Addiction Types

Helping a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

Discovering that someone you care about is battling addiction can be devastating. As a family member or friend, you likely feel scared, angry, and powerless. However, there are many ways you can provide support to your loved one during this difficult time.

Understanding Addiction

The first step is educating yourself about addiction. Addiction is a complex brain disease that compels people to seek out and use substances or behaviors despite the harm they cause. These substances and behaviors activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and creating pleasurable feelings. Over time, the brain begins to associate the substance or behavior with this reward, driving the addicted person to repeatedly pursue it.

Addiction impacts functioning and behavior in several key ways:

  • Loss of control – The addicted person feels unable to resist intense impulses and cravings to use the substance or engage in the addictive behavior.
  • Compulsive behavior – Seeking out and relapsing into substance use or addictive behaviors becomes an obsession and primary focus.
  • Continued use despite harm – The person persists in their substance use or behavior even when they understand and experience the damage it is causing physically, mentally, socially, financially, etc.

There are many different types of addiction including:

Alcohol – Alcohol impacts brain functioning and judgment. Long-term abuse can damage organs like the liver and heart.

Illicit drugs – Drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines etc. pose high risks of overdose along with organ damage and behavioral changes.

Prescription medications – Pain medications, sedatives, stimulants and more impact brain chemistry and alter moods and perceptions.

Gambling – Gambling addiction activates the brain’s reward system much like drugs, creating an obsessive drive to keep playing despite mounting losses.

Internet/gaming – Excessive internet use and online gaming trigger the release of dopamine, creating a compulsive drive to keep chasing that “high”.

Eating disorders – Disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating provide brain rewards that reinforce unhealthy eating patterns.

Sex/pornography – The brain releases dopamine during sex and sexual arousal. This forms powerful associations between the behavior and pleasurable reward.

Shopping – Shopping triggers the release of dopamine and other feel-good brain chemicals. For those with addiction, it becomes a compulsive, destructive behavior.

The good news is that no matter what the addiction, recovery is possible with proper treatment and support.

Impact on Family and Friends

When a loved one is battling addiction, it takes an emotional toll on family members and friends as well. Common feelings include:

  • Guilt – Wondering if you somehow caused or enabled the addiction
  • Anger – Frustration with lies, unpredictable behavior, etc.
  • Fear – Anxiety about health and safety risks or legal consequences
  • Helplessness – Feeling powerless to make your loved one stop
  • Confusion – Struggling to understand why they can’t just quit
  • Embarrassment – Concerns over stigma and judgment from others
  • Grief – Sorrow over losing the person you once knew

The strain can damage relationships and impact mental health. Family members often adopt specific roles in response:

The Enabler – Tries keeping peace by making excuses, covering up problems or giving money

The Hero – Takes on extra responsibilities and tries to fix everything for the addicted person

The Scapegoat – Acts out with their own self-destructive behaviors like drinking

The Mascot – Uses humor to lighten the mood and smooth tensions

These roles represent ways of coping. But allowing addictive behaviors to continue enables further damage. The most loving response is to get your loved one into treatment.

Finding the Right Treatment

Seeking treatment can feel scary for both the addicted person and their loved ones. However, it offers the best chance for overcoming addiction and repairing relationships.

There are several types of treatment to consider:

Inpatient rehab – Also called residential treatment, this involves staying at a licensed facility 24/7 for several weeks or months. It removes the person from their daily environment and provides intensive therapy.

Outpatient rehab – The person resides at home but commutes to a facility for several hours of treatment daily. This allows them to apply skills learned in “real world” settings.

Sober living homes – These offer group housing after intensive treatment. They provide peer support and accountability while transitioning back to normal life.

Support groups – Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous use a peer-support approach. They provide shared understanding and a community of accountability.

Individual counseling – One-on-one therapy helps address underlying issues and build healthy coping mechanisms. This can continue after intensive treatment ends.

Medication – Certain prescription medications help control addiction symptoms and prevent relapse. They are often used with other treatments.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. An evaluation should assess addiction severity, specific substances used, physical and mental health factors, home environment and more to create a personalized treatment plan.

Family Support: What You Can Do

Even if your loved one refuses treatment, there are still ways you can provide support:

Educate yourself – Learning about addiction helps you understand what your loved one is experiencing. Useful online resources include NIDA, Addiction Center and Psych Central.

Set boundaries – Decide what behaviors you will no longer tolerate or enable, and stick to them. This communicates you care about their wellbeing.

Encourage treatment – Share treatment options you’ve researched. Offer to help with logistics like contacting programs or attending family visits.

Practice self-care – Make time for your own needs so you don’t become physically and emotionally drained. Consider joining a support group like Al-Anon.

Be patient – Addiction recovery is a long journey with ups and downs. Avoid ultimatums, but continue extending compassion.

Prepare for relapse – Lapses in sobriety are common. Have an emergency plan if your loved one needs immediate intervention.

With support, compassion and proper treatment, healing is absolutely possible for both your loved one and your relationship with them. There are many hopeful stories of people recovering from addiction and going on to live happy, purposeful lives. No matter what happens next, know that you are not alone. There are many people who understand exactly what you’re going through. Reach out for help when you need it – for both your loved one’s sake and your own.


The Impact of Addiction on Family Members and Friends

How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

Loving Someone with Addiction

Codependency and Enabling

I hope this overview gives you a helpful starting point in supporting your loved one struggling with addiction. Remember – you don’t have to navigate this alone. There are many people who understand what you’re going through and can offer guidance. Wishing you and your family strength and peace through this challenging time.