How to Help a Family Member Who’s Struggling With Addiction

How to Help a Family Member Who's Struggling With Addiction

How to Help a Family Member Who’s Struggling With Addiction

Many people assume that the signs of addiction are obvious – especially in someone close to them. Yet, there are plenty of examples of people battling addiction in private, and their close family being none the wiser.

Being able to identify the physical and psychological signs of addiction means you can support your loved one before their problem escalates. Keep an eye out for:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Significant changes to weight
  • Mood swings
  • Manipulation
  • Poor communication
  • Risky behaviours
  • Denial
  • Financial issues and/or legal issues
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal

This is simply a general overview of addiction symptoms, but further research will show you that there is much more to look out for.

If you already know that your relative is taking a particular drug, or engaging in a particular behaviour, you can learn about more specific symptoms of their addiction.

Raising the Issue

If you believe your loved one has a problem with a certain drug or behaviour, the healthiest thing to do is address the issue calmly. Lots of people naturally want to avoid the problem, but this only prolongs the suffering of yourself and your addicted family member.

Before you address the addiction, make sure you’re prepared for any outcome. Although you know you’re helping your family member, they might blame you for hurting them. If this does happen, it’s best to calmly voice your perspective, rather than getting defensive.

You may want to bring someone with you to offer emotional support. While this is absolutely acceptable, keep in mind that the reaction of your loved one will be affected by the people in the room.

It’s best to avoid having the conversation with people who don’t know your family member very well, or people who have a rocky history with them.

Useful Pieces Of Advice That Will Come In Handy When You Are Recovering From Addiction

Helping Your Loved One: Our Tips

By acknowledging and addressing the addictive behaviour, you’re already putting your loved one’s needs first. Even if they are in denial about their illness, you can feel confident that you have made the right decision from the start.

That being said, the support doesn’t have to end after the first conversation – even if the outcome was negative. Here are some tips for helping your loved one through their addiction:

1. Learn about addiction

Even if you’re the most supportive relative in the world, you can unintentionally cause damage to your loved one if you try to help them without doing your research.

No one is expecting you to become an expert in addiction, but just by learning the fundamentals, you’ll be able to interact with your family member in a healthy, productive way.

To give you an example of how important this is, let’s say Michael’s wife, Joanne, is suffering with alcohol addiction (alcoholism). Michael is resigned to this, as he believes his wife could never possibly get sober, so he encourages her to go to the pub to see her friends every night.

Eventually, Michael does his research on the disease of addiction, and realises that the abstinence method often leads to long-term sobriety. If he had known this all along, he would have been encouraging his wife to stop drinking, rather than submitting to the active addiction.

2. Offer specific support

When someone with addiction is told to get professional help for alcoholism, they can quickly feel overwhelmed. What does that mean? Where can I get help? Who can help me?

In addressing the addiction with your loved one, it’s better to be specific about the type of support they could get. Again, research is key for this.

Inpatient rehabilitation is the best treatment for the vast majority of people, so we recommend researching local rehabs and being ready to explain how rehab works. It’s also wise to learn about other common treatments, including intensive outpatient rehab, home detoxing, and self-help meetings e.g., SMART Recovery or Alcoholics Anonymous.

3. Keep the conversation open

No one likes rejection. You’ve voiced your concerns to your relative, they’ve actively denied the behaviours that you see with your own eyes, and you feel like you’re back to square one. Why not push it down and ignore it ever happened?

Because drug addiction thrives on secrecy. We can’t promise you that your loved one will turn around one day and finally listen to your advice, but we do know that sweeping the problem under the rug is the most problematic solution.

Keeping an open dialogue will hopefully show your loved one that you care deeply about their wellbeing, and you are always ready to find help for them.

4. Set boundaries

How you handle this situation is your choice. We can tell you what research says, and what our experience reveals, but we don’t know the ins and outs of your situation. There is no one-size-fits-all way of helping a family member who’s struggling with addiction.

If you need to take a step back and shut off the dialogue, don’t feel guilty. It’s not your duty to make your loved one get sober or stop relapsing, so if it’s causing more harm than good, feel free to set some healthy boundaries.

Some people decide to cut off family members with addiction, so this is always an option. Distancing yourself is not something we are here to judge, as we understand how heartbreaking it can be to try so hard to help someone and see zero positive results.

5. Get help for yourself

Don’t forget about yourself in this journey. Every decision you make is also affecting you, and you need to make sure you have the support you need for dealing with such challenging circumstances.

There are therapists who specifically support the relatives of people battling addiction. It may feel like a lonely road, but trust that many people have walked it, and are currently walking it with you.

How to Help a Family Member Who's Struggling With Addiction

Strategies to Avoid

As you do your research into dealing with this issue, you will see the following advice crop up again and again. This is because these strategies are incredibly harmful, yet they are often instinctual.

