Supporting someone with an addiction of any kind can be challenging – let alone when you are miles apart. As the world adapts to learning how to communicate from a distance, it has never been easier to ‘be there’ while not physically ‘being there’.
Having an addiction can trigger many emotions and feelings, including isolation and loneliness – leading to poor mental health. So your support and encouragement during this time could be welcome.
There’s no easy way to support someone with an addiction, it will be trial and error until you find a solution they are comfortable with, but here are some things you can do during this tough time to reach out a kind hand and let them know you are there to help.
Communication is key when supporting anyone miles away – but especially an addict. These can’t be random calls occurring once in a blue moon (we know life can get in the way, but if you are someone’s support system it’s really important to dedicate regular and frequent sessions to talk to them).
2. Schedule calls
So they can get into a routine, schedule calls. It also gives them something to look forward to.
3. Make it regular
Once a week is okay, but a really solid support system, try a few times. Leave some gaps so you have things to talk about. A good start if they’re feeling up to it would be:
Of course, you may not need to call so often if they live with someone, but if they are a single occupant, they could feel lonely and may appreciate the ‘company’.
4. Mix up the modes of calling
Don’t just stick to the phone; while this is a good starting point, adding video calls will be much better. Eye contact will show that you’re both focused and listening to one another. Video calls are also the closest thing you can get to being there with a person and there are many free platforms to help you communicate with someone from afar.
5. Raise your concerns
This is easier said than done. Speaking to someone about their addiction can cause tension, upset, and even anger. Choose your moment carefully, if they’re talking to you after a particularly tough day and already upset, now may not be the time. Instead, choose a time when you’re both calm and in a good mood. Using statements with ‘I’ is recommended so they can understand these are your feelings and your concerns.
Things such as ‘I keep worrying if you’re ok,’ ‘it makes me feel really sad when you aren’t able to respond to my texts,’ ‘I worry about how your drinking/drug taking is affecting you,’ ‘I felt really hurt when…’
6. Don’t place blame
Which leads us to blame placing. Your message may not get heard if you’re being accusative. Share how you feel but avoid terms such as “You’re making me feel…” or “If it wasn’t for you…”. This could lead to destroying any steps forward you’ve taken in a building that trusted support system and could push them away – which ultimately could be more detrimental.
7. Don’t pressure them into talking
This being said, it’s all well and good wanting to be there for someone, but if they’re not receptive to letting you in, it can be tough. The best thing to do is to let them feel like it was their idea. Suggest that they call you if they feel lonely or bored and just want to chat. You can also suggest a time that you’re free and ask them if they’re up for it – letting them make the final decision. If they only want to talk for 10 minutes once a week, it’s better than nothing at all.
8. Recommend professional support
Once you’ve spoken to them, maybe even broken down a few barriers, it may be time to suggest some professional help. Research online for any support services and point them towards them, or make contact with those and get some advice. Speaking to people who have experienced what they’re going through and have come out of it stronger can be beneficial. And if you can’t be with them, pointing them in the right direction to a community close by can help them feel less alone and isolated from society. Addiction treatment center Delamere, recently produced a report on all the help available in Manchester, for example. Delamere is one of many professional services providing support with addiction – for more information: Visit here.
Other services that may be able to help and signpost to appropriate services include Mind, Frank, and your local GP.
9. Don’t forget about yourself
Finally, don’t forget about yourself. Supporting someone with an addiction can be difficult. It can consume hours of your time every week and it can be hard hearing the struggles a friend or family member is going through while you’re not nearby to help in person.
Take time away for yourself (another reason why gaps between calls are good), care about what you’re doing, and make plans that benefit you. If you’re feeling stressed or under the weather while trying to be a pillar of support for someone else, it can rub off onto them and make them feel worse – like they’re a burden. Take each day as it comes and remember to support yourself throughout supporting others.
You can support but you can’t heal them. Their addiction is not your fault, it is not within your control to fix and it cannot be allowed to destroy you and your life too. That doesn’t make you uncaring. Keeping yourself strong will actually help them because if you’re broken too, you can’t be there for them.