How can I help a friend or family member who has an addiction?
This weekend marks the 27th Worldwide Weekend of Prayer for the Addicted, when Christians around the world come together in prayer and action on behalf of people trapped in life-controlling dependencies. It’s not hard to see how addiction of any kind has the power to destroy people’s lives and the lives of those around them, whether it’s smoking, drinking, substance abuse, gambling, eating, shopping or something else. It can affect anything from your physical health to your work life, your social life to your bank balance.
If you find that a friend or a family member is battling an addiction, it’s likely they have a long fight ahead of them and having the support of loved ones will be paramount. You may be feeling pretty helpless, and indeed it may be down to medical professionals and trained support workers to help them quit for good, but what can you do in the meantime?
1. The best step to take early on is to avoid being scared to talk about the addiction. Often an elephant in the room left to its own devices will grow and grow, ultimately taking over. You should be honest about your feelings and talk to the person about the effect their addiction is having. Perhaps if they see how the addiction is affecting those around them, they’ll have a strong motivator to change. At the very least they’ll feel less alone and isolated once they know you’re on their side. These kinds of conversations are never going to be easy, but just be honest and empathetic with them and keep pressing on.
2. Spending time with the person suffering, even if you’re not talking about their problems in particular, is worthwhile. Sadly a lot of people develop these habits as a way of dealing with their emotions and to ‘numb’ difficult feelings such as loneliness, so try to keep them company and socialise with them as often as you can. Encourage them to stay away from situations, places or people that might entice them back to the habit. Rather, give them other ways to keep busy – depending on what exactly they're struggling with, you could try going to the gym and using up some energy through exercise, or take up a hobby like clay pigeon shooting or kick boxing as a way of channeling stress. Again, this might take a lot of time and energy on your part, but persevere. Don’t give up!
3. You can also help by researching what information and support is available. There are lots of resources online that will help you to better understand the situation, how to tackle it and how to be supportive, as well as stories from people who are going through similar problems. The NHS website is a good place to start as it offers advice and information on all sorts of addictions.
For advice on drug addictions, from alcohol and tobacco to drugs that aren’t legal in the UK but are still frighteningly common:
For unhealthy gambling habits:
For alcohol addiction and abuse:
For unhealthy eating habits, including addictions to food, anorexia and bulimia:
4. Remember, it’s unlikely you can solve the problem completely on your own. Don’t be disheartened if your efforts seem to be in vain at first. Studies show that people are ultimately more likely to listen to advice from professionals than friends or family. While it’s important to support them and keep them occupied, the best thing you can do is point them in the direction of those trained to understand why these issues have occurred and how to deal with them.
5. Unfortunately, there is often a stigma around the idea of seeking professional help and you might need to keep in mind that only the person struggling with the addiction can make that decision. Of course, people are more likely to change if they actually want to change, so it might be a case of gradually talking to them about the issue, showing them the benefits of quitting and helping them to make their own choice. Be prepared with the research you’ve done on sources of support, should they ask.
6. Pray! As Christians, our best weapon in the fight against addiction is God's powerful love. During the Worldwide Weekend of Prayer for the Addicted, people will be dedicating time to praying for sufferers everywhere to be released, so whether it's something close to home or not it's so worthwhile getting involved.
7. Finally, you could refer your loved one to a CAP Release Group. Run through local churches, the groups are designed to help people struggling with unhealthy habits, such as smoking, gambling or shopping, through a combination of emotional and practical support in a friendly environment. Richard, who took part in his local release group last year, said, ‘I’d been smoking for about 24 years. The CAP Release Group taught me about changing my habits. In the morning I would usually have a coffee which I associated with cigarettes; now instead I have tea which I associate with biscuits! Since I quit smoking, my health is better, my budgeting is better and the money I’m saving is going towards getting my own place.’