Witnessing a loved one's addiction is a painful and sometimes traumatizing experience. When mental illness takes the form of substance abuse, and the person you care about starts slipping into self-destructive behavior, it can be difficult to know how to help. Drug or alcohol addiction causes a person to change, and a substance use disorder can exercise such control over them that at times you may struggle to recognize them.
Someone with an addiction may at times become manipulative, impulsive, and irrational, and it can be hard to know how to communicate or discuss their substance abuse and what to do about it. The person may be defensive, in denial, or simply not yet interested in any kind of addiction treatment. Your patience - and your optimism - may be tested to their limits.
Furthermore, overcoming substance use disorders is a lengthy process. Neither drug abuse nor alcohol abuse disappears overnight. Your loved one will need your continued support, and this is a weight you shouldn't try to bear alone. It's important to reach out to support groups - both for your benefit and for that of your loved one. Getting to know other people with an addicted family member will make you feel understood and in good company.
However challenging things may get, remember that your support may be what makes all the difference in getting your loved one to accept their substance misuse, seek treatment programs, and get the help they need to recover and return to a happier healthier life.
When helping a person struggling with addiction, it's important to be prepared. You'll need to refrain from being judgmental, or pressuring them to change. You'll need to be encouraging, patient and understanding. And you'll have to be aware that your loved one's progress is not going to be linear - there will be setbacks and times of discouragement. Be aware also that ultimately, your loved one will most likely need professional help. Drug addiction is a disease that can be treated, and lasting recovery is possible, but a substance use disorder is not a condition anyone overcomes unaided.
People in the grip of addiction can be reluctant to talk about their drug abuse. They may lie about it, try to cover it up, or be deceitful in other ways. But it's essential to try and speak to your loved one about their substance abuse as early as possible. Otherwise, it becomes the elephant in the room - the big topic all family members are aware of but nobody raises - and the person then slips further into addictive behaviors and toward rock bottom.
The Mental Health Services Administration offers really useful detailed guidelines on what to say and how you can help. It's important to:
However much you want to help your loved one, healthy communication is two-way by definition. If you are going through emotional pain and distress, it's important to let your loved one know that. You should explain that you're not trying to make them feel bad or guilty, but that they must be aware that their actions have consequences. They need to know that their drug addiction doesn't just affect them, it also has a negative impact on your well-being and that of other family members.
In short, being able to communicate openly and honestly will help everyone involved better navigate the journey.
Nowadays, there's a lot of information and many resources available about addiction and substance use disorders. But you need a whole new level of understanding when you have a close relationship with someone in active addiction. However distressing it can be to see your loved one slowly changed by their drug abuse, try to remember that addiction is not a choice or a moral failing. It is a recognized and diagnosable condition.
Try and ascertain exactly what drug or combination of drugs your loved one is using, and read up about the signs and symptoms of using that substance. Try and understand the progressive nature of the addiction process - how it often begins with substance misuse, which can lead to drug dependence, drug abuse, and finally full-blown addiction.
Read up about how addiction affects a person's moods and behaviors. This will help you see more clearly when it's the drugs - or their after-effects - that are doing the talking. Be aware, too, that substance abuse often has co-occurring disorders - mental health conditions that appear in conjunction with the addiction. Also, if your loved one has a history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder for example, be aware that these may have put them more at risk of developing a drug addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2018, of the 20.3 million adults with a substance use disorder, 37.9% also had a mental illness.
A better understanding of your loved one's addiction also makes it easier to talk about their addiction. While you won't be on an equal footing, at least you know more about what they're going through.
Enabling can occur even through minor actions. It doesn't have to be, for example, giving someone with addiction money in the full knowledge they are likely to use some of it to buy drugs, or turning a blind eye to them coming home high. It can also be simple things like making excuses for the person, to friends or neighbors for example.
