Note from Marilyn L. Davis, Editor-in-Chief: Craig recently wrote a post about the family’s responses to addiction. One of the comments prompted us to explore more options for the family, from the perspective of what to do. We hope this joint effort helps you learn some of the things to do, and if you’re uncertain what not to do, read Craig’s earlier post.
By: C. W. Stratton, MS, CASAC and Marilyn L. Davis
Where Do We Go from Here?
Many of us may have this question in mind once we realize there’s an addict in the family. Hearing some of the horror stories about addiction in the media and the community seems to put many of us at a disadvantage in combating addiction, especially when it hits home.
Even putting safeguards in place, like not enabling, shaming, or blaming, there’s still a hopeless feeling. Questions seem more abundant than answers. Families feel lost and powerless over the situations and the addict. However, as a family member of a loved addict, there are things to do that are supportive of the addict while still taking care of the family.
Do Something Positive for Yourself
So much of the focus within the family is on the “problem person”, and as such, others feel slighted, left out and get resentful. It’s important that each family member takes care of themselves first, not the problem.
That almost sounds contradictory; after all, if you take care of the problem, won’t other things just fit into place? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, so that’s why you have to take care of yourself first. What are some ways that you can take care of yourself?
- Attend self-help meetings, such as Al-anon, Nar-Anon, Alateen, etc.
- Avoid arguing with the addicted person, especially if they’re under the influence
- Stop blaming yourself for the actions of someone else.
- Be patient, with them, and yourself.
- Diaries and journals help you sort out your feelings.
- Establish mutually respectful boundaries
- Let the addicted person know that you care about their well-being
- Maintain open communication about issues of concerns
- Seek professional counseling for yourself
- Stay in touch with personal joys
- Use positive talk when interacting with the person.
- Work on forgiveness
What Helps the Addict
- Encourage healthy habits
- Understand that healing is a process
- Listen to the addict (sometimes they just need someone to listen)
- Make time for leisure activities that don’t involve substances
- Praise the addict’s progress when appropriate
- Provide a sober environment that’s conducive to the recovery process
- Recognize and tell the addict the potential you see in them
- Talk about your fears to the person which indicates your care and concern
- When providing financial support, buy items that the person says they need
- Don’t just give them money that they may spend on drugs/alcohol
Healing for Everyone
While we would like an immediate end to the struggles, fights, and heartache of addiction, healing for the person and the family is a process. Part of the process of healing for the family is finding support from people in a similar situation. Joining any family components offered at a treatment facility, or attending family support groups affiliated with 12 Step programs, faith-based groups, or codependency groups will help a family member heal.
Given that the addicted individual agrees to enter substance abuse treatment, it would be beneficial if the loved ones become involved in the treatment process as well. Remaining involved and educating yourself will help reduce the instances of the addict displaying manipulative behaviors towards you because you will be well aware of them. Educating yourself also assists in acknowledging possible relapse warning signs.
Have the Caring Conversations
When a family member is on shaky grounds, it’s right to let them know the concerns about their attitude, behaviors, and what they’re talking about in conversations.We want them to know that we support their recovery and we’re concerned because they are:
- Associating with old friends
- Becoming secretive
- Behind in bills
- Demonstrating a negative attitude
- Glorifying earlier use
- Inconsistent with work or school attendance
- Not attending their recovery support meetings
- Not maintaining personal hygiene
- Placing themselves in high-risk situations
Although these are only a few warning signs, we must stay aware and vigilant in helping the person to move beyond a possible relapse. Just like recovery, relapse is a process; it doesn’t just happen abruptly. There is a build-up of behavior and attitudes that may result in relapse. Despite this, when we see these signs we should approach that family member in a caring way and tell them of what you are witnessing and the concerns you may have.
If the Addict Relapses? Don’t go with Them
Families sometimes want to wash their hands of the addict, but that approach has not been proven effective in the long run. The person will improve with the support of friends and family, along with encouragement that they can overcome the obstacles. Some families may also feel, at times, that counseling for themselves in not warranted because they are not the problem. However, receiving counseling to get more insight into addiction, the behaviors involved, and learning coping strategies are integral in helping the addicted individual during their journey of healing.
Being resilient, sincere, genuine and honest about our wish to see the person get better is critical to his/her recovery. We can express our fears and concerns if a relapse occurs. We can encourage them to reach out to their sponsor, accountability partner, or reconnect with their treatment provider and see if there is a relapse prevention group or aftercare that they may join.
If All The Family’s Efforts Don’t Work
When everything we’ve tried to do for the addict to get them help doesn’t work, then it might be time to get professional help from an interventionist. Do your research and find a credentialed or certified individual, trained in this aspect of addiction services.