Out in the Open

How to help a loved one struggling with addiction

'Interventions as much for the family and loved ones as they are for the addict.'
Andrew Galloway says that one of the best ways to help a recovering addict is being explicit about your feelings. (YouTube/Edgewood Treatment Center)
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Addiction leaves few lives untouched. If you're not struggling with addiction or recovering from one, chances are that you have a friend or a family member who has been affected by its destructive force.

But despite addiction's pervasive nature, many people are still at a loss of what to do when confronting an addict. CBC's Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay reached out to Edgewood Health Network national director and addictions counsellor, Andrew Galloway, for answers to one straightforward yet complex question:

What can we, the "normies," do when we see our loved ones struggling with addiction?

According to Andrew, the first thing you can do is stop enabling. Stop lending money—paying the addict's rent, buying their groceries—so the addict doesn't have the extra resources to spend on drugs or alcohol. The second part, which is a lot less obvious to most, is to be explicit about the effect of their habit on your life.

"Telling them, 'You're drinking too much, you're doing too much drugs, you're doing that,' and pointing fingers, you're not going to get anywhere with someone," Andrew told Piya.

"But if you tell them, 'Hey, look, I've been noticing that when I'm around you, I get uncomfortable. I feel that you're drinking too much, it just makes me feel sad, scared, worried,'—whatever the emotion you're feeling. It's expressing how their behaviour is affecting you."

Interventions are actually as much for the family and loved ones as they are for the addict.- Andrew Galloway, national director of Edgewood Health Network

The most effective way to do this: get several people together to express these feelings to the addict, says Andrew.

This process has been popularly depicted in A&E's TV series, Intervention. Andrew Galloway, who is involved in the Canadian version of the show, believes that the opposite of addiction is connection, so reminding the individual of the number of people who still care about them can go a long way for their recovery.

And the process's healing effect isn't limited to the addict.

"Interventions are actually as much for the family and loved ones as they are for the addict, because at least that way they know they've done everything they can to try and help this person," Andrew said.

The interventionist recommends that the family and friends of the addict face an unpleasant but possible future: How would they feel if, three months from now, their friend or relative dies? Will they have done everything in their power to prevent that outcome?

"Addicts always say, 'I'm not hurting anybody but me'," Andrew said. "The reality is that they're affecting everyone around them—especially the ones that love them."

The latest season of the compelling docu-series Intervention Canada will premiere on Monday, July 25 at 9 p.m. ET., on CBC's documentary Channel.