The Signs of Addiction
An addiction is a brain disease, and definitely different than occasional consumption, but some people do ignore the red flags. In order to know how to help a loved one, you must first know if they are addicted. This can be tricky because many people dealing with addiction try to hide these signs. It might be hard to figure out how bad the situation is right away, but there are things to watch out for.
Some of the signs that your loved one might be addicted are:
- Displaying cognitive and memory issues constantly
- Sudden and noticeable changes in eating and/or sleeping cycle, either doing it more or less than usual
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a few days or even hours since their last dose
- Neglected appearance and more lack of hygiene than usual
- Getting into financial and/or legal trouble due to drug-related issues
- Having problems at work or school, such as lack of attendance, grades dropping, not delivering as usual, etc.
- Changes in social habits, like self-isolation or only going to events where drug or alcohol consumption is involved
- Selling their things or stealing to buy more drugs or alcohol, maybe looking for substances
- Manipulative and deceitful behavior, especially worrisome if lying about drug or alcohol consumption
- Reacting negatively or defensive if questioned about substance misuse or consumption in general
These signs are a cause for concern should they be a change in usual behavior. Checking off multiple boxes might be a sign that the person’s habits point towards something worse.
When it comes to alcohol, it might be trickier to tell. For men, four drinks on the same day, and less than 14 drinks a week might not put them at risk. As for women, that number goes down to 3 drinks a day, and seven weekly drinks. Anything more than that is considered high-risk alcohol consumption and can be classified as binge-drinking.
Prescription drugs like opioids are also a risk. Though they can be used safely, not being able to stop or lower the dosage is never good. Other red flags include the person getting multiple prescriptions from different doctors, taking the wrong dosage, or keeping stashes around the house.
The Toxic Dynamics of A Relationship With An Addict
Living with an addict or loving one can be hard, and might lead to toxic behavior coming from both parties. Even when acting with the best of intentions, many of the things you might do might make matters worse.
First, there is enabling. Enabling a loved one is done through actions that come from a good place, but end up doing more harm than good. Things like letting them use drugs in the house because it’s “safer than doing it in the streets”, for instance. Though it is “safer”, it is still harmful, and they need to understand that. This shields them from the consequences of their choices, thus, preventing them from seeing how bad things are getting.
Enabling Often Leads to Codependency
It’s characterized by two people relying on each other in a dysfunctional way. When addiction is involved, it happens when one person enables another’s addiction, irresponsibility, lack of goals, under-achievement, etc. The addict becomes too dependent on their loved ones, and in return, their loved ones take on their responsibilities and suffering as their own.
For children of parents, there is an extra layer of emotional and psychological damage. Many take on the role of caretaker due to the parent’s inability to do so. They might feel like they must take care of their siblings or even their parents. This is called role-reversal, and it has long-term ramifications psychologically and emotionally.
A toxic dynamic with an addict is mutual, affecting everyone in it equally. Trying to help them is a way to help yourself and your health, saving you years of struggles, resentment, and suffering, too. But the only way to truly help is for them to get the treatment they need. Recognizing you cannot cure them or treat them by yourself is the first step. Knowing that their addiction is not your fault, and not blaming yourself is also important.
You can only help them if you, too, are well, and that also takes work. The best way to know how to proceed is to understand addiction and ending the cycle of codependency. Respecting your limits and your boundaries is important for your own well-being. Taking care of yourself is important for you and for your loved one, too.
How Can I Help My Loved One Struggling With Addiction?
For many, watching a loved one battle with addiction is heartbreaking and draining. Frequently, we want to try to control our loved one’s addiction or stop it altogether. Unfortunately, that is truly only up to them and has to come from them. What we often don’t realize is the best way to cope with a loved one’s substance abuse problem is to get support for ourselves.
One of the first things we can do is learn about the process of addiction and recovery. There are many platforms that can help: self-help books, family support groups, podcasts, open meetings, individual therapy, family therapy, and film are just a few.
Set boundaries that the whole family can agree upon and easily follow. The goal is to improve the relationships in the family as a whole. Do not use boundaries to punish or shame, but to improve communication and behavior. Boundaries should also be used to protect yourself and others if your loved one’s addiction is getting out of hand. For example, no drugs or drinking in the house.
Limit Financial Support
It’s recommended that individuals limit the amount of financial support they provide family members who are actively using. A better alternative, if needed, is to purchase things they may need directly, such as food and toiletries. This, however, could change if they needed financial help for treatment. These limits can be discussed, but it is important to impose them to generate accountability and responsibility.
Understanding that there is only so much you can do is crucial – do not do the work for them. Do not shield the addict from the consequences of their substance abuse. Understanding their struggle should not be the same as justifying it or making excuses for them. You can offer help to find a facility to go to the doctor, but only take steps towards getting treatment. Talk to them directly about getting help, maybe even hold an intervention.
Join a Support Group
Joining a support group can connect you with others who understand exactly what you are going through. When things seem overwhelming, you may find support in others and also through sharing and supporting others yourself. These groups can also teach you effective ways to cope, as your friend or family member faces the consequences of addiction.
Participation in family therapy is about support for the entire family, even your loved one struggling with addiction. A licensed professional will discuss addiction, behavior, improvements, toxic dynamics, etc. Additionally, they will be able to tell you how you can better support and help your loved one. This is a way to actively show support and to prove you will be there for them every step of the way.
Doing everyday things to take care of yourself healthy is imperative, both physically and mentally. From routine things like working out and meditation to occasional activities like volunteering. Going to therapy is not just helpful but important for your own sake. Look into what you can change in your routine that would do you good. Neglecting yourself will lead to exhaustion and burn out, making it harder to go through this process.
Helpful Resources For Additional Support And Education
There are many different institutions and support groups that you can reach out to in order to learn more. Many communities also offer local help for addicts and their loved ones. Here are some great examples to help get you started:
- Alanon Groups can be found through the al-anon website, a group to those whose significant other is the addict (www.Al-Anon.org)
- Families Anonymous is a group where family members can get support if their loved one is using drugs or alcohol (www.familiesanonymous.org/)
- Nar-anon also has a family group for those suffering from a drug problem (www.nar-anon.org/)
- SMART Recovery family and friends is a group that follows the SMART recovery goals instead of the 12-step approach. They have support groups for both addicts and for their family and friends (www.smartrecovery.org)
- For a co-dependent individual to learn more about how to break the cycle of codependency, groups like Codependency Anonymous can be helpful. (www.coda.org) They have 12 step groups online and in most major cities.
- Adult Children of Alcoholics and Addicts is for family members who grow up with addicts, and may not be addicts themselves but have the addictive traits. They can help anyone learn new healthy coping skills and preventative measures and behaviors (www.adultchildren.org)
Learn More About Getting Treatment At Footprints to Recovery
The only way to truly help you and/or a person with an addiction is by getting professional help. To love is to want what is best for you and your family, and that means leaving drugs behind for good. There is no middle ground when it comes to addiction, no safe way to engage in substance abuse, and no excuses to keep abusing. There are many ways to get help, and the right time to do it is now.
We at Footprints to Recovery can help you and your loved ones get the help you need regarding treatment as well. All our programs also include family therapy, helping addicts, and families stick together and get through recovery together. If you want to learn more about your options and the programs we offer, contact us today. Our team will be happy to tell you everything you need to know and answer all your questions.