Whether a spouse, romantic partner, sibling, child, parent, or friend, loving someone with an addiction can be heartbreaking. Raw emotions run from love and sympathy to pain and frustration or even simmering rage. You may feel hurt, devastated, exhausted, scared, or anxious. Perhaps you’ve been lied to, manipulated, stolen from, or used.
The relationship may seem futile to others, but addiction is complicated. Perhaps you’ve witnessed a loved one change into a different version of themselves as their addiction progressed. Your relationship may have started in happier times, and you feel called to support them in their time of need. Maybe they’re a parent, child, or sibling – someone you are deeply connected with.
While we are all worthy of love, even in our darkest moments, it is essential to consider how to best love someone with an addiction. The healthiest approach includes supporting them in a way that encourages their healing while also protecting and caring for yourself.
So, how can we love someone with addiction while also ensuring that our needs are met? Here are some tips and tricks to help you manage the balance.
1: Love Yourself First
The love, strength, and happiness you share with others largely depend on your ability to love and respect yourself. If you find the practice of self-love to be challenging, you may also struggle with codependency or setting boundaries.
Making your own health and well-being your top priority can be a powerful step towards setting limits so that you don’t overexert yourself trying to care for others. While tending to your own needs, remember to be gentle and grant yourself grace. As you learn to cultivate greater self-love and respect, setting healthy boundaries will feel more natural. This is an excellent way to nourish your relationship as it will help you identify codependent patterns and find solutions more readily.
The future is unpredictable, but adopting a self-love practice can help better prepare you for whatever the future holds. You cannot “fix” someone else – there is a great value in prioritizing your own healing by working on yourself. From there, you can choose how you want to show up for your loved one, not out of a mere sense of duty but from a place of compassionate awareness.
2: Be Honest with Yourself and Your Loved One
Addiction presents relationship obstacles that require an approach that may feel unfamiliar or comfortable to you. You may find yourself thoughtfully withholding in situations where you would otherwise selflessly give. You may discover tenderness in areas where tough love was the previous norm. Remaining truthful with yourself will help you navigate these new relationship dynamics.
For example, the bond between you and your loved one may need to change. Caring for them from a distance, even temporarily, could benefit you both in the long term. Though changes like this can be challenging to accept, your relationship can grow into something healthier and more secure as you practice them in the day-to-day.
Addiction requires unwavering honesty. You may feel overwhelmed by your circumstances and incapable of resolution. Fear or uncertainty may prevent you from addressing things about your loved one struggling with addiction, such as theft, recklessness, abuse, infidelity, or other harmful behaviors.
While overlooking these things might appear to be the easiest approach, being honest will better serve you and your loved one. You can start by honestly assessing your situation from all angles: control of finances, emotional tolls, and knowing what you have to offer your loved one are all important factors to consider. While the throes of addiction can wreak havoc on your life, the truth provides the stability you need to endure and eventually heal.
3: Find Support and Community
In an Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting, you may hear the phrase, “Let go and let God.” Regardless of what spiritual philosophy you subscribe to (or don’t), this phrase is meant to convey the need to accept that you are not responsible for the behaviors of your loved one struggling with addiction. You cannot force them to change, and you can only be responsible for yourself and the choices you make. This understanding is an essential step toward supporting someone with an addiction.
Twelve-step programs aren’t for everyone, but you can take what wisdom suits you and leave the rest. The programs are free, and finding a group of people who have been in your shoes can be deeply grounding and affirming. You can even get a sponsor: a person who will guide you and be available to call in times of crisis.
One of the ways you can show love to someone in your life with addiction is to learn about their experience. Support groups are one of the most invaluable resources you have for educating yourself and finding assistance.