The more we learn about them, the easier it will get to act on our newfound knowledge, rather than our instincts.

1. Being overly critical

Most people who have seen addiction up close have been negatively affected by it. When you’re carrying so much pain around this subject, it’s difficult to not be overly critical of your loved one.

However, you can feel the pain without projecting it onto your relative. Even if you want to shout and scream at them, try your best to approach each interaction with a calm attitude. If this isn’t possible, it may be best to set stronger boundaries, and potentially stop interacting with the individual altogether.

The reason criticism is so harmful is that it often contributes to the dangerous cycle of addiction. The shame that comes from being criticised harshly can push someone with addiction issues to avoid sobriety for even longer.

2. Blaming yourself

On the other end of the spectrum is accusing yourself of causing the addiction. Let’s get this out of the way: no one is the cause of someone else’s mental health disorder.

There are different factors involved, including people, but you are certainly not the reason that your relative is suffering from this illness. Addiction is much more complicated than that.

It’s very common for people to blame themselves – especially if the person with addiction is a member of their immediate family. This coping mechanism only makes it harder to manage the situation.

Although you can’t suddenly stop blaming yourself, you can learn more about addiction to understand how complex it is and open up to a trusted individual (especially a therapist) about the self-blame.

3. Downplaying the problem

The mind is powerful. You can absolutely convince yourself that your relative is not suffering as much as they actually are.

People who take this path may enjoy the easy life for a while. They get to escape the worst of their loved one’s hostility, the shame of other people knowing, and even their own feelings.

Try to nip this mindset in the bud as soon as you can. It may feel easier right now, but all unhealthy coping mechanisms do. In order for you to process this situation well, you need to acknowledge what’s going on.

This will also be beneficial for your loved one, as it will give them less opportunity to hide behind your denial.

Finding the Right Treatment

Research points to residential rehab being the most successful addiction treatment for most people. Next is outpatient treatment, and then home detoxing.

There are also personal factors that affect how each individual responds to different treatment types. Rehab Recovery offers telephone appointments for people seeking advice on which treatment style to go for.

How to Help a Family Member Who's Struggling With Addiction

FAQs About Addiction in Families

1. Can you break the cycle of addiction?

Yes, you can absolutely break the cycle of addiction in your family, even if it’s something that affects the entire family. The best way to do this is to go to inpatient rehab for a 28-day treatment programme and follow this up with aftercare, individual therapy, and 12-step programs.

You may have heard the phrase ‘addiction is a family disease’. Just as addictive behaviours affect the entire family, getting sober affects everyone. If your loved one decides to take the road to recovery, it could have endless positive effects on the wider family.

2. Are genes important in determining the risk of addiction?

Genes are incredibly important in assessing addiction risk, although they do not tell us everything.

Interestingly, the significance of genes varies depending on the addiction in question.

For example, in general, genetics make up at least half of an individual’s general addiction risk (1). However, the heritability of cocaine addiction is 0.72, whereas hallucinogen addiction only has a 0.39 heritability rate (2).

This tells us that certain addictions are more affected by genetics, whereas others are more influenced by environmental factors.

3. Can you predict addiction by looking at someone’s environment?

You cannot look at someone’s environment and decide that they are definitely going to suffer from substance misuse issues. However, you can determine part of their risk.

To give an example, we know that the risk of substance use disorders is higher in urban environments where there is high unemployment and poor academic performance (3).

That being said, the risk varies for different addictions. In the US, alcoholism is in fact associated with high educational attainment and low unemployment (4).

4. Are some people programmed to perform addictive behaviours?

On one hand, the idea of an ‘addictive personality’ has been largely rejected. There is insufficient evidence of a personality that is strongly linked to addiction. Instead, we say that certain traits (that anyone can have) are linked to addiction, e.g., adventurousness and anxiety.

However, we do have proof that some people are genetically prone to want to take certain drugs. 75% of a person’s inclination to start smoking is affected by genetics (5).

5. Can you get couples therapy for addiction?

Lots of couples get therapy for addiction issues. It helps both members of the couple to be on the same page in terms of healthy coping mechanisms and relationship dynamics.

It’s often possible to get couples therapy or family therapy as part of your treatment plan at rehab. Getting involved with your spouse’s recovery process is an effective way to build a healthier relationship.

6. Is internet addiction real?

Although internet addiction does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), some medical professionals argue that it should be added.

There is even a special term for this relatively new addiction – Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). It has been linked to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and interpersonal sensitivity (6).

The main reason we don’t see internet addiction discussed in the same way as other addictions is that there isn’t currently enough data to prove that it is an official addiction.

In one study, only two of the five individuals believed to have an internet addiction actually displayed addictive behaviours (7).

| Article by Emily Smith.

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