Compassion Counts When Helping Those With Addiction


Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a severe illness that pervades all parts of society. It does not discriminate among age, race, economic status, religious affiliation, or sexual preference. Once an addiction has spun out of control, it leaves a lot of debris in its wake. Loved ones may have dealt with arguments, betrayals, lies, and a web of other uncomfortable behavior.

If you love someone who struggles with addiction, you may have been on the receiving end of that sort of behavior. You also may have witnessed others who had to deal with a loved one struggling with addiction. These challenging behaviors can make it difficult to feel compassion for the person struggling with addiction. Yet sometimes compassion is what they need the most.

Looking Beyond the Addiction

Often people struggle to see past a one-dimensional view of their loved one with an addiction. They may label the person as just a “drunk” or a “junkie” and nothing more. Yet everyone is greater than the sum of the demons with which they struggle. Even beneath the haze of alcohol or drugs exists a human being with hopes and dreams for a better life.

It can benefit a person struggling with addiction to sit down with them and let them know you see beyond their disease. You can open a dialogue about their difficult emotions, which may include:

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Regret
  • Fear of failure
  • Believing they let everyone down
  • Assumptions that they will never recover

Let your loved one know that you see the whole person, not just their disease. You can discuss their limits in self-perception and ask them to see the bigger picture. Often once a person dealing with addiction stops beating themselves up, they become more open to recovery.

Compassion Can Go Hand-in-Hand With Responsibility

Having compassion for someone dealing with addiction does not mean that they are free of responsibility for their actions. Every person in that boat has choices for treatment based on their needs. They may select a detoxification program, a residential treatment program, or a support group. Those choices include helping themselves become responsible for their recovery. They also include having compassion for themselves as a critical component for recovery.

Support groups, such as 12-Step groups, allow people to “let their guard down.” They know their peers have been where they are and are less likely to judge them than others might. Sometimes that kind of compassion is needed to help build faith in oneself. Being around those who have achieved long-term recovery can show a person that each one of them deserves compassion.

Compassion Can Help Heal Hidden Wounds

It can be easy to look at someone who deals with addiction and assume they have no good reason for developing it. Old stereotypes about people who just over-indulge or are selfish still abound. Yet when approaches such as therapy are part of a treatment plan, many truths come forward.

Addiction can become an unhealthy coping mechanism developed as a way to attempt to protect oneself. A person dealing with addiction may have had a painful childhood or is in an abusive marriage. They may have suffered the death of a loved one or other traumatic life experiences. They may have underlying mental health issues that lead them to use alcohol or drugs to cope.

It can be helpful to understand better how some of these things may contribute to your loved one’s addiction. Let them know that you understand they are trying to heal old wounds. Remind them of the Maya Angelou quote: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Becoming Addicted Is Never a Choice

Dr. Gabor Maté noted addiction expert and best-selling author, says, “I’ve never met a single person who ever chose to be a drug addict.” Addiction may start as merely experimenting with drugs or alcohol and then get out of hand. Maté points out that most people exhibit some type of addictive behavior. It might be work, shopping, video games, or others. Unfortunately, many people find it easy to judge addiction to drugs and alcohol as if it is the only serious type of addiction.

Dr. Maté, who treated people dealing with addiction in Vancouver, received a lot of feedback about his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. He states, “It surprised me how many well-meaning and compassionate humans, including health care workers, acknowledged their difficulty seeing some others as human. It’s a problem we all share, I think if we are honest with ourselves.”

Too often, people sit in stark judgment of those dealing with the disease of addiction. Learning to have compassion for them can go a long way. It’s also helpful for a person struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol to develop compassion for themselves. The Detox Center of Colorado has experts who understand how to diagnose our clients and fully understand their disease. We help guide them through detoxification and put together a tailor-made plan for the next steps in recovery. We teach them to have compassion for themselves as they move into a new sober life, which fosters faith in staying sober. Our center in the scenic Denver area offers a small, cozy facility for our clients to complete the detox process with the necessary medical and psychological assistance. We are the safe landing place you or someone you love is looking for. Call us today to find out how to start your new life with us! (303) 952-5035.

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