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How to counsel a drug addict

Be careful not to get dragged into their drama

It’s easy to get hooked by their problems because you care.  Whilst it is understandable that you want to help by taking away their pain and distress often all that happens is you become just as distressed.  Taking an arms, length carer helper approach is best. After all if you get tangled up into their drama and their narrative you might end up going down with them.  It isn’t uncaring to take a caring, firm, but arms length position.  It doesn’t do them any good for you to unravel as much as they do.

Don’t buy their excuses, stay firm and fair.

Most people with drug and alcohol abuse problems are able to justify their behaviour.  Usually, they use convoluted or even seemingly sensible justifications.  Don’t buy their justifications.  The fact is if their life was running safely and smoothly they don’t have a problem.  If it isn’t they do.  No amount of justification takes away the fact that drug use and alcohol abuse problems cause them and the people they care about a lot of distress.

Be empathic and understanding but always work towards eliminating dependence.

It is always better to be understanding and empathic.  However being understanding and empathic doesn’t mean you agree with them.  I routinely listen to people I understand and can empathise with.  But just because I can “Get Them” doesn’t mean I agree with them.  Nor does my understanding mean I think what they are doing is good for them.  It just means I’m trying to get into their head and understand why they do what they do so I can help them.

Never give up on them.

Lot’s of people who are close to drug users and alcohol abusers feel like they’ve had enough by the time they seek therapy.  In my experience the majority of people eventually succeed in eliminating drug use and alcohol abuse.  It might take a while for some but they get there eventually.

Be firm but caring.

Caring doesn’t mean you agree.  Nor does it mean you have to take their pain away.  If what they are doing is causing themselves distress and causing distress to the people around them it’s ok to let them experience their pain.  However, you need to be their for them so when they decide to take control you can support them.

Caring is practical not compensating and enabling.

You need to fully accept that you can’t do change for them.  The person with the problem has to do it for themselves.  Your job is to cheer them on as they improve their lives and overcome their challenges.

Be empathic without enabling.

Empathy is understanding them as if you are them.  It is understanding without judgement and criticism.  However, that doesn’t mean you agree with them.  Nor does it mean that you can’t challenge them.  I can say to someone I understand, and I love you and I want the best for you and that is why you need to overcome drug and alcohol dependence.

Direct them to a professional service.

Surround them and you with professional support. But be aware overcoming drug and alcohol dependence requires a lot of insight into the science, psychology, skills and strategies for overcoming dependence.  That’s why it’s always best to direct them to professional services.

Get your own professional support.

Carers often need help.  You might need help in understanding their issues.  You might need help because their dilemmas stirs up challenges for yourself.  It is always wise to get the support of a professional therapist to support you through your situation as you support them through theirs.

Find a good match between you and professional services.

It’s important that you have a good connection between you and your therapist if you need help. It goes without saying that you need to be able to trust your therapist is you are going to get any benefit from working with them.  Don’t be afraid to change therapists if you not comfortable with the one you’re working with.