How to Love Someone in Your Life Struggling with Substance Use

How do you love the individual in your life struggling with substance use well? How do you love them while still protecting your heart? Valentine’s Day is filled with love and celebrating with friends, family, and romantic partners. Love is in the air – but not everyone is feeling the joy of the holiday. If you have someone battling substance use in your life, today may be another day of questions, worry, or fear – wondering if you will hear from them or how they are celebrating the holiday.

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind as you support your loved one in their recovery journey:


  1. First and foremost – take care of yourself.

As you already know, your loved one’s substance use disorder not only affects them, but it affects everyone who loves them. Family and friends often place the needs of their loved one above their own. In theory this makes sense – they are the ones struggling with a vicious disease. However, if you constantly neglect your own needs, wants and desires, you will have nothing left to give your loved one. Make sure you prioritize your own physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs.


  1. Differentiate the person from the disease.

Addiction is a disease. The loved one grappling with substance use disorder (SUD) themselves are also struggling with the repercussions of their decisions – either now or in the future. This disease results in a distorted value system that desperately wants to support ongoing substance use. It is OK to get frustrated or angry with your loved one. It is OK to limit contact if your loved one is in active addiction. But remember, at the end of the day, the disease is not the same as the human you love.

  1. Be careful to not use your love as a weapon.

Loving someone struggling with a substance use disorder can be extremely challenging. You want the best for them and would likely do anything in your power to help them. However, be careful to not leverage your love as a weapon. Saying things like, “If you loved me, you’d quit” is destructive behavior that almost always backfires. Rather, tell them that you want to see them live. Tell them you will support them in their recovery. Tell them they are not alone. At the same time, it is OK for you to set boundaries with your loved one. Remember, you must protect yourself through this process as well.

  1. Learn the difference between “helping” and “enabling”.

The desire to help your loved one can be overwhelming sometimes. You probably worry that without your help, your loved one will end up in a worse situation. When your help means you are giving them money, allowing them to stay in your home, buying food for them often, or driving them places – this is often rescuing behavior that enables their addiction. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is stop shielding your loved one from the results of their behavior.

  1. Be prepared for recovery support to be a lifelong commitment.

Remember that change is gradual – recovery will not happen overnight. Lifelong recovery has many ups and downs. A multi-year study researching people with substance use disorders  showed two thirds of recovering addicts will relapse within the first year of sobriety. As time continues, the chances of relapse drops. Remember that relapses are not an indication of failure – it shows that they are human and they are trying.

Finding the right treatment method for your loved one takes time. Stability in life is difficult to achieve, so try to be patient in the waiting and stay hopeful. Continue to support your loved one in whatever capacity you can! Find comfort in the fact that millions of people who were once struggling with addiction are now living happy, fulfilling, and productive lives! As this Valentine’s Day comes and goes this year, and your loving thoughts are focused on the person battling substance use in your life, keep these tips in mind as you support those in their personal recovery journey.  Groups like Al-Anon ( can be a great tool to support you, so you can, in turn, offer the best support possible for your loved one.

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