Addiction impacts more than just the person with the Substance Use Disorder, it also has an impact on the family and loved ones of that individual.
Knowing how to respond to and support a loved one who is struggling with addiction is challenging, and the typical ways of helping might not work in these situations. If you are working to support a loved one struggling with drug or alcohol use, consider trying these strategies:
While it can be uncomfortable to confront a loved one about something so sensitive, it is sometimes necessary. When we do not acknowledge the problem, we make it easier for the person we care about to remain in denial about their drug or alcohol use and the consequences it is having. The way that we confront them does not need to include a big “intervention” where we give an ultimatum, but should include the genuine concerns we have for them.
There might be a lot of strong emotions attached to this concern, even including feelings of anger towards the person for things they have said or done when using. When possible, try to avoid having this conversation when these feelings are strongest. Instead, try to approach the person from the standpoint of care and concern, telling them how much you care about them and how worried you are.
Be Open to Therapy
People who are in recovery benefit tremendously from having loved ones involved in their treatment. Many treatment programs incorporate a person’s loved ones into the recovery process and may offer conjoint therapy sessions where you can come and participate. Offering to do so before a person even decides to go to treatment can be a great way to show emotional support to your loved one, and can also help reduce their defensiveness by showing them that you are not just telling them to “get help”, but are also willing to participate.
Don’t Shield Them From Natural Consequences
Often, people struggling with addiction have approached loved ones asking for money, favors, or help in repairing some of the damage in their lives caused by their addiction. While it can be tempting to help the person our however we can, this can sometimes be more harmful than helpful, enabling them and making it easier for them to continue using. While it is difficult and painful to say “no” when they are asking for help, it may be necessary to stop rescuing them and allow them to experience some of the natural consequences of their behavior. These natural consequences are important because they are often the things that motivate a person to get help.
Keep Your Boundaries
When it comes to handling a family member with an addiction, there’s a fine line between supporting and enabling. When a person is struggling with a Substance Use Disorder and it is often necessary to create new boundaries in the relationship to protect ourselves and others we care about. Sometimes these boundaries include financial decisions to not continue loaning money or financially supporting the person with the addiction.
Other times, this might mean needing to limit our contact with them while they are actively using because we cannot predict their behavior or cannot trust them. If there are other people who are more vulnerable to being hurt or taken advantage of by the person (like an older person or children), we might need to take steps to also protect them from the person. While it is painful to have to take these measures against someone we love, we need to remember that they are not the version of them we know and love when they are using. The protective measures and boundaries we put into place might need to remain in place for a period of time, even after the person has gotten help or stopped using. The trust will need to be rebuilt over time, especially if there were serious breaches of trust that occurred when they were using.
Don’t Forget About Yourself
Putting your addicted family member’s feelings and concerns first might result in you forgetting to take care of yourself. During the recovery process, it’s also important to acknowledge your own feelings on the subject. Ignoring your feelings could lead to stress and emotional despondency, which isn’t helpful for anyone in your family. So, while helping your addicted family member recover, don’t forget about your own needs.
Remember to continue taking time to take care of the things you are responsible for, and also to make time for yourself. In some cases, it could help to join a support group or to consider seeing a therapist to process through some of the feelings and added stress caused by the person with the addiction.
Addiction is a chronic disease, involving cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery counseling, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or even premature death. Do you or a loved one need help with alcohol dependence, drug abuse or other addictions such as gambling, food or sex?
Addiction is a biopsychosocial disorder characterized by repeated use of drugs, or repetetive engagement in a behavior such as gambling, despite harm to self and others.