Drug addiction knows no boundaries, affecting people from all walks of life. Friends, family, employers, and coworkers can all fall prey to the lure of drugs and alcohol under the right circumstances. Knowing how to deal with a drug addict can help you disengage from the web that addiction weaves, which will save you much frustration and heartache. Substance abuse can make a good person do bad things, but some tips on how to handle a loved one that is a drug addict.
How Addiction Changes a Person’s Personality
Addictive drugs all share one powerful ability: they interfere with the brain’s chemical processes, particularly those that involve dopamine. Dopamine is one of the body’s “feel good” chemicals as well as an essential neurotransmitter chemical. It plays a pivotal role in regulating the brain’s reward center, limbic system (which regulates emotions), and cognitive functions. All of these areas work together to form your belief systems, priorities, motivations, and behaviors.
When dopamine levels rise, the reward center remembers the conditions, such as what you were doing or where you were, that prompted the increase in dopamine. When repeated often enough, this area of the brain learns to seek out these same conditions. The other areas affected by dopamine work in tandem with the reward center. By the time addiction takes hold, drug use has become a vital need in the mind of the addict.
Personality changes develop as drugs take on more importance in the addict’s life. Where once career and family held top priority, experiencing the drug “high” becomes more important than everything else. In order to protect this aspect of their lives, someone who’s addicted will engage in behaviors they otherwise wouldn’t do.
When you’re dealing with a drug addict, expect to encounter one or more of the following behaviors:
- Shifting blame off themselves
- Abusive behavior, including emotional and physical abuse
Tips on How to Deal with a Drug Addict
Learn About Addiction
The old adage, “knowledge is power” holds true when dealing with the social dysfunction that addiction breeds. If you have a family member that’s struggling with addiction, his or her actions can quickly become the source of anger and frustration. It’s not uncommon for loved ones to experience feelings of stress, guilt, anxiety, and embarrassment in response to the addict’s behaviors. Understanding what drives the addiction can help you disengage from the emotional tricks “the addiction” uses to get its way. It could also be helpful to learn more about the particular drugs such as their individual smells if you suspect that there is use going on in your household.
Hold the Addict Accountable
It’s only natural to want to support a loved one who has a drug problem. The only problem is support can easily turn into enabling when you genuinely care for the addict. Enabling itself can be considered one of the unhealthy addictions. In general, enabling is an action that supports the addict’s self-destructive behaviors. Here are a few examples of enabling:
- Loaning the addict money
- Lying for the addict, such as calling into his or her job to request a sick day
- Making excuses for the addict’s behavior
- Allowing yourself to be manipulated when you know that’s what’s happening
- Allowing the addict to threaten your welfare, such as using the rent money to buy drugs
By not enabling these behaviors, you’re making the addict accountable for his or her choices and actions. This allows them to actually see the effects of addiction in their lives. It also takes a lot of pressure off of you and other family members.
Set Firm Boundaries
Addiction warps a person’s priorities and values to the point where everyone else’s needs take a backseat to getting and using drugs. Setting firm boundaries with the addict, in terms of what you will and will not tolerate, can help shield you from addiction’s harmful effects. For example, you might prohibit drug use in your home or refuse to interact with the addict when he or she is under the influence.
It’s also important to assign clear-cut consequences in the event a boundary is crossed. In some cases, having a response plan in place can make enforcing consequences easier. A response plan may involve calling on the police, friends, or family members to help manage the situation.
Find a Support Group
Having to deal with a drug addict on a regular basis can be draining, especially if you live with him or her. Support groups, such as Al-Anon and Alateen are safe spaces where you can connect with like-minded peers that share the same concerns. Having an outlet where you talk about your experiences and listen to how others manage similar situations can be a great stress reliever. It also makes it easier to cope with the ups and downs that addiction breeds.
Consider Holding an Intervention
If a friend or loved one’s actions have reached the point where other people are suffering the consequences, it may be time to stage an intervention. An intervention is designed to confront the addict about his or her drug problem and how it’s affected other peoples’ lives. It is also a great first step to sending an addict to rehab. Friends, family members, coworkers, and employers or anyone affected by the addict’s actions can be a part of an intervention.
In cases of severe addiction or where there’s a good chance the addict may become aggressive or violent, it’s best to have an intervention specialist conduct the meeting. Also, be sure to have a rehab program in place in the event your friend or loved agrees to go into treatment. If he or she refuses to get treatment, be ready to set firm boundaries and consequences for this choice.
It’s not easy to handle a drug addict, whether you live with them, hang out with them, or work with them. While it’s only natural to want to help, protecting yourself from the harmful effects of addiction is also important. The good news is you don’t have to cut them out of your life when you know how to deal with addiction.
- health.harvard.edu – How Addiction Hijacks the Brain
- ps.psychiatryonline.org – Responsibility and Choice in Addiction
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Social Processes Explaining the Benefits of Al-Anon Participation
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.