How to Deal with an Addicted Family Member
When your family member or loved one suffers from substance dependence, the whole family is affected in one way or another. The presence of a Substance Use Disorder places a tremendous amount of psychological, emotional, and financial burden on both the addict and those who love them.
As a recovering addict and alcoholic myself, I know all too well the pain that is involved in being addicted to substances, as well as the pain that my loved ones endured while I was sick and even as I continue through my recovery process. It feels like a never-ending journey, and in many ways, it is, but if I had to name one thing that has helped me become healthy and stay healthy, it would have to be the support and unconditional love of my family.
You might be wondering then, how does a family help the addict? It is my hope that the following tips will help you as the family member, be a good support system to an addicted and (eventually) recovering substance abuser in your life.
Learn as Much as You can About Addiction
The first step in facing the challenge of supporting a loved one who is addicted to a substance is to educate yourself on what addiction is and how it affects people and their families. There are many misconceptions and assumptions when it comes to public opinion on addiction. It is important to view addiction as a disease and treat the person with the same dignity you would treat anyone who is suffering.
Make sure the information you find on the internet is from a trustworthy source, if you look hard enough you can find anything on the internet so beware. It is also helpful to research the topic of addiction pertaining to the specific substance your loved one is using. The information on alcohol abuse is different from heroin abuse and different still from cocaine addiction. If you are unsure what your loved one is using, you may be able to determine what they use by their behaviors, their physical appearance, or sleeping patterns. Be curious, and if you can, ask them straight out.
Take Action Early
If you suspect or know that your loved one has a problem, then do not hesitate to take action. Don’t fall victim to believing the myth that one needs to hit rock bottom before getting help with addiction. Research has shown that, in fact, the earlier an addiction problem is identified, the better the overall outcome.
My personal advice is to attempt a soft intervention before a traumatic event happens; someone loses their job, experiences a loss in a relationship, or worse. The earlier the problem is addressed, the better equipped your loved one will be to face their problem head-on and may experience less anxiety in the process. Confronting your family member with love and concern is difficult but with SUD being a disease of isolationism it is easy for your family member to slip into the victim mentality as well as you, the family member.
Consider Some Do’s and Don’ts
When interacting with a person addicted to substances, there are some general “do’s” and “don’ts” that are helpful to know.
Be sure to consider these tips before confronting a loved one:
- Don’t approach them when they are under the influence.
- By the same token, do not approach them when you are under the influence, in fact if you use substances, even if you don’t abuse substances, I suggest you stop.
- Do set a goal to have a conversation. That means you have a chance to talk, and they have a chance to respond. Make sure you have more than a few minutes to have this conversation. Set up a good time for both of you to have plenty of time to get everything out at once.
- Do start the conversation by letting your loved one know that you care for them and are concerned about their well-being. Do not blame, point fingers, or put them in a position where they feel defensive.
- Do be specific in the behaviors that concern you most. Do not try to convince the person they have a problem. Do let them know what you have observed and why you are worried.
- Do not expect a quick fix. Do prepare to be in it for the long haul. This may be the first time the person realizes that there might be a problem. Do give them time to think about what you said.
Find a professional or a specialist and get help for yourself.
It’s important to bear in mind the fact that many substance abusers have underlying conditions that require professional help. Seek out reliable help to assist you in helping your loved one without having to take it all on yourself. Look for local health facilities, in-patient rehab centers, support groups such as AA or Al-Anon, detox centers, etc. These resources are invaluable in addressing all the issues and can make the difference between long-lasting recovery and a temporary fix.
Besides encouraging your loved one to seek the help of a professional, it is important that you get help as well. Talking to a therapist or a counselor can be a good outlet and offer balance for family members during this time. There is a lot of emotion involved in confronting a loved one with a problem. Anxiety, fear, and depression are all feelings that can come to the surface, and often families are stressed, confused, hurt, and extremely worried. Talking about these feelings with someone who is a professional is important. You can’t take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Talk therapy is a useful approach to expressing your feelings so that you are capable of supporting your loved one on this journey.
Plan and Hold an Intervention
Consider these three things as you prepare to have an intervention:
- Seek help from a professional. For the best chance of a successful intervention, a professional should be in attendance and lead the intervention if at all possible. Many interventionists charge money for this, while others offer these services for free or minimal cost.
