Loving Individuals with Substance Use Disorders

By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC

Valentine’s Day- the day of “Love” is here!  We all have our love languages and ways that we show it to those we care about– the behaviors, words we say, things we give and make, boundaries we do and do not set, etc.  

However, when a loved one has a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), we may need to change the way in which we demonstrate our love towards them.  In some cases, it may be more challenging and it may also feel uncaring.  

Family and friends are often confused about how best to approach their loved ones with SUD, especially when there is a lack of tangible losses to point to, only emotional consequences.  They also may have developed ingrained patterns in the way that they have related to their loved one. 

Having an SUD affects every aspect of that individual’s life—but they are often unable to see this truth until they get sober. Some friends and family may also have “secondary” denial in that they do not believe that their loved one has a Substance Use Disorder despite ample evidence to the contrary.  In terms of intimate relationships, many spouses or romantic partners have reported that they experience difficulty connecting emotionally with a loved one with an SUD. The substance is their best friend and it is hard for anyone to compete with that primary relationship. 

How can loved ones change how they show that they care?

  • Redefine the constructs of “love” and “caring”
  • Love is NOT supporting unhealthy behaviors and getting consumed by another’s addiction
  • Assess if past ways have positively or negatively supported wellness
  • Reach out to get support from other family and friends
  • Express that you care enough about them to have this uncomfortable conversation
  • Any conversation should occur when the individual is NOT under the influence of alcohol and can often be most effective when they are hungover and possibly feeling guilt or remorse. It is important to express how their drinking is negatively affecting you (emotionally, spiritually, physically) and how you perceive it is harming others as well (friends, children). 
  • In order to prevent your loved one from getting overly defensive, you can place the emphasis on your feelings and concerns—instead of stating how you think he or she should be living or acting.
  • Just because you open up about this issue does not mean your loved one will immediately get help. However, what you are doing is planting a seed that may increase the chances that they will get help in the future. 
  • If your loved one is open to your concerns and is willing to seek help, he or she should also receive a clinical assessment to determine what level of care may be appropriate.
  • Expect that your loved one may become defensive and express that they are unwilling to seek help but also be open to their being receptive. 
  • There may come a point where your loved one is unwilling to seek help and is continuing to use substances despite your efforts to offer help. Therefore, you may need to set clear limits and, for example, state that you will not spend time with them when they are using or take a break from your relationship with them (romantic or friendship) until they get help. 
  • Attending family therapy can also support you in figuring out the best ways to continue to show “love” in a way that may be different from what you were used to in the past. 

The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) model is able to support individuals with SUDs in their home environment.  This also allows for the treatment team to support and treat the family as well through Family Education and Family Systems Therapy.   For those who have struggled to remain sober at home, it can be life changing to have trained professionals who can effectively support them in recommitting to their recovery in a familiar environment.  This program also is set up to provide a parallel recovery process for families.  

The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Institute is offering healthcare professionals an assessment based certificate that enables them to support individuals in the recovery process through this unique and innovative modality.  It’s a New Year and time for healthcare professionals to try something different!  This certificate for IHAT providers is available in CT, MA, RI, NH, ME, VA, FL, IN and most recently Kentucky.


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