It’s not going to be easy, but it’s important to reach out to your family if you suspect someone has developed a drug addiction. Substance abuse is a difficult challenge, but the more involved you are as a family member, the better.
This article will discover how to help a family member with addiction.
How to Help a Family Member with Addiction
Watching a loved one go down the path of addiction can be incredibly stressful and heartbreaking. You may end up feeling hurt and betrayed by this person you care so much for, and you may be worried about the potential future. While no one can be expected to react in a completely objective way when matters of the heart are involved, you can increase your chances of providing genuine help – and can avoid contributing to further damage – by arming yourself with knowledge and tactics for approaching the situation in the best way possible.
Here’s how to help a family member with addiction.
Your first clue that a family member is involved in addiction will probably be a gut feeling. Follow that feeling with some head knowledge about what signs to look for. While not everyone in addiction will follow the same behavior patterns, some standards typically apply. Common warning signals include your loved one changing in personality and physical appearance, neglecting responsibilities, practicing deceit, and developing a new circle of friends. These symptoms can also be present when a person suffers from a mental health disorder, so be careful about coming to conclusions.
You will also benefit from educating yourself about the stage of change your addicted loved one is in. These stages of addiction run the gamut from complete denial to wanting a change and not knowing how to start, to taking steps to escape the addiction. The level of acknowledgment of the addiction, and the intention to change it, will affect what type of response your family member is likely to have to any form of expressed concern or offered help.
It takes guts to bring up your observations and concerns with a loved one you suspect is trapped in addiction. Depending on the stage of change, a person may respond negatively, such as by accusing you of a lack of trust or becoming angry and defensive. They may also break down and reveal the pain and suffering surrounding the addiction. Be prepared to offer support to your loved one while simultaneously not setting yourself up for disappointment.
The fact that your loved one is destroying their life through substance abuse may be confounding, but harping on that fact isn’t likely to produce change. People who are determined to feed their addiction do not tend to respond well to threats, ultimatums, or bargaining. Make your best effort to approach the situation with empathy and genuine concern for your addicted family member. If possible, use this interaction as a time to provide your family member with valuable information about addiction treatment when they are ready.
Consult With Other Family Members or Friends
Supporting other family members and trusted friends is vital to maintaining our mental health. Once you have determined that your loved one is in the stages of addiction, share your concerns with others who have a vested interest in the wellness of the addicted family member. Not only will you be able to obtain validation for your observations, but you will also be providing others with the opportunity to apply their skills toward assisting.
Holding the type of family intervention parties made popular for television is typically not advisable. Anyone who has watched those episodes all the way through will be able to note that the relapse rate, following some period after the show airs, is a coin toss. Part of the reason for the low success rate has to do with the lack of empathy mentioned above. People in addiction often hurt just as much – or even more – than the ones who love them. Being forced to focus on how much pain the addiction is causing other people may only add to the negative feelings that prompt the escape through substance use in the first place. If you decide to hold an intervention, ensure it is under the guidance of a trained and vetted mental health professional.
Create a Safety Plan
As much as we may wish that we could reach in and stop the substance abuse for our loved ones, that isn’t how life works. A person in addiction will find a way to continue it until they reach their point of wanting change. Often, the best we can do for our addicted family members is to help them to create a plan for receiving assistance in case things get out of hand. Ensure that your loved one keeps a list of emergency numbers and knows who to call in the event of an emergency. Depending on the situation, providing a list of housing and food resources may also be part of the care plan. You want your loved one to be able to stay alive long enough to reach the point of wanting recovery.
You can’t control your addicted loved one, but you can control your own space. Save yourself some pointless arguing with an addicted loved one by determining your boundaries and sticking to them. Developing personal boundaries healthily is both an art and a science. Your goal will be to find a way to communicate to your family member that you still love and want the best for them while simultaneously making it clear that you have a duty to protect the well-being of yourself and those you are responsible for.
Determine what is acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to matters involving interaction with your addicted family member, and communicate those boundaries. Some ideas for boundaries include not permitting the addicted person into your home while intoxicated and not providing money or salable items to your loved one. At the same time, if the addiction persists or if your loved one doesn’t respond to your wellness checks, call the police. Whatever boundaries you decide upon, make sure also to include a way for your loved one to continue communication and provide options for making progress toward improving the relationship.
Last medically reviewed October 10, 2022