Addiction is a family disease. When someone in your family has an addiction to drugs, everyone is affected. The issues surrounding a loved one with addiction can be difficult to navigate. Even though you want to help, you don’t want to say or do the wrong thing that may push them away from you. Sometimes you’re not sure whether you’re helping or making matters worse. However, there are productive and caring ways you can support a family member that can hopefully encourage them to seek treatment.
Before approaching the subject of addiction with your loved one who may be struggling, read up on the latest information on substance use disorder (or SUD). The science behind addiction has significantly advanced in the last decade, and much of what people deem true about those who become addicted to drugs is plagued with myths and wrong information. The most harmful attitude towards addiction is to treat those with SUD as criminals or wrongdoers, rather than people who have a disease. Learning and understanding the way drugs can change brain chemistry will help unlock the truths about how and why addiction can afflict anyone from any walk of life. While certain external factors may put some people more at risk of addiction than others, we must see people with substance use disorder as humans without allowing the negative stigma of addiction to dehumanize them.
Early Detection or Notice Early Signs
If you suspect a family member is struggling with substance misuse, it’s important to take these concerns seriously and avoid falling into the trap of denial. Often we see people with addiction depicted in a very advanced state of their substance use disorder where their health and life has severely deteriorated. Obviously, you don’t want to see your family member get to that state before you act or attempt to help them. However, it’s also very important to note that not everyone with a SUD gets to that phase; people can struggle with addiction in silence and behind closed doors for years while maintaining a somewhat functional outward lifestyle. Because of the stigma that addiction still carries in society, people who have SUD are usually too guilt-ridden or ashamed to ask for help. This is why early detection is the key to helping someone in your family seek help. Speaking with your loved one about seeing a medical professional about the impact of their drug use in a non-confrontational manner can ease them into the idea of seeking out treatment early, rather than waiting for them slip deeper in addiction.
Take Care of Yourself
Addiction can take a severe toll on family relationships, especially when drugs have drastically changed the way your loved one acts and thinks. Once drugs have made themselves a priority in someone’s head, they are no longer operating like themselves. The drugs lead them to act out and sometimes betray the ones they love. The emotional damage that addiction causes can bring on a lot of grief, pain, and guilt. It’s important that you take care of yourself while still trying to support your family member through this process since it can be a tough time filled with arguments and other negative interactions. Feelings of anger and blame are not uncommon when you love someone dealing with an addiction, but keep your focus on helping them, rather than blaming them or yourself. Since the ultimate goal is to get your family member into treatment, maintaining a positive outlook and granting forgiveness and support to help them strive towards recovery will be much more productive than fighting or shaming them. Practice self-care to preserve the right mindset in achieving your goal in assisting them to seek treatment.
Eliminate Enabling Behavior
It’s very difficult to not help a family member when they are begging you for mercy, even though you know full well that they are acting under the influence of a drug and not being themselves. These kinds of situations can be outright heart wrenching, but it’s important to analyze these situations to ensure that you are not enabling your loved one’s addiction. Cutting out enabling behavior could be the key to help push your family member into getting treatment. When an individual with an addiction has someone they can go to when they are in trouble, they may take advantage of an enabling relationship as much as they can for their own benefit. If you find yourself often “cleaning up their messes” or helping them with their basic needs, you may be doing the opposite of helping. You need to understand that you cannot be responsible for their actions because by doing so, you could be helping them feed their addiction. Make sure to love them proactively, only helping them if it has to do with them treating their addiction, rather than feeding it. If you feel that you may be involved in enabling behaviors, putting a stop to them could be the turning point for your loved one to reevaluate the way they are handling their addiction, and push them towards getting the help they need and deserve.
If you believe your family member may be suffering from an addiction, don’t make the mistake of being in denial out of fear or shame. Addiction can happen in any family, no matter how close and loved you may feel to your loved ones. Educate yourself about addiction so you can approach the situation in the most productive and helpful of the way to help your loved one seek the treatment