately become successful in their recovery when they become active participants in it. Your daughter may not have that awakening moment where she feels she is “ready”—most of us don’t. She also may not “hit bottom” and start making changes. At some point, though, her pain will become great enough that she is forced to change. Without some struggle in active addiction, why would anyone choose to stop using? Codependency from both the person struggling and their family members can postpone the healing process. When family members make emotional decisions out of fear, guilt, or regret, our manipulation can take the forefront. We, in active addiction, suffer from a spiritual loss of values. We will lie, we will cheat, and we may even steal, if necessary, in order to meet our needs. Saying no works! Without limits, the destruction caused by the disease of addiction can be limitless! Mom, we need you to say no!
Best of luck, Mom!
A Daughter’s Perspective
Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.
Keriann Caccavaro is a recovery coach, drug court advocate, and woman in long term recovery helping to support people struggling with addiction and their families. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn or Facebook.
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