Family presents an interesting dynamic for most people. These are the people in your life you love the most, but because you know them so well, conflict is not unusual among family members. Most of us spend a lifetime working on family relationships to make them better and keep them close.
Addiction can interfere with healthy family relationships in a way that is unlike any other turbulence you could experience. Addiction can creep into a person’s life, changing their behavior before they know what is happening. Often family members are the first to recognize the problem.
Like any serious problem, addiction can be difficult to talk about. No one wants to admit they have a problem, and no one wants to accuse someone they love of having an addiction. This is not a problem that will go away on its own, however. Having that uncomfortable conversation could actually mean the difference between life and death.
Does My Family Member Have an Addiction?
If there is a disturbance in your family dynamics related to drugs or alcohol, it is a good idea to consider addiction as a cause. If you can rule it out, then you can move forward with addressing the disturbance in the usual ways. If there is an addiction, however, at the root of the disturbance, you’ll need a different tactic.
If a loved one has shown signs they are using drugs or alcohol frequently, investigate a possible addiction before making any accusations. Although 9.4 percent of Americans used illicit drugs in 2013, up from 8.3 percent in 2002, addiction has a terrible stigma in our society. Approximately 2.5 percent of those illicit drug users used prescription drugs, and many of them started out with a legitimate medical need.
Our society treats people suffering from drug addiction like they are bad people with some sort of character flaw. In truth, addiction happens at all levels of society, from teenagers to housewives to well-educated professionals. Addiction is not just what happens to bad boys who want to party all night. It happens to Baby Boomers who have joint replacement surgery, teenagers recovering from sports injuries, college students trying to stay up all night studying, and parents dealing with a little mid-day depression.
The fact that someone in your family may be suffering from addiction is not so unusual when you consider all of the possible ways an addiction can develop. Even over-the-counter medications present some risk of addiction. What starts out as a cold with a persistent cough can turn into a codeine addiction over time. The OTC medication makes you feel better, so you want to keep taking it. Before you know it, you cannot get through a day without a dose. You do not even realize addiction is creeping in and steering your behaviors until it is too late.
If you think addiction is a problem for someone in your family, realize it may have developed without them knowing. No one sets out to be an addict, but once addiction takes control, your family member may be powerless to stop.
How to Help a Family Member With Their Addiction: Identifying the Problem
Here are some signs your loved one may be suffering from addiction.
Those suffering from addiction often are ashamed of their behavior, so they try to hide it, although they cannot stop. They tend to hide their stash and consume it when they are alone. As the addiction becomes stronger, they will need to consume their substance of choice more often, so that means spending more time alone.
Engaging in Anti-Social Behavior
When someone suffers from addiction, they tend to withdraw from family and friends. They may spend more time alone or start spending time with a different crowd. Since their cravings for their substance of choice will increase, they may begin hanging out with others who share the same desire. These could be people who have no connection to their regular friends.
Indulging in Risk-Taking
Addiction naturally increases a person’s risk-taking behaviors. Taking a drug for non-medical purposes is already risky, as is consuming alcohol or OTC drugs in large doses. Even someone who is extremely risk-adverse will not be deterred by the inherent dangers.
In fact, they may take on even riskier behaviors such as breaking the law or even stealing to get more drugs. When they are under the influence of drugs, they will be more likely to suggest risky activities such as swimming at night, driving or standing on a high ledge.
Changing Behavior Patterns
When someone suffers from addiction, their sleeping and eating patterns change. They may have trouble falling asleep or wake up several times during the night. Their appetite can fluctuate and result in significant weight loss or weight gain. Mood changes can also become abrupt, with extreme irritability, a bad temper and depression.
Developing Relationship Problems
There are a lot of reasons why people struggle with relationships, but addiction amplifies the problems. Your loved one may be suffering from addiction if they go through a series of bad relationships, including romantic and work relationships. People suffering from addiction may find it hard to hold a job for very long and end up changing jobs frequently.
Experiencing Financial Problems
No matter what the substance of choice, an addiction eventually will cause financial stress. As the addiction develops, more and more of the drug is needed to satisfy it. Even an inexpensive drug can start to become a financial burden. People who suffering from addiction may not make good financial decisions. Instead, they often are led by their need for another fix and will do anything to get it. They may start borrowing money from friends or foregoing other purchases, such as lunch, to have enough money for drugs or alcohol.
