How to Help a Family Member with Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol
Few families today are immune from addiction, as it affects approximately 20 million people per year in the United States.1 If you have a loved one suffering from an addiction, use the following information to help them get the treatment they need without enabling them.
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 use 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 lot 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 at 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 misuse, such as taking more of the drug to get high or craving it?
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. 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 demonstrates enabling behavior. 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.
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 Disorder
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?
- Does the program change as the person’s needs change? Are there supports for each person’s needs, such as childcare and job training?
- Is the treatment long enough?
- 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 use treatment. In addition, many treatment programs offer monthly payment plans. AAC can answer your questions about paying for treatment.
As a family member of someone struggling with a substance use disorder, it’s essential that you actively support your loved one in their recovery process. Sometimes that support might require you to give them time and space so that they can do the hard work recovery necessitates. Rehab and recovery are life-changing and difficult at times. Your loved one may want to stop treatment early and even ask you to help them do so. However, AAC often advises family members to “lovingly disconnect” from their loved one while they are in treatment, allowing your loved one to adjust and immerse themselves in their new environment so they can fully understand the benefits treatment provides.
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