Help Without Harming: Can You Really Rescue an Addicted Loved One?



So you find yourself in a confusing, helpless, and even desperate situation. As a family member or partner of an addicted loved one, you can see how things are spiraling down. Losing jobs, school suspensions, escalating arguments, fights, debts mount, neglecting family and other responsibilities. Perhaps you may even be one of those who have sleepless nights wondering where your spouse, parent, or child must be. You are helpless and you can only find comfort praying that wherever they are, they are safe.

How Your Help May Be Harmful

As many problems arise, such as stolen money, missing possessions, brushes with the law, you want to help. You as a spouse or family member of an addict, would provide help. But guess what—despite your best intentions, these may even prove to be harmful.

Yes. How you help your addicted loved one may just be making things worse for them.

As much as you want to protect them and make them better, you may harm them by bailing them out of the situation they got themselves into.

For example, making up excuses or trying to clean up their mess deprives the addict of a means to be accountable for their actions and make an effort to change. Missing a family event or throwing a fit in the middle of a celebration and you, out of your love and concern, might defend your addicted loved one. You may try to make amends with offended parties and reassure your addicted loved one that everything is okay.

Instead of them bearing the brunt of their actions, you are shielding them from the consequences. You are also teaching them to become dependent on you, and they don’t have the opportunity to really see the damage they are causing.

It’s Important to Back Off

When it comes to addiction, it’s important to back off and allow them to grow. Or at the very least avoid enabling them. This is why it’s important that we make a distinction here about “saving” and “rescuing.”

You can “rescue” a person who really doesn’t need to be saved. You can save a person from drowning by swimming to them to get them out of the water or throwing them a life preserver. You may also save a person injured from a vehicle crash by providing them first aid. However, “rescuing” a person is different especially in the case of addiction because this means you are stopping them from feeling or getting the consequences of their addictions. By “rescuing” them, you may not actually save them because they are better off coming to learn their lessons themselves. You can save an addict without having to rescue them and fixing the damage along the way.

How You Can Help Without Harming

It’s important to have an open, honest conversation with your addicted loved one. We have a blog on how you can start this conversation.

Below is a guide on how you can talk to your addicted family member and these can help you map out how you can get them the help they need in the long run.

  • Find out if how committed they are on turning things around.
  • Find out how they want to change. Get down to the specifics.
  • Find out what they want to do in the near future should the same scenarios happen again.
  • Ask if they want help and if so, how you can help them.
  • Let them know and make sure that it’s clear that you are not there to fix the problem yourself, but to offer backup and let them know that you care for them.
  • See if your efforts are matched and they are following through with what they said they will do.
  • Never do more than half the work. They should put in the effort oo.
  • If there is no change, find a good time to reassess your situation and discuss further measures.
  • Avoid tossing blame and make sure to provide constructive feedback.
  • Be willing to back off without negative judgment.

The idea here is that while you don’t want to be the one to fix everything for them, you want them to see the reality of the situation. You also want to be there for them should they decide that they ultimately need professional help.

You want to help people turn their lives around. The kind of help them disempowers them, promotes dependency, and allows the problem to persist is harmful. You may have to make difficult and unpleasant choices, but keep in mind that what you’re doing is for them to make that decision to be better.

Talk to us at Bridges of Hope on how we can help your loved one.

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