Doing Everything in Excess
Someone suffering from addiction may start consuming everything in excess. You may notice their smoking habit increase. When they drink, they drink a lot more than usual. Even eating may increase. Your loved one may behave like they cannot get enough of anything because they are simply trying to satisfy a craving.
If you notice a few of these warning signs, your family member might indeed have a problem with addiction. Every addiction is different, so there are no solid rules. But these behaviors are common among people struggling with substance abuse.
How to Help an Addicted Family Member
A proper guide to helping a family member face their addiction begins with what not to do. When there is a crisis, it is common to want to blame someone. Placing blame helps you to reduce your own personal sense of responsibility for the problem, but it does not facilitate a solution. In the case of addiction, blame usually exacerbates the situation.
If you want to play the blame game when it comes to addiction, you’ll need a very wide circle. You can start with the source of the substance of choice — a dealer, a friend or a doctor — and follow the trail right up to a society that embraces quick fixes, tolerates drug-induced bad behavior, and shuns people with any type of mental disorder.
Blaming anyone is at the top of the list of things not to do when trying to help a family member who is struggling with addiction. Some other no-no’s include fighting, shaming and shunning. Keeping secrets and becoming complicit in the addictive behavior round out that list.
Offer Assistance Through Empathy
If you truly want to help someone struggling with addiction, you need to adopt a position of empathy. Addiction can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of poor character or low intelligence. No one wants to suffer from an addiction. If they could change their behavior on their own, they would. Your loved one needs help to overcome addiction, and they are probably afraid to admit it.
People who are struggling with addiction are ashamed and frightened. They see themselves doing things that are out of character, but they feel powerless to stop. Sometimes they don’t even realize why they are behaving so strangely. They feel isolated and alone, afraid if they reach out for help:
- Their loved ones will leave them
- They will lose their jobs
- Their lives will be over
Some people struggling with addiction are so afraid to face their emotional terrors they would rather destroy themselves with substances. They use those drugs to bury emotions that seem too big to handle and have convinced themselves that feeling nothing, or not remembering the night before, is better than experiencing the emotional pain waiting for them in recovery.
When you understand the pain your loved one is going through, you can see how important it is to approach the subject of their addiction delicately and with love. They need to see you do not blame them for the addiction and they will have plenty of support for their recovery.
The Right Way to Plan an Intervention
Often, family and friends will stage an intervention to confront someone about their addiction, offer support, and ask for their commitment to get help. When done right, an intervention can be an important turning point for a loved one struggling with addiction.
Here are some tips for conducting an intervention:
Consult a Professional for Guidance
A qualified specialist or addiction counselor can help you plan an effective intervention, whether they are involved in the event or not. Interventions can be emotionally charged, and depending on the history of the person who is the subject of the meeting, it may be safer to have a professional present.
Rehearse With Your Intervention Team
It is important everyone in the intervention be on the same message. You should meet in advance to discuss the plan, what ideas you will bring up, and your specific goal. It may seem a little sneaky to have these pre-intervention conversations, but they are critical for keeping the discussion on track.
Include a Mix of Concerned People
Your intervention team should include close family members who are directly affected by the addiction, but you need to round out the group with people who are not as emotionally involved as well. Everyone on the team should be familiar with the situation and genuinely concerned about your loved one. Having some people who are not as emotional, though, will help keep the conversation calm and productive.
Get the Facts Straight
You will need to present evidence you have observed from this addiction, otherwise your family member might just deny it. If they do not admit there is an addiction, they certainly will not commit to getting help. Make sure you have some specific incidents you can relay, with dates and times, to demonstrate the problem.
Be Gentle but Firm
Do not use the intervention as a time to vent your anger about recent events. Everyone at the intervention should express their compassion for the subject and a willingness to support them through addiction recovery. Do not back down on your position, though, that they need help. If necessary, you might describe some changes you will enact in your relationship if they do not get into recovery.
Have specific information available about different recovery options to demonstrate recovery is possible. Including the subject in decisions about how to carry out a recovery plan will help them save face, and they will be more likely to buy into a program of their choice.
An intervention does not solve the problem of addiction, but it can be an important first step. When carried out in conjunction with a trained professional, interventions are at least 90 percent successful in moving people to commit to getting help for their addiction.
Your support of a loved one struggling with addiction does not end after a successful intervention, however. Addiction recovery is a long-term commitment that will require your continued support. Ultimately, recovery is a lifestyle change you will become a part of.
