Call us today
When functioning well, families can add immense happiness, stability, and support to a person’s life. Unfortunately, when there is intense
conflict, such as that which tends to come with an addiction, all family members can suffer overwhelming stress, insecurity, and unhappiness.
Substance abuse and addiction have the power to disrupt even the strongest familial relationships, but there are actions you can take to help. Learn what you can do as you attempt to get help for your parent, sibling, child, or other member of your family.
Knowing that your father, sister, child, or other family member has developed an addiction can be difficult because your family member may have gotten very good at lying to others and even themselves.
If you ask your mother about her drinking, for example, she might minimize the amount and the frequency of use in a very convincing way. She may also hide the evidence to make her behaviors more challenging to uncover.
Several potential signs could point to a family member abusing drugs or alcohol, such as:1,2,3
Your family member may have a drug problem even if they’re not using illegal drugs. Abuse of prescription drugs or even some over-the-counter drugs may result in noticeable changes to your loved one.
If your family member is displaying some of the signs of drug use, it does not necessarily mean they are addicted. If, for example, your brother drinks heavily on the weekends and is short-tempered when he drinks but has no problem stopping when he chooses to, he may not yet meet criteria for a diagnosis of substance use disorder, or addiction. However, if you’re noticing that your brother is prioritizing alcohol over everything else and continuing to use despite the problems it causes, he might have a problem that requires professional help.
The following are some of the diagnostic criteria professionals use to assess whether a person suffers from a substance use disorder:1
If your family member is displaying some of these signs, their substance abuse may be progressing, or has progressed, from casual use to compulsive use that they may no longer be able to control.1
As a person begins prioritizing drugs over other areas of their life, it may begin to feel like drugs are more important than anything else in that person’s life. For example, seeing your wife continue to use substances despite your pleas for change can make it feel like she cares more about drugs than you. This is not true. If she is facing an addiction, it does not mean she loves drugs more than your family. Rather, she is responding to the influence of drugs in her body and the compulsive drive to continue using them.
Over time, substance use may be accompanied by certain neurochemical changes in the brain that make quitting extremely difficult and much more complicated than simply making the choice to stop.4 All people seek out pleasure and rewards during their life. Natural rewards like food, water, sex, and love help people feel good while encouraging their own survival and survival of humankind.5 Drugs may also create a feeling of reward, and one that may be more intensely reinforcing than those associated with natural rewards; very quickly, an individual may begin compulsively seeking out that reward by drinking or using drugs again and again, even as the reward diminishes over time. As time goes on, natural rewards may become relatively less pleasurable and less prioritized as the addicted person becomes unable to find any satisfaction without drugs. People trying to quit may feel flat, depressed, or altogether feel a loss of a sense of pleasure.5,6
Like any other chronic disease, professional treatment may help people achieve long-term recovery.7
It is only natural for you to want to help the people you love. You may, for example, want to shield your adult child from the consequences of his drug use by calling in sick for him when he’s unable to work because he’s hungover. However, you may be enabling his drug use when you think you’re helping.8
Differentiating between helping and enabling is complex because the intention behind both is usually good. A good way to tell the difference is by looking at the long-term benefit.
If your action helps only in the short-term, it might be enabling. For example, if you pay this month’s rent and your child keeps spending his money on drugs, you may be enabling. Conversely, an action that may not see an immediate payoff, and that may even make your child angry in the moment, may be more helpful in the long-run. This might be something like taking your child to a doctor to discuss their substance use.
Examples of enabling behaviors include:9
To fight back against the urge to enable:
Having a loved one, especially a close family member, who is struggling with addiction can be tremendously taxing on your well-being. Over time, your mental health and physical health may suffer under the weight of your family member’s addiction.
It’s important to remember that your health matters too. You need to take care of yourself to support another person fully. Practicing self-care helps you balance your resources between yourself and your family. After all, if you do not properly take care of your needs, there is no way you can offer them the love and support they need.
There are many ways to practice self-care; these include methods to take care of your physical health and your mental health:10,11
Types of mental health self-care include:12
Other ways to attend to your own needs include:
The field of professional substance abuse treatment offers a tremendous variety of available services. From around-the-clock care to monthly check-in appointments, options exist to accommodate your family member’s treatment needs.
At times, you may feel compelled to try a drastic strategy, but take caution. Interventions like those shown on TV can result in violence and hostility from your loved one.4 You cannot force your mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter into treatment, but you can strongly encourage and support their journey into recovery.
Addiction comes with the baggage of shame and isolation, so an angry confrontation that places blame on your spouse may only push him further away. Instead, try coming from a place of love, support, and understanding when talking to him. It may take many talks for your spouse to finally accept that they need help, but keep trying. Along the way, look into treatment options, so you will be prepared with programs they can enter quickly when they finally express interest in treatment.
If your loved one is thinking about treatment, go with them to their primary care physician or offer to schedule them a screening at a substance abuse or mental health treatment facility.
Each treatment center will provide a unique set of services. Look for ones that offer:13
There are many types of addiction treatment. To avoid becoming overwhelmed with your options, you can follow the recommendation of a trusted treatment professional. They may suggest:14
Many people begin with a more structured and intensive level of care like inpatient or residential rehabilitation before stepping down to various outpatient treatment settings. Completing several different levels of treatment can help you continue receiving professional support while gaining increased freedom and real-world chances to practice newfound coping skills.
Family therapy refers to any form of treatment that involves you, your addicted family member, and potentially other family members in a session with the therapist.13
Family-based treatments can occur in the home or treatment center. They seek to improve communication and problem-solving skills in the family unit. Dysfunction within the family that is not addressed may lead to relapse in the recovering family member and continued stress and anxiety in the rest of the family.
Seeing your parent, sibling, child, or spouse struggle with addiction can be immensely difficult and confusing. If you find yourself being negatively influenced by the addiction of someone in your family, reach out to us for more information about starting the treatment process. The path to recovery can start today.