With someone close to you, enabling can be facilitated if you develop a codependent relationship. This is a relationship in which one person predominantly plays a caretaking role, while the other frequently take advantage of this. Quite often neither person is fully aware of this dynamic. In a situation of this kind, you may end up enabling your loved one in small ways, even unintentionally. Examples of this could be sparing them the need to meet responsibilities (taking part in household chores), ignoring unacceptable behavior such as blatant neglect of personal hygiene, or helping them out financially (even for legitimate purposes) because they've spent all their money on drugs. This attitude is known as over-functioning on behalf of the other person. But it amounts to saving them from having to face the full consequences of their addiction, which serves only to delay the moment when they finally face up to the need to find a treatment program.
Setting boundaries is deciding what is acceptable and what isn't. Boundaries are useful both to help keep your loved one safe and out of physical danger and for protecting your own space - your mental and emotional space - as well as your physical living space.
It can be difficult to establish boundaries and can require tough love. Your loved one needs to understand your role is not to keep them in the relative comfort zone of continued drug use. Quite the contrary in fact - they are going to have to face the consequences of their choices, with no exceptions. For example, you might say you won't allow them into the house if they're under the influence of drugs, or if they come home at a late hour, disturbing everyone in the household. Also, that foul language and insults are completely unacceptable - you'll have to decide for yourself - or perhaps even with your loved one at a time when they are sober - what the appropriate consequence would be.
The above are examples of healthy boundaries. Keeping your loved one accountable for their actions will help them in the long run. It gives them a sense of responsibility - which they may or may not choose to honor immediately. But it contributes to making them experience the downsides of drug addiction, and this can ultimately help them decide to seek treatment.
When somebody in the family develops an addiction, on the surface, it may look like that individual is the one in need of help. But in fact, the presence of somebody struggling with addiction affects all family members to varying degrees. And everyone reacts differently - people's emotions can range from anger and rejection to distress and trauma. Being in close contact with an addicted person can bring out your own issues such as developing insecurities, feeling traumatized, or even being at risk of turning to substance misuse yourself.
Furthermore, when a loved one turns to drugs or alcohol, it can also be symptomatic of complicated family dynamics, or inherited tendencies. As a result, the recovery process is not just the journey of the person with the addiction. Family therapy sessions can benefit all family members and help them come to terms with, and navigate, the ripple effect of the loved one's substance use disorder.
On an individual level, adequate self-care and honoring your own needs remain as important as ever. It's difficult to help somebody else if you feel run down or low in any way - look after your own well-being. Further, you can't put your own life on hold until your loved one can begin treatment and has all the recovery support they need without you. It's also perfectly fine to seek support for yourself if you feel you are struggling. This might take the form of enlisting the help of a family member or friend, individual therapy, or contacting a support group either in person or there are online support groups which can be very helpful. Groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon are there for anyone affected by a family member suffering from a substance use disorder.
When a person's drug use has developed into drug addiction, it's extremely unlikely they'll overcome their substance use disorder without professional help. A residential stay in drug rehab is generally what it takes to put someone on the path to recovery. For some people, it's worth looking into the treatment programs offered by local treatment facilities. For many people struggling with drug addiction, it can be helpful to get a complete change of setting and go away, further afield, for a while. Giving themselves and family members a break, while they reset and lay the foundations for sober living, can be beneficial to all.
It may take a while to find a suitable treatment facility. Until you find the right treatment center for your loved one and drug rehab commences, local support groups are a good community to connect with.
Addiction is never a conscious decision, and it can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. Alcohol or drugs can also be part of coping mechanisms, for example for people whose lives entail great pressure and responsibility. For this and other reasons, drug addiction can affect high performers such as executives, athletes, and others.
At Red Hill Recovery, we aim to make sure we become your gateway to lasting recovery. We encourage anyone over the age of 18, for whom addiction is obstructing their potential, or who is simply struggling with the disorder, to reach out to us at any time and find out how we can help.
Looking for a safe, luxurious and supportive environment to begin your journey toward lasting sobriety? Our team is here for you every step of the way from helping you find your footing on day one through celebrating milestones along your journey. Let us know how we can help support you in finding healing at Red Hill Recovery today.