Tips for Family Members of Addicts
Addiction is a family disease, and family members are almost always impacted when one person struggles with addiction. If you have been exposed to active addiction for any length of time, your own life has been disrupted, and you may have been affected in many ways including financially and emotionally.
What do you need to learn if you are living with an addict? It’s important to realize that the way family members relate to the addict can influence the addict’s ability to successfully recover. Dynamics between family members sometimes contributes to active addiction in ways that aren’t always obvious. At the same time, it’s important for you to learn how to take care of your own needs in the midst of chaos, particularly if the addict chooses not to accept help.
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Learn About Addiction
Addiction is a disease, which means that an addict is not abusing drugs in an effort to be deliberately difficult or thoughtless. The more you understand what compels an addict to continually return to using a substance in spite of negative consequences, the less you take the behavior personally.
Addiction doesn’t stem from weakness or from being a bad person. Long-term use of substances changes brain chemistry, and even though the addict may very much want to stop using drugs, he or she is driven by an overpowering compulsion to keep using. Read as much as you can on the subject and attend support groups for family members of addicts.
Recognize and Strive to Stop Enabling Behavior
It’s not uncommon for families of addicts to create an environment which makes it easy for an addict to keep using drugs, even though this isn’t your intention. This is known as enabling.
Some ways that family members enable addicts to keep using include:
- Giving or loaning money
- Paying the addict’s bills
- Bailing the addict out of jail
- Making excuses to bosses or friends as to why the addict failed to meet their responsibilities
- Drinking or drugging with the addict
- Agreeing with the addict that it’s your fault he or she turns to drugs
- Pretending nothing is wrong to avoid confrontation
- Threatening to leave or setting other ultimatums but not following through
Enabling behavior seems to be intended to help the addict, but it is really hurting them. When there are no consequences for active addiction, there is no incentive to discontinue that behavior. Family members need to become more aware of this “helping” behavior and make a commitment to changing it.
Taking Care of Yourself
It’s very stressful to live around active addiction, and even if the addict goes to treatment, there is always the possibility of future relapse. You have to make the decision not to get dragged down because of the addict’s behavior.
You are responsible for your own reactions to things that happen to you in life, including the choices made by an addict who is close to you. One of the choices that you can make is recovery for yourself. You might feel that the addict is the one who has a problem, not you, but living around addiction impacts the lives of everyone close.
It’s important that you don’t pretend nothing has happened. Living with addiction is extremely stressful, and you need to work through the many different feelings that you are experiencing. You might believe you don’t have time to go to therapy or a support group, or you might feel there is still too much chaos around you for you to get help for yourself. The best thing you can do for the addict and for the family dynamics is to get help for yourself.
If the addict moves out or gets sober, it doesn’t change the fact that living with addiction has impacted your life. Whether you choose individual therapy or a support group such as Al-Anon, you need to learn new behaviors and healthy ways of coping with the behavior of an addict, whether they are actively abusing substances or sober. You also need to learn how to keep the focus on yourself and your own life rather than constantly revolving your life around someone else’s needs and problems.
Through therapy you may learn new tools for coping with stress, such as meditation or yoga. By attending support groups for families of addicts, you will clearly see that you are not alone. It is possible to learn to detach from the drama of addiction and find peace for yourself.
If you have a friend or family member struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism, call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below for more information about our addiction treatment programs in Los Angeles.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.