It is well-known that addiction is a family disease. Although there is often the misconception that “my loved one has a problem, not me” or “my loved one needs help, but I’m okay,” the truth of the matter is that if there is addiction in a family system, the family unit suffers as a whole. Think about it. Parents, grandparents, spouses and extended family that have dealt with a loved one’s addiction are always negatively impacted in some form or fashion. Perhaps it’s directly, like physical abuse or having their loved one steal money or crash their vehicle. Perhaps it’s mental, like obsessing over a loved one’s whereabouts or always being mentally exhausted over dealing with the fallout from the addictive behaviors. Perhaps it’s emotional, like constant worry, anxiety, mood swings and the like. Regardless of who has the addiction, the fact remains that addiction impacts the family as a whole.
So what can parents, spouses and loved ones do when they are dealing with addiction? What actions can they take? What things can they do when a loved one is suffering from addiction?
- Get their own help, support and counseling/therapy.
It is key for family members to have some good self-observation and awareness that they have been affected by their loved one’s addiction. Therefore, it is paramount that they seek help for themselves, whether the loved one is willing to accept help or not. How many parents and spouses spend frantic hours searching for help or treatment for their loved one and never actually do it for themselves? The disease of addiction impacts the family and therefore the family needs to seek healthy ways of coping and recovering. This is not to say the family is to blame for addiction because they are not. However, they are impacted by fear, worry, guilt, shame, anger, anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and the like. The family system will begin to behave in different ways due to a loved one’s addiction. Therefore, the family members need to find ways to become healthy, regardless if the individual with the addiction does or not. This can be found through support groups, 12 Step fellowships like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, other families that have dealt with addiction and individual and group therapy and counseling.
- Develop healthy boundaries that support recovery and not addictive behaviors.
Much of this can be done through the help, support and counseling/therapy described above. In order to be able to set healthy boundaries, families often need coaching, guidance and support. It is imperative that families set healthy boundaries and expectations of behaviors for within the family system.
- Listen without judgment.
As much as hate for addiction is understandable for families and loved ones impacted, it is vitally important to remember that someone suffering from addiction is dealing with an illness and they are not physically, mentally or emotionally well. Therefore, a sense of love and understanding is important when families deal with their suffering loved one. This does not mean actions and behaviors should be taken to necessarily make the addicted love one comfortable or shield them from pain or consequences. However, it is important that an addict or alcoholic know they can be open and honest about their struggles with their families and loved one. A sense of judgment helps no one.
One of the biggest mistakes families make when an addicted loved one finally decides to get help, is losing focus on the deadly nature of addiction. Many parents and spouses are quick to forget the nightmare they were just dealing with and begin to place unrealistic expectations on their loved one or unnecessarily prioritize life situations and goals. A good example of this are parents of adult children. Just weeks into treatment or recovery, parents will often begin pushing the need to “get back to school” or “immediately start working.” While these things are absolutely important, it must be remembered that the individual is dealing with a deadly addiction where relapse can mean death. This is not hyperbole, this is the truth of addiction. Therefore, in addiction treatment and early recovery, time is our friend. It is important that those just entering treatment or recovery prioritize their recovery and what they are working on in treatment in order to deal with core issues, cultivate necessary life skills and then re-enter society at a clinically appropriate pace.
- Support professional and clinical recommendations.
Once a loved one enters treatment or begins recovery, families often want to take the lead on what needs to be done or what the focus of the individual in recovery needs to be. They often lose sight of how helpless and scared they felt during all the years of their loved one’s addiction. There is a reason that addiction can be treated and recovery outcomes can be successful, but it is important to understand and support clinical recommendations of professionals and why those recommendations are being given. Those suffering from addiction in treatment or early recovery do not like discomfort or a challenging environment and often both treatment and the process of recovery are uncomfortable and challenging. The addict will often lean on parents and families to support what they want to do or what they think is best for them and doing so can sometimes undermine the clinical work taking place. Families and loved ones should remember there is a reason they sought out professional help and support the clinical recommendations be given.
- Become educated.
Families of a loved one suffering from addiction need to become educated on the illness of addiction and alcoholism. Engage in the family education and treatment that all treatment centers should offer. Find literature that explains addiction. Attend community events and educational events about addiction. Learn from other families that have gone through similar situations as well as professionals that work in the field. The more you know about addiction, the more you will come to understand the behaviors of your addicted loved one and learn what you can do to help them and help yourselves.
If you or someone you know is in need of help because of drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on all of our drug addiction and alcohol addiction services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.