Substance abuse and addiction can occur within any family, regardless of income, background, or upbringing. And when addiction strikes within a family, the effects are devastating.
Every member of the family will be affected, and every relationship is tested. Whether the person struggling with addiction is a parent or child (of any age), the entire family unit may be disrupted and put into turmoil. A home life that was once enjoyable and healthy may become dysfunctional and chaotic.
There are no easy fixes to dealing with an addiction problem within a family. Oftentimes, a substance problem develops for a period of time before it is recognized or addressed within a family, allowing time for problematic relationship patterns to start forming.
The road to recovery itself is not usually a clear and hazard-free one. Often, it may be difficult to get your family member to agree to, or follow through with, treatment.
But with commitment and a comprehensive treatment plan, a family can recover from addiction and even end up stronger than ever before. Although the process can be painful, recovery can bring about opportunities for the individual with the substance abuse problem and for every other member of the family too.
Throughout the family’s recovery, each individual can learn how to communicate more clearly, how to set boundaries and expectations, and how to forgive and trust again. These are lessons that will undoubtedly prove useful in rebuilding healthy family relationships.
Signs of Addiction and Abuse
When someone is able to hide their addiction from family members, there’s often surprise when it is unveiled.
For example, a mother may be shocked her teenage son was able to hide a serious painkiller addiction from her. After all, she knows him better than anyone. The other side to that is that he knows her too. And he may know exactly what would trigger her suspicion and what he needs to do to maintain the illusion that everything is fine.
Even so, there are usually signs that indicate someone may be struggling with a substance use and addiction problem.
- Extreme changes in mood: If your family member is exhibiting strange, out-of-character moods — like seeming overly energetic or very lethargic — substance abuse may be the culprit. Extreme mood swings, in which an individual goes from very happy to edgy or angry, may also be an indication of a problem.
- Lying: Addiction can make even the most honest of people willing to lie to loved ones in order to continue with their substance use. If you catch your family member lying about where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, or whom they’ve been with, they have something to hide.
- Suddenly showing up late or missing events: If a family member’s behavior is becoming more unpredictable or irresponsible, they may be in trouble, especially if this is unusual for them.
- Losing interest in people and activities they used to enjoy: People with an addiction often become obsessed with using their substance of choice, and they lose interest in people, activities, and hobbies that don’t revolve around using.
- Trouble at work or school: As your family member goes deeper into addiction, it may become harder to deal with daily responsibilities and everyday life. Their performance at work or school will suffer, which could lead to feelings of depression and inadequacy that could further feed the cycle of addiction.
Physical symptoms are often harder to detect because, for the most part, they are felt only by the person using. The types of physical symptoms exhibited will also vary widely depending on the types of substances used.
Here are some general physical symptoms that may indicate a substance use disorder:
- Changes in weight
- Sweating or clamminess
- Large or small pupils
- Sleeping problems
- Unusual fidgeting
- Dozing off or appearing unusually sleepy
- Slurring words or displaying strange speech patterns
When people use drugs regularly, they need certain tools to do it. Keep an eye out for these items:
- Smoking pipes
- Mysterious pills or powder
- An excessive amount of liquor bottles
- Hidden liquor bottles
- Hidden stashes of cash
Talking to Your Family Member
It’s never easy to have a conversation about substance abuse with your family member. Taking certain steps can increase the likelihood that the talk will go well and ease some of your anxiety regarding it.
- Choose the right time and place. There’s never going to be a perfect time or place to talk to your family member about their addiction, but aim for a time and place that is most conducive to a good conversation. Avoid noisy or uncomfortable places. Choose a place that is quiet, where your loved one feels safe.Timing is also important. Don’t wait for an angry outburst to let them know how you feel. Instead, plan a time to talk to them. It’s important that they’re sober (or as sober as you’re going to get them), and that they’re not highly distracted.
- Stay constructive and compassionate. While it’s important that your loved one understands the serious impact their substance use has had on you and on the family, it’s counterproductive to bring up past incidents or resentments for the sake of bitterness or anger. It can be helpful to cite one or two examples of times when their substance use has negatively impacted their life or you, but make sure you are using these examples to build your case versus to vent frustration.They need to know that if they’re willing to get help, you’re willing to be there for them, forgive them, and believe in them. Remember your goal is to persuade them to get help, and emphasizing your love and support is the best way to do this.
- Be prepared. Preparation is key for having an effective conversation with your family member about their addiction. Approaching them with an emotional outburst or off-the-cuff remark could backfire and make them feel attacked or hurt, driving them to become more defensive or secretive.By planning out what you want to say, you’ll have the best chance of a positive outcome. You’ll feel much more confident if you go into the conversation with a plan.
