Addiction affects everyone in its path. It’s a family disease, with research showing families of addicts are emotionally, physically, and financially impacted by a loved one’s drug and alcohol abuse. Families play important roles in the development, sustentation, and treatment of substance use disorders. Addiction and recovery involve everyone, not just the substance abuser. Families and friends impacted by addiction must go through their own version of recovery. Research finds that by providing families of addicts with support, they’re less likely to experience detrimental effects of their loved one’s addiction. Family involvement in treatment can also improve addiction and recovery outcomes for the addict. While it’s clear that the addicted person needs help and support to recover, family, loved ones, and friends can benefit from support and help as well.
How Addiction Affects Loved Ones
Family members and friends of addicts experience their own stressors and pain. Sometimes it can look like a type of addiction itself as they become consumed with the addicted person’s well-being, whereabouts, and use of alcohol and other drugs. Families of addicts may also experience a “withdrawal” of their own searching for normalcy and stability once their loved one begins addiction recovery. Drug and alcohol addiction can create chaos in the family system, highlighting the need for support for all family members.
Examples of how friends and families of addicted people struggle alongside their loved ones:
- Siblings: Parents of an addicted person can become consumed with their child’s substance abuse, spending a great amount of energy and time trying to help and protect them. Siblings that are not struggling with addiction may feel neglected. They may even begin acting out behaviorally to pull the attention back from their parents. In this situation, parents are conflicted, and all children are struggling.
- Marriage: The spouse who does not struggle with addiction may feel extremely lonely and lost. They may develop depression or anxiety due to the stress within the marriage.
- Children: Children of addicts struggle with short-term and long-term effects of addiction. The unpredictability and behaviors of a parent addicted to drugs and alcohol can be emotionally damaging. Children of addicts or alcoholics can have trust issues and trauma that impact relationships and mental health greatly.
- Friends: A friend may offer their addicted friend a place to stay if they have nowhere else to go. However, the friend may notice that the person is actively using substances in their home, or they may notice that some items have gone missing. The friend may feel they are in a dangerous position for the health and safety of an addicted friend and may feel that their own safety and privacy is at risk. Often, they’ll feel conflicted about wanting to help their friend but feeling like they’re being taken advantage of.
Taking Care of Yourself When You Love an Addict
Families affected by addiction can suffer detrimental effects to their mental and physical health. It can be easy for self-care to fall by the wayside when you’re so focused on what your addicted loved one is doing. You worry about their safety and health, and you may be preoccupied with the behaviors that are impacting you and other family members. Loss of sleep, lack of exercise and proper nutrition, and excessive stress takes its toll. You may experience anxiety and depression symptoms. The best thing families of addicts can do for their loved one is to take care of themselves. You’re no help to your loved one if you’re depleted and unhealthy.
Things you should do if your loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction:
1. Go to therapy – There are so many complex emotions in families of addicts. You may feel anger, sadness, guilt, and shame, just to name a few. Consider mental health treatment for yourself. A therapist can help you:
- Sort through difficult emotions.
- Come up with productive solutions to ongoing problems.
- Help you identify and hold healthy boundaries.
- Develop coping skills for difficult times.
2. Practice self-care – Make sure you’re doing the things that protect your physical and mental health, like:
- Getting enough sleep.
- Eating nutritious food, and not skipping meals.
- Making time for things you enjoy.
- Connecting with friends and family who are supportive and understand.
3. Hold healthy boundaries – A common saying in support groups for families of addicts is, “Detach with love.” Some of your behaviors may feel like you’re helping your loved one, but they may be keeping them stuck in their addiction, taking away the motivation to get the drug or alcohol treatment they need. Examples of healthy boundaries include:
- You will not allow alcohol and drugs in the house.
- They will need to find somewhere else to live if there is any drug abuse or alcohol abuse in the home. No exceptions.
- If they miss work, school, or social obligations, you will not make excuses for them.
- You will not bail them out of legal or financial trouble due to substance abuse.
4. Accept what you can and can’t do – You can support your loved one in healthy ways, you can encourage them to get substance abuse treatment, but you can’t do the work for them. Letting go of the thought that if you just worked harder at making them get help, if you just made their life a little easier, they would get better is hard. Accepting that there are real limits to the impact you can have on your loved one’s addiction and recovery and letting go can help take some of the emotional burden off your back. A therapist can help with this process.
5. Attend support groups for families of addicts– Hearing from and sharing with others going through similar struggles can be a transformative experience. It can help with the isolation and shame that can plague families of addicts. Nar-Anon, SMART Recovery, and Al-Anon family programs are all good ones to attend.
Help for Families of Addicts
There are several sources of support for families of addicts. Some of these include:
- Al-Anon – A version of Alcoholics Anonymous for family members of people struggling with alcohol addiction.
- Nar-Anon – A 12-step program for families of addicts.
- SMART Recovery Family & Friend Groups (smartrecovery.org/family) – An alternative to 12-step programs, SMART Recovery offers groups for loved ones of addicts.
Most treatment programs offer family therapy or family programs, whether by group or individual sessions. Topics are often educational, as well as skills-based to help you apply the knowledge toward your own recovery process. Examples of some of the topics covered in family therapy groups include:
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Effective communication
- Family roles and dynamics
You don’t need to go it alone. Whether you are a spouse, child, friend, or sibling of someone who is struggling with addiction, there are resources for you.
We Can Help
Footprints to Recovery helps our clients and their loved ones recover from addiction and co-occurring mental illness. Most of our addiction recovery treatment programs include family therapy sessions, family groups, and family education on substance abuse and mental health issues. We offer many levels of care including:
- Medical drug and alcohol detox – Medical and professional detox specialists make sure drug and alcohol withdrawal is safe and as comfortable as possible. Your loved one will receive 24/7 care where withdrawal symptoms will be eased with evidence-based medications and nurses continuously monitor vital signs and discomfort.
- Inpatient rehab – Your loved one will live in a recovery home next to the addiction treatment center. They’ll attend inpatient drug rehab during the day and participate in structured activities and recovery meetings during the evenings and weekends.
- Outpatient rehab – We offer both intensive outpatient programs and outpatient treatment programs at Footprints to Recovery. These can help your loved one transition into life in sobriety at a pace right for them. Intensive outpatient is more days and hours a week than outpatient treatment. As your loved one gets a stronger foothold in recovery, they’ll move to outpatient treatment, spending less time in treatment, and more time at work, school, and volunteer opportunities.
- Recovery homes – Our recovery homes offer a safe, supportive sober-living environment for people attending partial hospitalization treatment and outpatient treatment.
- Alumni program – We have robust alumni programs, which means your loved one will have an instant network of peers and support in the recovery process. We hold regular events and groups and many of our alumni are lifelong friends.
If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, call us for a free, confidential phone consultation. We’ll figure this out together.