Addiction affects more than just the individual who is abusing drugs or alcohol. If you have a loved one who is experiencing addiction, their challenges can become yours. On the International Day of Families, May 15, the importance of learning how family members help the addict cannot be overly stressed.
When your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you and your family members may also experience unmet developmental needs, impaired attachment, economic hardship, legal problems, emotional distress, and even violence. It is critical to know the steps you can take to help the addict in your family as well as others who may experience the impact of their substance abuse.
Know the Importance of Family
Family is an important factor in your loved one’s health and well-being. Families are so important that the United Nations General Assembly decided in 1993 that May 15 of every year should be observed as The International Day of Families. This day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic brings into sharp focus the importance of investing in social policies protecting the most vulnerable individuals and families. It is the families who bear the brunt of the crisis, sheltering their members from harm, caring for out-of-school children and, at the same time, continuing their work responsibilities. Coming together in support is also how family members help the addict.
Learn the Signs of Addiction
When you suspect that your loved one may be addicted, take the time to learn to recognize the signs and effects of substance use disorder. In the early stages of addiction, some signs may include:
- Family history of addiction
- Being particularly drawn to an activity or substance
- Seeking out situations where the substance or activity is present
- Episodes of binging or loss of control with little to no feelings of remorse after.
Your loved one may experience changes in their personality or social behavior, such as:
- A lack of interest in hobbies or activities that used to be important
- Neglecting relationships or reacting negatively to those closest to them
- Missing important obligations like work
- Risk taking tendencies, especially to get drugs or continue certain behaviors
- Ignoring the negative consequences of their actions
- Distinct change in sleeping patterns that result in chronic fatigue
- Increased secrecy, like lying about the amount of substance used or time spent.
The following mental and emotional changes could also be signs of an addiction problem:
- Sudden changes in mood
- Aggressive behavior
- Suicidal thoughts.
Support and Encourage Your Loved One
Research available treatment options for the addict in your family so you will be ready to encourage your loved one to seek treatment on their own. Support your loved one and have conversations about the impacts of their addiction, on themselves as well as on you.
It is critical to understand the difference between support and enabling. While you need to recognize the symptoms of addiction, you should not make excuses for it. As difficult as it may be for you, you will need to allow your loved one to suffer some of the consequences of their substance use disorder. Do not help your loved one cover up, for example, absences from work or school.
Likewise, if your loved one still lives in your home, set limits and boundaries about curfews, budgets, and expectations of household chores and stay steady regarding adherence. Even when your loved one does not live with you, you can still insist on responsible behavior and have a constructive conversation when the behavior becomes reckless.
When your loved one’s behavior becomes dangerous, you do need to take steps to protect them and yourself. Emotional abuse is common, especially when the addict experiences irritability and unstable moods. Additionally, when the addict becomes desperate for money, you may find that you are an easy target for theft. Do not hesitate to contact the authorities if the addict becomes abusive or appears to be a dangerous threat.
Seek out support groups for yourself as well. There are a number of nationally recognized groups such as Nar-Anon, Al-Anon, and 12-step programs designed for families and friends of addicts.
Have the Conversation
When you know the signs and the impact of your loved one’s addiction, it may be time to have a conversation with them. The addict may be resistant to a discussion, but it could be one of the more important aspects of how family members help the addict. Follow a few guidelines for your conversation:
- Don’t bring up the subject when the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Don’t be under the influence of substances yourself.
- Establish a time to talk when the two of you can have more than a few minutes alone. Your goal is to have a two-way conversation in which you can state your concerns and understand the person’s perception of the situation.
- When you meet, tell your family member or friend that you care for him or her. Emphasize that you wanted to have this conversation because you’re concerned for their well-being.
- List the behaviors you’ve observed, state that you are worried about the effect drinking or drug use is having on them and on your family.
- If the person states that there is definitely not a problem, ask to talk again at some point in the future. Let them know that you believe there is one and that your belief is based on observable behaviors.
- Don’t try to speculate, explore motives, or judge.
- Don’t expect a dramatic shift in thinking or behavior right away.
- Keep in mind that there is no quick fix – prepare yourself for the long haul.
Contact BRC Recovery for Help
At BRC Recovery, we recognize that addiction is a family disease that negatively impacts parents, siblings, and children in addition to the addict themselves, so it’s important that family members become involved in the treatment process. Our clients participate in evidence-based therapeutic modalities that are essential to their recovery. Contact us at 1-866-461-1759 to learn more about helping your loved one.