two people holding hands to show additional support for the addicted person

Understanding Addiction & Recovery

Addiction is defined as a compulsive, chronic, physiological, or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence. 

Recovery is the healing path taken after someone completes a treatment program for addiction. Recovery takes many forms and includes various aspects for it to be successful. Addiction recovery is a life-long process for an addict. They will need their loved ones to be supportive, understanding, and loving to have the best chances of long-term sobriety. 

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, or sensitive to the feelings of others, while also vicariously feeling their feelings yourself. If you can’t feel their feelings, at least being able to put yourself in their shoes would be a great step toward being empathetic. It can also help you feel more grateful for the person who is struggling. 

The Importance of Empathy

Empathy is a very important element to support someone’s sobriety. Addiction takes a toll on someone’s life in ways a non-addict would have a hard time really understanding. Practicing empathy towards someone can look like deeply listening to what they are experiencing or have experienced in the past. Then place yourself in those situations to find out how they actually felt. This can increase a sense of gratitude from the addict for being able to confide in someone they trust. 

Without empathy, the person who is addicted may feel isolated and pushed away. Having nobody understand what they went through or their feelings could be a hurdle that is too high for them to jump over.

How Can I Develop More Empathy Towards the Addict in My Life?

Developing empathy takes practice. It does come naturally for some people, but others have to really work for it. “Empathy requires paying attention to others’ words and body language, noticing the feelings that arise within us when we interact with them, and asking them about their feelings. Doing this regularly refines our capacity to accurately sense other people’s emotional experiences,” says Dr. Siegel-PsyD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. 

You can try these 3 ways to practice more empathy and encourage positive emotions towards the addict in your life: 

Acknowledge your biases– a bias is when you have a preconceived feeling or thought about someone or something. Acknowledging your personal biases is a great start in being able to open the door to transparent communication. If you are having a hard time determining your particular biases, you can try this test to help you.

Be careful when asking questions-putting biases aside, there are many other reasons people don’t communicate well and have misunderstandings. It’s usually safe to assume you don’t really know how someone else feels, so asking questions is the way to find out. Phrases like  “What’s your experience with….?”, or How do you see ……?” can be helpful in asking questions sensitively.  Making sure the other person understands your desire for honesty and thoughtful communication is key. 

Actively Listen-Asking a careful question is just the first step. Actively listening is even more important. Making eye contact, being sure not to interrupt, and avoiding possible fixes to complications the person discusses could be vital to having healthy communication. 

There are many other ways to practice empathy towards anyone in your life, especially a loved one who is in addiction recovery, or active addiction. These 3 are thought to be the easiest way to start practicing empathy, though. 

Is Empathy the Same as Enabling?

Walking the line between empathy and enabling can be difficult when it comes to a loved one who is an addict, especially if they are a family member. Empathy has to do with feelings and intentions while enabling is using actions to feed something that’s unhealthy. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of enabling, but learning how to practice empathy instead can help break that cycle. 

Learning how to recognize enabling is an important key to the puzzle of how to best help your addicted loved one. It’s important to not make excuses for someone’s behavior. That is the biggest trap an enabler falls in. Downplaying or there being no consequences for behaviors are also 2 ways enabling accidentally happens. 

The other part is avoiding difficult conversations. If there is a difficult conversation that needs to be had, practicing empathy could lead to a healthy resolution, instead of an enabling situation. A lot of the time avoiding a problem or situation leads to dependency and acts as a coping mechanism. 

If any of the enabling behaviors are recognized, it’s important to address them, and start working on a change quickly. There are quite a few ways to do this, but most of them include the help of a support system. 

Is There Support for Loved Ones of Addicts?

Finding support for a loved one of an addict is a vital part of helping to be in an addict’s inner circle of care. 

Some examples of support are:

Nar-Anon & Al-Anon groups- Al‑Anon is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s alcohol abuse. Nar-Anon is primarily for those who know or have known a feeling of desperation concerning the addiction problem of someone very near to you.

Individual therapy– Seeking therapy with a licensed mental health professional could be a good way to keep positive and negative emotions noticed. It can help to identify behaviors that may have a negative impact on the addict in your life or for yourself dealing with them. 

Learn addiction terminology– This can help the addict feel heard, and seen. Learning addiction terminology also falls under being empathetic. The Addictionary is a great resource for this. 

Learning the twelve steps– Having a knowledge base of the program that is proven to help addicts recover from addiction is a great way to show you care. 

If you find that you need additional help or resources, you can always contact Miracles Recovery Center in Port St. Lucie, FL. Admissions coordinators are available to help answer any questions you may have, and also point you to resources you may need.