- Hold an intervention. More often than not, a simple conversation with your struggling family member is not going to trigger the change necessary or get them to seek help. The family may have to get together, along with others who are important in the struggling family member’s life, in order to organize an intervention. Many families seek the help of an addiction treatment specialist who is experienced in organizing and facilitating interventions.During an intervention, those present will try to help your struggling family member to see the effects their addiction has had on their own life as well as on the lives of those around them. They will highlight how much better their life could be if they were to seek treatment and enter recovery.Again, preparation is vital to an intervention’s success. It’s likely that your struggling family member will not just agree to treatment at the first mention of it. Participants will prepare statements and plan the entire event, including what to do if the person refuses help. This all helps to set the scene for a positive outcome.Those present should express themselves constructively and honestly, as well as lay out the commitments they expect (like entering treatment) and the consequences they will impose if these commitments are not met. For example, a mother may tell her son that she expects him to enter treatment, and if he doesn’t, he can no longer stay at her house or borrow money from her.
For these types of boundaries to work, they must be followed after the intervention. Even if your family member refuses to enter treatment initially, if the consequences are followed after the intervention, they may be unable to continue with their lifestyle for long. It’s more likely that they will eventually agree to enter treatment.
Choosing the Right Recovery Solution
Treatment comes in many forms. A treatment facility will help you determine which combination of care is right for your family member.
- Detox: Many substances can be incredibly uncomfortable and even dangerous to withdraw from without professional help. If your family member is addicted to opioids, alcohol, or benzodiazepines, they need professional assistance with detox. In addition, if your loved one is very emotionally or physically dependent on any substance, medically supervised withdrawal may be their best option for a safe and successful detox.During medically supervised detox, professionals will monitor your family member’s well-being, increasing the likelihood that they will safely make it through withdrawal. They can also administer safe medications to make the process more comfortable.
- Residential treatment: Many individuals who are recovering from a severe substance use disorder may choose to pursue recovery in an inpatient treatment center. In this residential setting, your family member will stay on site at a treatment center, surrounded by addiction treatment specialists, doctors, and others in recovery.Inpatient treatment has many benefits for those seeking to reset after a period of intense struggle. Recovery centers allow an individual to fully focus on recovery and healing without the worries and distractions of everyday life. These centers allow for comprehensive treatment plans, with resources that often include daily therapy sessions, ongoing progress check-ins, and options for positive social and physical activities, like art and creative activities, relaxing physical exercise classes, and supervised group therapy.
- Outpatient treatment: There are different levels of outpatient treatment, ranging from intensive outpatient treatment or partial hospitalization programs to standard outpatient care.An alternative to inpatient treatment is intensive outpatient treatment or a partial hospitalization program while residing in a sober living home. This also gives an immersive recovery experience where patients are removed from home environments where there are more temptations to relapse.With lower levels of outpatient treatment, your family member may continue with their day-to-day responsibilities, or they may limit their responsibilities, as they pursue full recovery. Treatment will include ongoing therapy sessions and check-ins with an addiction treatment specialist as well as various forms of complementary therapies.
Family Therapy and Self-Care
Therapy will be an important part of your family member’s recovery. Therapy will help them to work through any underlying trauma or mental health issues that may be at the root of their substance use, identify and modify “triggering” thought patterns and behaviors that could cause them to use again, and develop life and coping skills that will help them to thrive as they re-enter their life with a new perspective. Medications may be used to correct imbalances and promote mental health.
Family therapy will likely be part of the treatment program. In this type of group therapy, dysfunctional relationship and behavioral patterns in the family unit can be worked through, in order to promote trust and better communication. Family members will address issues that were caused or worsened by the addiction and learn how to avoid these issues in the future.
In addition, each member of the family will likely benefit from individual therapy. Addiction can take its toll on a family unit, and its effects may be more serious and far-reaching than initially realized. Family members may be consciously or unconsciously dealing with feelings of stress, fear, or resentment that could have a negative impact on their lives.
Through individual therapy, family members can learn to set healthy boundaries with their struggling loved one, in order to avoid becoming codependent or enabling their addiction. These toxic behavior patterns are common in families dealing with addiction, and they can lead to further and more serious problems for everyone involved.
Paying for Treatment
The vast majority of people in the U.S. have some type of health care plan, and the vast majority of those plans are required by law to cover treatment for a substance use disorder. The types of services and treatment covered will depend on your family’s specific insurance plan.
Speaking to a financial or administrative professional at the treatment center you’ve chosen may be the best option for finding out what your insurance company will cover. These professionals are experienced in dealing with insurance companies and know how to maximize your coverage in order to get the programs and treatment they offer covered.
Inquiring about substance use treatment coverage with your health care provider is also helpful, especially if you prep questions in advance. If you contact your insurance provider, a representative can give you specifics on the extent of coverage you can expect for addiction treatment. They can also inform you of any requirements that need to be met, such as first attempting a lower level of treatment before a more intensive form of care will be covered.
For those without insurance, payment plans and government programs are often available. Again, speak to someone at the treatment facility of your choice to get the most expedient answers to your questions.
As families learn how to deal with a loved one who is struggling with addiction, there are many resources available.
Each of these organizations is committed to helping individuals and families who are struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Some offer support and information, and some connect people with the specialized, local help they need.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT)
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Learn to Cope
- Family Resource Center
- National Association for Children of Addiction
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- American Society of Addiction Medicine
- American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Resources