When a person struggles with drug or alcohol abuse, they are likely to struggle with mental health issues and physical problems, both short-term and chronic issues. They are also likely to cause suffering for their loved ones, including spouses, parents, children, friends, and other family.
For those who love someone who is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, it is important to know the signs of substance abuse problems and how to best help the person in need. In addition, it is important that family members and friends take care of themselves as well.
Mayo Clinic offers a comprehensive list of symptoms that may be displayed by a person struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. Many of these may be internal experiences for that individual; however, symptoms that may be evident to others include:
People who struggle with substance abuse problems are likely to behave differently when they are intoxicated versus when they are sober; they may say or do hurtful things, and they are likely to take serious risks with their life, such as driving while intoxicated. These behavioral problems can cause intense worry and fear in loved ones.
The risk/reward center of their brain has been rewired with repeated reinforcement of these cravings.
Blaming them or trying to protect them from consequences will not help a person struggling with addiction; this is because neither the person, nor their loved ones, has control.
People who are close to a person struggling with addiction, especially spouses, intimate partners, and children, may find they are in a codependent relationship. Codependency involves a desire to help the person and show love, but often, this “help” fosters the addiction, and this is damaging on a long-term basis. Signs of codependency include:
Even if two people enter a relationship that is not codependent, it could become codependent if one person begins to struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. Both parties should get help from therapists to overcome these emotional problems; ultimately, help is required to heal the relationship.
The best ways to help a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol may seem counterintuitive, especially for people who struggle with codependent relationships. Some of these methods may seem harsh, but they come from a loving approach with the ultimate goal to help the person overcome their addiction and to help all parties heal. Basic steps are outlined below.
The current understanding of addiction as a disease means that symptoms will get worse at times. For people with diabetes or asthma, treatment will work for a period of time, and then symptoms may progress. This does not mean giving up; instead, it means returning to the doctor and developing a new treatment regimen. Understanding addiction as a disease means treating relapse in exactly this way: Work to avoid it, but if it happens, return to treatment. Relapse is only a serious problem when the person who has fallen back into addiction refuses to admit the problem and refuses to get help.
When looking at treatment options, it is important to ask how the rehabilitation program handles relapse. Many programs pair new participants with sponsors who have graduated the program; these people will understand the progression of recovery and serve as a source of support for the person if they are even tempted to relapse.
Friends and family should also be supportive if a loved one seems likely to relapse. Be there for the person without judgment and help them recommit to treatment.
Loved ones can help to prevent relapse by removing intoxicating or tempting substances from the house, finding new activities to enjoy together that do not involve alcohol or drugs, setting healthy goals like eating or exercising together, and even finding a hobby to pursue together. It is important for the person overcoming addiction to change their behaviors, and it is also important for loved ones to support and welcome that change.