Therapy provides a safe space to talk about the challenges in your life, and a therapist will help you gain clarity and solace so you can move forward. You can seek therapy in-person or online. While it is mutually beneficial if loved ones agree to couples or family therapy, do not wait for them to get on board before pursuing therapy for yourself. The time you spend in therapy will reward you with affirmation, insight, and healthy coping mechanisms that can empower you to make decisions about your life with better outcomes.
4: Set Boundaries, Not Ultimatums
It can be easy to enable the addiction of someone you love without being aware of it. This can look like giving money in the wake of another rock bottom event, offering them shelter despite the fact that they’ve previously stolen from you, providing emotional support and unconditional forgiveness, excusing their behavior, or protecting them from the consequences of their actions.
This is where boundary work can change the course of your relationship. People struggling with addiction often receive ultimatums as empty threats or a mere series of tasks to complete before eventually cycling back into old patterns. It can be more effective to respectfully communicate your personal boundaries and practice resolve rather than make demands your loved one likely cannot meet.
The challenge can become more apparent when it comes time to uphold these boundaries but stay strong. Let your loved one know that caring for yourself is your top priority and that you are more capable of helping them if they can first help themself.
5: Make Time for Joy and Tranquility
As you cope with the pains of addiction, don’t forget to take care of yourself with regular exercise, healthy eating, and adequate rest. Make time for mindfulness and reflection through meditation, journaling, prayer, yoga, or spending time in nature. Find joy through doing things you love, such as listening to music, starting a craft, catching up on your favorite show, cuddling with a pet, or spending time with friends.
It’s important to remember how you can support yourself and remain in a healthy frame of mind. Consider the best methods for you and put them into action. As it becomes easier to maneuver your day-to-day, you can start to consider your future. When addiction affects your life through someone close to you, the only future you can reasonably manage is your own.
6: Invest in Friendships
Your friendships might have languished while you’ve been consumed with managing your loved one’s addiction. It’s important to remember that you are an individual separate from your loved one, and learning to structure your life around your own needs rather than their choices and problems will help you find and maintain fulfillment.
Healthy, stable friendships can provide a framework for how you want your other relationships to look and feel. You can make new connections by joining groups, volunteering, taking a class, rekindling old friendships, or meeting with neighbors. Healthy bonds with friends can offer valuable perspective into your relationship with your loved one struggling with addiction and provide you with the lightheartedness you may find yourself missing.
If you’ve struggled in the past to form healthy relationships, consider exploring your attachment style to get a greater understanding of what you need to feel safe in a relationship.
7: Don’t Be Afraid to Be Vulnerable
It is common for people affected by addiction to experience shame regarding their circumstances, whether directly or indirectly. If you can relate to this, you may find yourself guarding the truth of your reality like a secret.
However, vulnerability has its advantages, and it can be liberating to share your story and seek support. While you don’t need to tell everyone all of your business all of the time, it can help to identify a few people as trusted confidants. They can be friends or family members — just be sure to get consent before venting or recounting potentially triggering details.
For more comprehensive support, seek out a therapist or a support group with whom you can discuss the heavier aspects of your experience. Therapy can be beneficial if you find it hard to move through those feelings of shame and forgive yourself. It may feel scary at first, but it can be an immense relief to reach out to people you trust. You are not alone.
8: Take Things One Step at a Time
Now that you understand how you can help yourself cope with your loved one’s addiction, you can prioritize the methods that fit within your personal journey. It can be beneficial to create a list of your individual needs and apply your newly learned techniques one step at a time.
If you feel overwhelmed by making a change, you may feel more secure breaking down each effort into small, incremental steps and assigning priority levels from there. Start with the top priority, and take on more as you can. Small steps can become great strides.
The pain you’ve endured is undeniable, but healing is possible. Remember, sometimes, the best way to love someone with an addiction is to begin with yourself.
If you need help getting support or want to explore options around individual or family therapy, telehealth, or addiction treatment, we’re here to help. Call us at 855-510-4585 or open the to talk with a recovery specialist now.
Reviewed by Emmeline Massey MSW, LSW