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10 things to keep in mind when helping someone with drug addiction

[FPK Photo/Mir Yasir Mukhtar.]

Thousands of youth in Kashmir are drowning in the dark sea of drug addiction which is increasing at an alarming rate. A consumption survey as per the Jammu and Kashmir administration revealed that there are at least 6 lakh residents affected by drug related issues in the region. 90 per cent of these are in the age group of 17-33 years.

According to official figures, on an average, the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences Srinagar (IMHANS) receives at least 150 new drug addiction cases on a daily basis, out of which 95 per cent are heroin abusers.

So what exactly is drug addiction? And what makes drugs so addictive?

Addiction is a chronic condition that involves continuous usage of drugs for a long period of time despite its negative consequences on a person’s physical and emotional health, finances and relationships. Repeated use of a drug causes physical addiction which changes the way your brain feels pleasure. As addiction progresses, a person’s brain experiences changes to the areas involved in joy, stress, and self-control.

There is this big misconception that drug addicts lack good morals, and choose to continue using drugs despite its self destructive consequences. Most people believe that drugs are easy to quit, and that people who are addicted simply don’t try hard enough or lack the will-power to stop. However, these views are far from the truth, and contribute to the stigma of substance abuse.

In reality, drug addiction is a disease, and a very complex one. It typically takes more than good intentions and strong will to stop. Many, if not most addicted individuals want to stop using. But the neurological changes that drugs induce in their brains makes it very hard for them to quit.

Drugs alter the brain in such a way that users physically feel as though they will not be able to function normally without using them. As a result, they prioritise drug use above everything else, and they feel as if drugs are the only means by which they can comfortably make it through the day.

As serious as this issue sounds, people battling addiction are present all around us. Having a loved one struggling with substance use can be quite overwhelming. Substance abuse often leaves its victims separating themselves from friends and family entirely, which comes from a place of guilt. When it somehow becomes possible for you to break through that distance, the right words and actions matter. By saying the wrong thing, or bringing the wrong attitude, one always has the possibility to do more harm than good, since the person is most likely already in a super volatile state. But the fear and concern of leaving them without support is equally threatening.

Here are few steps to take when approaching and supporting a friend trying to recover.

1. Take care of yourself, first:

Addiction is a devastating illness that can potentially cause severe trauma to both you and your loved one. It not only affects the person who is suffering, but also drains people who are close to them. In such situations, family and friends often place the needs of their loved one above their own. That can result in a lack of self-care, physical and emotional exhaustion and in some cases, depression and anxiety.

Taking care of your own emotional and mental needs first will help you stay better equipped to help your loved one through the difficult journey of recovery. As the old phrase goes, When one is out of touch with oneself, one cannot touch others. So, look after yourself to avoid your loved ones addiction from swallowing you.

2. Educate yourself about addiction and recovery:

To be able to effectively support someone dealing with addiction, it is crucial that first we ourselves know about addiction and how it works. Although you can’t fully put yourself in their shoes, especially if you’re inexperienced yourself, you can always learn about it through blogs, articles, and websites from reliable sources.

3. Try focusing on underlying issues:

Addiction doesn’t happen out of nowhere. Many people use drugs to mask issues like childhood trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Having failed to manage the stress and trauma, your loved one may be using drugs as a coping mechanism for underlying stress, depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

If you want to support them, be aware that addiction is not a personality flaw or a failure. In fact, in most cases, your loved one is struggling with something much deeper which needs immediate attention.

4. Seek professional help:

An individual who is struggling with substance abuse has likely tried and failed to quit several times on their own. By the time the mental and physical effects of substance abuse become apparent to loved ones, it is high time to seek professional help.

Fortunately, addiction is treatable, and there are many experts who are equipped to help. Addicts are often more willing to take advice from professionals rather than their near and dear ones. Encourage your loved one meet with his doctor or another medical or mental health professional to discuss the addiction and treatment.

5. Remember that addiction is a disease:

It is very important for us to acknowledge that a drug user is not a deadbeat stoner who engages in poor lifestyle choices. They suffer from a legitimate chronic disease. Although in the beginning, using drugs is a personal decision, the effects of repeated drug use are outside the user’s control.

These changes also escalates the risk of other mental health disorders and makes self-control extremely difficult. This increases a user’s dependence on illicit substances.

Most addicts struggle with self-esteem issues while battling addiction. To have the support of a loved one who understands that addiction is a disease and believes in them can be key to their recovery.

6. Set and respect boundaries:

Although it is important to avoid getting angry and irritable while helping someone on their recovery journey, be sure to not let your loved one walk all over you. Addicts are quick to take advantage of kind gestures, and to avoid that, you need to set clear boundaries.

For example, if your loved one gets emotionally abusive while on drugs, you should refuse to spend time with them while they are high or intoxicated.

7. Celebrate progress:

Recovery is a slow-paced process. There are no overnight cures or short-cuts to sobriety. Instead, there will be small and gradual changes. These changes tend to get overlooked when full recovery is the goal, so be sure to celebrate any progress made towards the end goal, no matter how small it may seem. This boosts the addict’s confidence and encourages them to make further progress towards recovery.

8. Be honest:

While talking with your loved one about their addiction, be as honest and transparent as you can. Let them know in what ways the addiction has affected you. Don’t blame them for your reactions. Don’t criticize them. Just sincerely and kindly, tell them what you are feeling and going through.

9. Be patient and kind:

If your friend is resisting treatment, instead of getting angry, offer to help them by coming up with solutions to the barriers. For instance, you can help them find a good councellor if they need it, locate a facility that provides medical detox if withdrawal is their concern or just lend them a patient listening ear.

Always Maintain a positive and encouraging approach with the addict. Remind them often that it takes courage to acknowledge an addiction and that recovery is possible. Communicate that you are here to provide support to them throughout the process.

10. Communicate your concerns:

Ask your loved one how you can help them recover. They may ask you to go to a self-help meeting with them or give you a call when they have a craving. Always remember that saying things like, “quit if you love me,” or “do us a favour” as this is damaging behaviour that almost never works.

Instead, convey your concerns, tell them you love them. Remind them that they are valued, they are not alone and recovery is an achievable goal.


Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation. 

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