Addicts in the family. Hard to deal with when you don’t know too much about addiction. In this piece, we will walk you through how to deal with addicts in the family, as well as how to attend to them. If any close family member of yours is addicted to drinking or drugs, you might sometimes feel like there’s not much hope for them or you.
Nothing is further from the truth.
Take Advantage of Addiction Resources
Sadly, addiction is no longer particularly uncommon. According to the 2014 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), 21.5 million Americans were wrestling with substance abuse with 80% of these also battling alcohol dependency.
The fortunate by-product of this sorry state of affairs is that you can take full advantage of an enormous number of resources and proven strategies to give your loved one the best chance of making a full recovery.
The crucial part is how you approach dealing with an addict in the family. While there’s not a boilerplate solution, there are certain best practices that can maximize your chances of getting your son, sister or partner cleaned up while returning a semblance of normality to family life and building the future you all deserve.
For a more involved look at addiction, check out our recent article. We’ll also be diving into this topic in much more depth over the coming weeks.
Today, though, we’ll laser in purely on how you can help a family member rather than getting bogged down with the science of addiction itself.
So here goes and it starts with educating yourself so you can better help your loved one.
Start By Educating Yourself About Addiction
To best assist a family member struggling with a drink or drugs problem, you owe it to yourself and to them to find out as much as you can about the issue of addiction.
If you’re a keen internet user, you’re spoiled for choice with a battery of resources at your disposal. Read widely on addiction in general to get a thorough overall understanding.
Double down on the substance in question, whether alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription pills so you can get some more specific knowledge about what your loved one is going through.
This might be tough at first if you’ve got no first-hand knowledge of substance abuse and addiction but the more you read, the more you’ll be able to empathize.
This specific knowledge is critical since how you formulate a strategy for helping an addict in the family depends to a large extent on what they’re using to excess. A drinker and a crystal meth addict will exhibit very different behaviors to someone grappling with a chronic marijuana habit or a cocaine addiction.
Preperation is key
Be prepared to sift through multiple sources. As with anything published online, be wary of accepting anything as received wisdom or fact unless you’re confident of the source. As a go-to resource, we can’t recommend the SAHMSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) website strongly enough.
Don’t overlook physical resources either. Head to the library or the bookstore and see if anything piques your attention.
James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces is an excellent read from the perspective of a chronic crack cocaine addict and alcoholic. This book will give you an inside view of what it’s like to suffer from addiction.
However, you choose to learn about addiction, doing so will put you in a much stronger position to help your family member in trouble get themselves back on track.
Open Clear Channels of Communication: Be Honest and Encourage Them To Be Honest
One of the most challenging steps to take is to voice your concerns about the extent of your loved one’s dependency.
By this, we don’t mean moaning at them or arguing with them but clearly outlining why you think they might have a problem and that they can freely and openly talk to you about this problem. It doesn’t matter if it’s your teenaged son, your partner, or your elderly parent. If someone you care for genuinely and is in any danger from abusing drink or drugs, honesty is a crucial component of successful recovery.
Tell them frankly that if they want to get better, being honest is central all along the rocky road through detox, abstinence, continued sobriety and rebuilding a shattered life. Tell them to start as they mean to carry on and not to hide their habit, not to lie, not to worry about communicating.
Don’t hold back on telling them how their behavior is affecting you and the rest of the family. They might very well not be aware of this. For anyone caught in the vice-like grip of a growing addiction, it’s easy to get caught up in a bubble, easy to ignore how poor behavior is impacting your nearest and dearest.
Once you’ve established clear channels of communication, there’s one crucial element to bear in mind…
Leave Blame Out of The Equation
Do not blame them.
Attaching blame to an addict is at best pointless and at worst entirely counterproductive.
While someone might enjoy drinking or getting high, may even enjoy regularly doing this to the point of insensibility, nobody chooses to become addicted, nobody wants their seemingly harmless habit to spiral out of control.
Whatever your standpoint, it’s universally accepted that addiction is a disease. Someone who was suffering from a physical illness, even if induced by poor lifestyle choices, you’d hardly overtly blame them when trying to help them get better. The same should be the case with addiction to drink or drugs.
We reiterate, nobody starts in on their very first drink thinking, “You know what, I think I’ll push this to the better end so I can watch my life collapse around me.” No cocaine addict snorted their first line with any desire to end up shaking and in the jaws of despair because their dealer is out of supplies for the night.
Using a substance might be a choice. Addiction is not a choice.
Leave blame at the door whenever you’re trying to help anyone suffering from this progressive but eminently treatable disease.
Linked to the idea of blame, you shouldn’t judge the addict either.
Refrain From Judging The Addict Regardless of Your Feelings
It might very well be your someone who’s never done more than sipped the odd cold beer. Never smoked a joint. No question of any experience with hard drugs.
It’s possible you take a pretty dim stance on anyone abusing any substance whatsoever, but if so it pays not to be too judgmental.
Try to put yourself in the position of your family member rather than viewing the situation through your lens.
Often, a judgmental attitude toward any drugs stems from a lack of understanding. If you’ve followed the first of these strategies and learned a little more about illicit substances and addiction, you should develop more of a rounded view. Don’t get us wrong, and we’re not defending drug use here — quite the reverse. What we are saying is that pointing the finger and operating from a holier than thou standpoint really won’t do much more than get your loved ones back up with little gained.
