Substance addiction is something that can happen to people from all walks of life, and it can have a serious negative impact on somebody’s physical and mental health, as well as knock-on effects on the people around them.
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Not All Cases of Addiction Are Obvious
Not all cases are the same. While some people who are dealing with alcoholism or a dependency on prescription or recreational drugs do fit the stereotype of having their lives descend into chaos, there are also people who manage to hide what they are going through very well. There is a growing number of people who fit the profile of what is called ‘high functioning alcoholics’. These individuals generally look like they are holding things together as part of society, able to do their jobs, have healthy looking social lives and relationships, and don’t appear to be losing anything from their heavy alcohol consumption. However, when someone is in this situation they are still seriously damaging their health, and if they don’t address the underlying cause of their addiction, it is likely that their alcoholism will advance and they will start to experience the severe negative effects on their personal and professional lives in the future.
If you suspect that someone you love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, even if they aren’t getting in trouble with it yet, then the important thing is to be there for them and to have the kind of non-judgmental attitude that will make them feel comfortable talking to you about it when they are ready to come to terms with their addiction and begin recovery.
Recovery comes in a lot of phases. Some people go with organized groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, others go to rehab, and yet others try and recover by themselves with only the help of the people around them and online resources. Whatever approach your loved one is using, there are ways you can help them throughout their journey to healthy sobriety.
Deciding To Get Clean, And Withdrawal
The first stage your loved one will go through is deciding that they are ready to get clean of the substance they are addicted to. This can happen in a lot of ways. Some people have a ‘rock bottom’ moment, others are encouraged to face their problem by external factors (for example, an intervention, the threat of losing their job or partner, or a health scare), and for others, it is a slower process where they simply become sick and tired of their lives being controlled by their addiction.
Once someone has faced the fact that they have an addiction problem, they will need to go through what is often the scariest part of recovery: the initial withdrawal stage.
They may get professional help with this, however, some people do go through it without medical help. If they decide to do this, it is very important that someone is around to help them, as withdrawal can make people very sick and in some addictions, such as alcoholism, can be a dangerous physical state. In fact, it is not advisable for someone who experiences severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking to go cold turkey without medical supervision, and so a tapering process whereby they cut the amount they drink, having only enough alcohol to stave off the worst of the symptoms, is usually a safer approach to quitting alcohol when rehab or medically supervised withdrawal isn’t an option.
When somebody chooses to taper, they will still feel a little unwell during the process in many cases and will also need someone to hold them accountable and make sure they are not tempted to drink more than they need to, to complete their tapering program. Depending on how much they were drinking per day, tapering off can take from three days to a week or so, whereas cold turkey withdrawal varies depending on the substance.
During this time, you can help even if you are not the main person looking after your friend or loved one. You can help by assisting them with basic practical stuff they may be too sick to deal with, and by being around for them. Mood problems and depression are common in this phase and so they may need some company and distraction, too.
Ongoing Lifestyle Changes
Once someone has detoxed from the substance they were addicted to, they may have some ongoing withdrawal symptoms (called post-acute withdrawal symptoms or PAWS) for months or even years as their brain chemistry returns to normal, but these are far less debilitating and scary than the acute withdrawal symptoms in the first few days.
What becomes a bigger challenge as people begin to live a sober life is the changes they will need to make to start enjoying life without their drug of choice and dealing with the underlying issues that lead them to drink or become dependent on drugs in the first place. You can help here by supporting them in finding new things to do. They may decide to get fit, for example, or take up a new interest to keep themselves busy, give them some challenges, and replace some of the social interaction they used to get from alcohol or drugs.
Another thing you can do is help them avoid temptation. This doesn’t mean you have to be scared of inviting them to things where people will be drinking or drinking around them, but you need to understand how they personally feel about that. Some people who have gone through alcohol addiction find they are actually able to drink socially again in future, whereas others need to become completely abstinent, for instance, people who choose the AA route and earn chips for days, months, and years of abstaining, like these from The Token Shop.
Know what your loved one’s situation and plans are and be sensitive to these. Some people would rather not be invited to events where there will be alcohol, but others would feel left out by this when they are actually fine with being around other drinkers, so the best thing to do is ask.
As you can see, the recovery process can vary depending on the person, the addiction, and the method of sobriety they choose, but in every case, being understanding and helping in practical ways can make a difference.