Are You a Caregiver for Someone Living in Addiction? 10 Tips to Protect Yourself

March 1, 2018
As a caregiver, your focus, first and foremost, is likely on your loved one – their needs, their risks, their mistakes, their health, and their future. Without even realizing it, you have likely let your own needs fall to the wayside as you work tirelessly to be ready and available as needed to support your loved one in hopes that they finally decide to stop drinking and using drugs and get help.

Unfortunately, the memory of how things were before addiction or the hope of how they could be in the future is not enough to sustain you. If you are not physically and emotionally healthy, how can you be there to support your loved one in crisis or anyone else for that matter?

As you work to prioritize your own needs and wellness, here are a few tips to help you get started:

    Young man embracing and enjoying high self esteem
  1. Practice self-care. Try to get a good night’s sleep, going to bed and getting up in a regular pattern that supports restorative sleep. Quit smoking, drink lots of water, and get to the doctor and dentist regularly. Work on making healthier eating choices and getting a workout in a few days a week. Though these things are small, they all add up to feeling more clearheaded and energetic throughout the day.
  2. Have a support group you attend regularly. When you meet with other caregivers of people living in addiction, you see right away that you are not alone in this process. Others have been where you are, done what you’ve done, and are working to find a way to balance their love for their family member and their own needs. It is not an easy journey you are on, and it helps to have people to walk it with you.
  3. Work with a personal therapist. Though you may feel like a family therapist will best be able to help you, the fact is that family therapy is only effective when both people are actively working on bettering the relationship. In absence of that, the better choice is to meet with a therapist who can help you to identify goals that are meaningful for your own personal growth – whether or not they involve issues related to your loved one in active addiction.
  4. Avoid buffering your loved one from the consequences of their drug and alcohol use. When you lie for your loved one, make excuses for their behavior, or otherwise stand between them and the consequences of their choices, you send them the message that their use of drugs and alcohol really isn’t that bad and give them no incentive to want to make changes.
  5. If you are in danger, leave. There is no justification for physical violence or for emotional abuse. If you or someone in your family is in danger, leave.
  6. Notice when you are agitated, nervous, or scared. You may so often feel one of these uncomfortable emotions that it has become your normal, but it’s not normal to feel scared, nervous, or agitated in your own home or in a relationship with someone you care about. Notice if this is happening to you. Take action to make changes that make you feel emotionally safe and calm.
  7. Protect your finances. Addiction is expensive, and close friends and family members are often the first people to get ripped off when the money for drugs and alcohol run out. Make sure your credit cards and bank cards are locked away and inaccessible, no cash is kept around the house, and your online passwords are changed regularly so you have the money you need to pay your bills and take care of your family. The hope is that you will one day need to pay for treatment, and you will be less capable of doing that if your resources are routinely being depleted.
  8. Set emotional boundaries. Make it clear what you need. Create consequences. Keep communication open, and let your loved one know in no uncertain terms what you will and will not do any longer when it comes to their addiction.
  9. Stand your ground. It is not easy to maintain the boundaries you set. Your loved one may leave for days without a word, get angry and accuse you of a litany of horrendous offenses, or beg you for help. None of these are easy to face, but if it helps your loved one to move closer to getting treatment and protects your wellbeing in the process, it will be well worth the effort.
  10. Know when it is time to let go. It is not sustainable for you to remain a relationship where you prioritize the other person and they prioritize drugs and alcohol. One of the hardest things you may have to do is let go, but this is not a choice you need to make without first doing everything you can to help them get treatment.

How do you take care of yourself while taking care of your loved one in addiction?

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