This leads us into the next prong of your attack when it comes to getting your family member out of harm’s way and back on the right track.
Try to Remain Detached and Neutral
Taking a more detached and neutral approach to dealing with an addict is easier said than done when it’s your son or daughter, your lover, your brother.
By definition, these are the people closest to your heart, people, and it’s tough to view with any attachment.
But if you can, it helps.
If you can manage to take a step back, you’re far more likely to be solution-oriented than fixating on the problem and the person. Because that’s what you need here, and that’s what we’re leaning toward with the overarching strategy we’ve outlined a solution.
The more you think about the person in question as your loved one, the more your judgment will be clouded. The more you can operate from the point of detachment, the more chance you’ll get a more unobstructed view of the best method of helping them shuck their addiction.
Do Not Enable The Addict in Any Way and Set Firm Boundaries
The next part is vital; the penultimate stage before you start taking firm action.
Do not make things easier for the addict in any way.
If they’re failing to pay the rent because they’re spending all their cash on drink or drugs, stepping in to make payments for them enables the cycle to continue.
Be aware of enabling. Essentially, enabling is if you help the addict to continue using by funding their habit, whether directly or indirectly, or by covering up for their indiscretions/
Avoid it at all costs.
To make sure you stick to this, it’s crucial to set and adhere to very firm boundaries. Be firm yet inflexible. If you tell them you won’t give them money, don’t buckle and tell them you’ll “lend” them a smaller sum. When they want you to make excuses on their behalf, refuse to do so.
Ultimately, if you want to help an addict, especially a loved one, enabling them to perpetuate a harmful habit is in no way likely to assist them in the long haul. Sure, they’ll be happy today when they’ve got what they want. But they will be back asking for more and more and more.
So, with these foundations laid, honest lines of communication in place, and everyone concerned fully aware there’s a problem, it’s time to solve that problem, this can be successfully executed however bad and uncontrollable the issue might appear.
Call Upon Professional Help for Advice
Speak with your doctor in the first place and let them know what you’re going through and that you need some form of help.
Every situation is different so talk to a professional you can trust to get the ball rolling.
The goal here is two-fold.
Firstly, point in the direction of support groups for you and the addict. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous both have chapters in most towns. Even if initially your loved one has no intention of following through on a 12-step program, merely attending a meeting is a critical step toward recovering. Your loved one will have people there in the same boat as them in different stages of recovery.
There are also groups for you and other members of your family where the same principle applies. You can attend a meeting in a group setting where the other people present are also suffering from a loved one in the grips of addiction.
Family counseling is another option depending on your circumstances and the willingness of the addict to engage.
From here, we’ll assume that the addict is at the point where treatment is essential, so the first thing you should do is assess how they feel about seeking that treatment voluntarily.
Try Everything Within Your Power to Help Them Seek Treatment: Be Positive
If you’re openly communicating about addiction, it’s time to see whether or not your loved one will admit they have a problem.
Here, things can pan out in many different ways from outright denial to outrage and anger or, if you’re lucky, an admission that they need help and a willingness to seek that help.
There’s no clear-cut guidance here in the sense that everything depends on how the addict reacts.
If they deny they have a problem at all, it’s time to regroup and consider the step we’ll outline below, an intervention.
Perhaps you’re lucky and find them amenable to seeking some form of treatment. In this case, you should already have a few options up your sleeve so you can speak with your loved one and see how they feel. If the problem is particularly severe, it might be that a residential recovery program is the best bet. In the event of any addiction that will cause severe withdrawal symptoms, a detox in a rehab unit is by far the most effective course of action.
If things have not reached this stage and they feel able to take command of things at home, be sure to offer them all the help they need.
If the addict wants to attend AA or NA meetings, do all you can to make this as comfortable as possible.
How about if you meet with complete resistance or a refusal to accept any suggestion of treatment?
Well, it could be time for an intervention. What is that exactly?
If Necessary, Plan and Stage an Intervention
When an addict doesn’t admit the extent of their problem in the full face of evidence to the contrary, an intervention can be an effective way to force their hand.
This process involves friends and family meeting at a pre-arranged time to confront the addict, usually without their prior knowledge.
Interventions require a great deal of planning and preparation to increase the chance of meeting the only real goal: getting the addict out of trouble and into some form of treatment so they can get better.
Check out our detailed look at how to stage an intervention for more structured help.
Accept That Recovery is an Ongoing Journey and Remain Supportive
Whether you’ve managed to persuade your loved one to seek help entirely on their terms or you need to stage an intervention to make this happen, all that counts at this stage is helping them start down the path to recovery.
Keep in mind that when the addict stops using, this is merely the first step on a long journey.
This is arguably one of the hardest parts. You feel like half the battle is won, but be aware of all the challenges.
Stay positive and make sure your loved one knows you’re with them as they take these difficult steps toward sobriety and ongoing recovery.
Addiction is a disease for which there’s no cure. Millions of recovering addicts are proof positive that it’s entirely possible to improve.
We very much hope this brief look at how you can best help a family member dealing with the hardship of addiction has given you some useful pointers. We also hope you can see that you’re not alone, that millions of people are in the same precise position with a common goal.
Helping their loved one to reclaim the life they enjoyed before drink or drugs set into the point of dependence.
If you’ve got any questions about any aspect about how to deal with addicts in the family, don’t hesitate to get in touch.