Addiction Guide for Family Members
This guide will discuss:
- Identifying if a family member has an addiction.
- Why a family member chooses a substance over the family.
- How to help a family member with an addiction.
- Learning more about treatment options.
- Knowing what to expect after treatment.
Does Your Family Member Have an Addiction?
If you have a family member struggling with addiction, you know how difficult this situation is for the entire family. People with an addiction have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with their partners and children. Children are more likely to develop an addiction themselves and become the victim of abuse or neglect.2
But how do you know if your loved one’s use of substances is an addiction? Some questions you can ask yourself regarding the behavioral and emotional signs of substance abuse include:3
- Do they try to cut back or stop using, but are unable to do so?
- Do they use more of a substance than they intend to?
- Do they spend a great deal of time looking for the substance, using it, and recovering from using it?
- Do they use a substance in risky situations, such as driving?
- Do they continue taking the substance, despite knowing the substance causes a physical or emotional condition to get worse?
- Are they unable to manage their responsibilities including home, school, or work?
- Do they give up important activities in order to use?
- Do they continue to use a substance, even knowing that it causes problems in relationships?
- Does your loved one show physical signs of abuse, such as taking more of the drug to get high or craving it?
Having at least two of these signs in the past 12 months could indicate that the person has a substance use disorder.
Choosing Substance Use Over Family
A substance use disorder is a pattern of behavior which is characterized by compulsive use of a substance despite having negative consequences from using. It can feel as though your loved one chooses drugs over you or your children. In reality, a person with an addiction may love his or her family very much, but may feel unable to control their substance use. Drug addiction alters a person’s brain chemistry to the point that they lose the ability to control many of their behaviors.3 These changes to a person’s brain are powerful and long-lasting, which is why many people relapse after a period of sobriety.4
Helping vs Enabling
At times, it is difficult to know what to do for a person with an addiction. Helping can go too far at times, and you may find yourself enabling them instead. For example covering or making excuses for their behaviors rather than letting them suffer the consequences would be a prime example of enabling. Another example might be giving them money knowing that they will buy drugs with it.
You may try to help a person with an addiction, but you can easily cross the line, and enable them without even realizing it. Some signs of enabling include:5
- Ignoring unacceptable behavior.
- Consistently putting aside your needs for theirs.
- Assigning blame to others, rather than the person with the addiction.
- Ignoring things a person does out of fear of confrontation.
- Lying to cover for their mistakes.
- Taking on responsibilities for them.
When you are caring for someone with an addiction, it is important to take care of yourself. Caregivers can experience enormous amounts of stress, which can include:6
- Feeling sad and tired.
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight.
- Having lots of headaches and body aches.
- Losing interest in usual activities.
- Feeling alone, isolated, or forgotten.
- Sleeping too little or not enough.
Helping without enabling is possible. You can do things for a family member, such as encouraging, listening, or offering to help them find a treatment program.4
Finding Treatment for Substance Use Addiction
Choosing a treatment program can seem overwhelming at first. There are many factors to help them find the right treatment program, some of which include:6
- Is the program utilizing evidence-based treatment, such as motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy?
- Does the program individualize care, such as medication?
- Does the program change as the person’s needs change? Is there supports for each person’s needs, such as childcare and job training?
- Is the treatment long enough? Research indicates most people need 3 months of treatment.
- How does the program use 12-step programs? Introducing 12-step programs as a part of treatment can help link people in treatment to an additional source of community supports.
Generally, most insurance plans offer at least partial coverage for substance abuse treatment. In addition, many treatment programs offer monthly payment plans. AAC can answer your questions about paying for treatment.
What to Expect After Treatment
Treatment is just the first phase of recovery. A person who is in recovery from addiction will need aftercare, often in the form of 12-step recovery programs. Family support groups and treatment are also essential to helping the recovering person strengthen their family relationships and maintain long-term recovery.2
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States. Results from the National Survey on drug use and health.
- Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social work in public health, 28(3–4), 194–205.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). What to do if your adult friend or loved one has a problem with drugs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Drug facts. Understanding drug use and addiction.
- Khalegi, K. (2012). Are you empowering or enabling?
- Office on Women’s Health. Caregiver stress.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2019). Medication assisted treatment.
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