Finding the Right Recovery Program
Addiction recovery includes three steps: detox, rehabilitation and maintenance. Detox is primarily a medical treatment that eliminates the toxins from the body and controls withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the substance of choice, the extent of the addiction, and the underlying physical health of the client, detoxing can be dangerous and should not be undertaken without medical supervision.
Once the detox is completed, rehab should begin right away. Detox eliminates the drugs but doesn’t do much for the cravings, since they are mostly mental not physical. This involves creating mental and behavioral changes that will end the desire to take drugs. Changing behavior is not an easy process, so rehabilitation takes various forms for different people.
During the recovery, an underlying mental illness may be discovered that also needs to be addressed. The modern treatment modalities for a dual-diagnosis, which is addiction and at least one other mental illness occurring at the same time, require treating both disorders at the same time.
How Long Does Recovery Last?
Because of its complexity, and the fact that addictions are all different, a stay in a treatment facility can go on for several weeks or several months. When the program is completed, the third stage of recovery begins. Maintenance can take several forms but is necessary for a lasting recovery. Classes, meetings and follow-up counseling can take place at the recovery center or in other locations throughout the community.
Options for addiction recovery exist in most communities now. The most comprehensive programs are conducted at treatment facilities that incorporate medically supervised detox, a number of different behavioral treatment modalities, and access to follow-up care. Programs that take a holistic approach also incorporate physical fitness, nutrition, and even the arts.
Addiction affects both mind and body, and therefore requires physical and mental treatment. It involves all aspects of a person’s life, from who they associate with to what activities they are involved in. Addiction changes the way a person views the world around them and their life. To overcome addiction, all aspects of their life need to be rebuilt in a safe and healthy way.
Addiction recovery is a very personal experience. You want to find a treatment center that has the facility and expertise to handle all aspects of recovery. You may not know at the beginning if your family member has a dual diagnosis or will experience extreme withdrawal symptoms. You want to make sure the program they choose has the ability to treat any situations that arise effectively.
How to Help an Addicted Family Member After Treatment
While your family member is in a treatment center, they receive expert care. It is a good idea to get involved in the program, at the direction of the counselors there. In most situations, family members benefit greatly and can even assist in the recovery by getting education on addiction and recovery.
When your family member is ready to come home from the center, it can be a scary time for them. This will be the first big test of their recovery and an opportunity for them to use the strategies they learned in recovery for the first time. It can make you a little nervous, too. Your last memories of them in the house probably were when they were actively using and behaving poorly.
Transition can be hard on everyone, but with some proper attention, you can make this homecoming a little easier on everyone by doing the following:
- Make a plan. Your loved one may not be ready to jump back into all of their household responsibilities at once, for instance. Before the homecoming, talk about who will do what. Make a plan to ease them back into their family duties slowly.
- Expect differences. Do not assume everything will be as it was before, good or bad. There will be differences, so it is best to not make any assumptions. The living situation will be fluid for a while as everyone gets used to the new normal. Try to remain open and flexible.
- Realize treatment is not a cure. The drug abuse has stopped, and some personal healing has taken place. But the family has not had a chance to heal until now. In many ways, the hard work for the family begins when their loved one comes home. Be patient with everyone, and continue working toward a healthy family dynamic.
- Ask for help. The road to recovery for your family in some ways is just beginning. When things get overwhelming, reach out for help. The other members of your family, you included, may need some counseling, too. Healing doesn’t always happen on its own. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance before you really need it.
Remember the position of empathy you adopted at the beginning of this process, and use that to guide you through this transition back home for your family member. Even though they have completed a treatment program, they still have a long way to go to develop a truly healthy lifestyle. They still need your love and support to be successful in a lasting recovery.
Learn More About Helping Your Loved One
Your encouragement and involvement can make a big difference to your family member who is struggling with addiction. To learn more about how you can help them on this epic journey, contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast. One of the most important steps you can take is to get help for your loved one as soon as possible. By ceasing the drug consumption quickly, the damage can be mitigated. Addiction worsens over time, and recovery can take a while, so the sooner you start, the better of you’ll be.
Contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast today, and let our compassionate experts guide you to the best recovery options for your family member. No matter what the situation, recovery is possible. There is a happier, healthier life waiting at the end of this journey.