- Make good plans ahead of the intervention. Prepare for the intervention by establishing exactly who will be in attendance, how each person will interact with your loved one, who will lead, what activities will take place during the intervention, and most importantly, how you will engage your loved one. Oftentimes the most influential people in this person’s life will be there, including close family, clergy, teachers, and friends.
- Confront your loved one about their addiction. This may include several people requesting that the person enters a detox facility or rehab hospital. It is important to be prepared for how your loved one responds. Think of several different ways that they may react during the intervention and rehearse a few scenarios, so you are best prepared to handle whatever it is that comes up. Based on what your professional interventionist or therapist suggests have things set up as far as treatment options or therapy options for your loved one.
Always Set Boundaries
You need to set boundaries during the process of confronting your loved one and helping them through their recovery. Be careful not to enable your loved one at any point of this journey. Do not give them money in order to purchase drugs or alcohol. Be firm on this and be open with your concerns. Take this opportunity to remind them that you are here for them when they are ready to receive your help.
Learn to communicate well. This is where a counselor or therapist can help. Be sure not to engage in shouting matches and verbal arguments. Focus on positive things and making forward progress. Spiraling into negative thoughts and conversations will become exhausting very quickly and may lead to cutting off communication instead of engaging in helpful dialogue.
Show your unwavering support by offering to attend meetings or group therapy sessions with your loved one. This gesture shows that you are in this with them and are invested in their willingness to get better.
Please know your limits as a family member of an addict and do not accept unacceptable behaviors. Prepare yourself for a time when you may need to cut yourself off from this person.
This is extremely hard, but you need to protect yourself from dangerous situations that may include:
- Abusive behaviors- this includes verbal, physical, and emotional. Violence of any kind should not be tolerated.
- Dangerous acts at or near the home- watch out for substance use around children or drug deals that take place on the property.
- Abusing finances that are meant for the family- substance abuse can drain bank accounts and make people go to extreme measures to continue their habits such as selling possessions or stealing from others.
If these unacceptable behaviors continue or put anyone in harm’s way, you may need to report the situation to the local authorities.
Finally, give yourself grace as you deal with an addicted family member. Know that you are amazing for trying, and your efforts, although at times may seem to go unnoticed or unappreciated, are always a glimmer of hope in a very dark situation.
To keep yourself in check, here is some tried and true advice I call Tips to Help Family Members of Addicts Cope:
- Take care of yourself. Approach your loved one when you can, and rest when you can no longer. Learn when you need to take a break from the situation at hand and let yourself step away when you’ve had enough. You can return when you are ready. In the meantime, get plenty of exercise, take walks, sleep well, eat a healthy diet and avoid additional stressors if possible.
- Talk to a therapist or counselor, church leader, your Primary Care Physician or trusted friend. Find people who understand or at least can empathize with you regarding your situation, sometimes you just need someone to listen to you. You need a strong support system as well. Don’t be afraid to lean on good people in your life to help you through this. That said be careful as well as many good intentioned people and friends want to give advice that might not be therapeutically sound.
- Be hopeful. This journey is not an easy one, but have hope. Remember, people can and do recover from addiction. Many of us go on to live full lives, and in turn, help others through their journey.
- Never give up. Let me repeat. Never give up. Your love and support are everything to a loved one who is suffering. They may not be able to express this to you in the process, but I can promise you, it is because of you that they may be able to overcome this obstacle.
- Join a family support group. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make a connection to other people in your shoes. There are family support groups all around you. Start by searching for a group near you on the internet. You may also find private groups online on social media if you want to participate virtually. You are not alone. Do not attempt to go through this alone.
Support When an Intervention Is Needed
If you need additional support or advice on how to help an addicted family member, and if you should consider a professional intervention and treatment, please reach out to me. Just send me a message about your specific situation and how I can help. I have many connections in the SUD field and know many very good interventionists and therapists. My goal is for no one to have to navigate the world of addiction alone. As a loving family member, you deserve to have a level of support as well. I want to create a community that is there for each other and is willing to hold hands and get to the other side of addiction together. My personal experiences with addiction have shaped me into the person I am today, and I have my family and support group, I call my “Board of Directors” to thank. I hope to be a resource for you and your loved one. Together, we can do this!