Understanding and relating to your family member with an addiction

Many families go through life without addiction making an impact on their immediate family. If there is no history of addiction in the family, most people do not know how to understand or relate to the family member who is challenged with a substance abuse problem.

A common question is, “why can’t they simply stop using/drinking?” Or, “why don’t they realize how they are throwing away their life?” Having a family member self-destruct due to substance abuse can be one of the most painful and exhausting experiences in life. You worry for their safety, for their future, for their livelihood. As parents, you’ve raised them to be strong and independent, yet for some reason, they’ve chosen drugs over other life obligations – work, family activities, school…

There are several approaches many family members take. Some will enable their loved one, giving them money for rent and utilities. Others take the tough-love approach demanding that they “straighten up” or all ties will be cut. While enabling is dangerous and allows the individual to continue use at the expense of those who care for them, family members maintain a bond, despite continued and persistent substance use. The tough-love approach has different psychological effects on the person with the issue. More often than not, those in treatment for a substance use issue report low self-esteem and isolation from family members. This can lead to depression and perpetuate continued use.

What can you do to help a family member?

1 – Learn about addiction and how people are physically dependent on the substances they are abusing.
2 – Speak to your family member about the issue – encourage them to admit they have a problem.
3 – Research treatment options in your area. In some cases, it is better to get treatment out of town where is no risk of running into someone familiar in the treatment setting.
4 – Encourage them to consider the options you found – but remember, this is their fight and they need to take ownership of it and do follow-up research. This can also lead to a sense of accomplishment and pride.
5 – Set boundaries of expected behavior and stick to these boundaries, regardless how challenging it is.
6 – Find a local support groups like al-anon or nar-anon so you can learn from others who are also experiencing similar situations with a family member and addiction.
7 – If they agree to go to treatment, participate in the treatment experience. Attend visitations and family therapy sessions.
8 – Make sure they know you support them in their fight to be well and lead a life of recovery.

Related Blog:  Addiction and Family

Pathways provides 28-day and extended care treatment programs for adults with substance use disorders. In addition to engaging clients in the 12-Step process, the program also focuses on setting boundaries, developing coping skills and handling trauma. If you, or someone you know is in need of substance abuse treatment, contact Pathways for more information at 855-349-5988.