Welcome to our monthly round-up of industry professionals and their expert advice. Each month we plan to include advice from mental and addiction experts on various topics in the industry.
In this round-up you’ll read 25 addiction experts in OC California share their insights on what to do if your loved one is addicted. The advice included will provide you with tips, strategies and thought-starters from many of the thought leaders in Orange County, California. So whether you’re looking for advice, new to the industry or a veteran, there’ll be something here for you.
But before we get started, we’d like to give a huge thanks to the wonderful experts who participated in our round-up!
Here they are:
Marriage & Family Therapist,LMFT
Marriage & Family Therapist,LMFT
MA, LMFT, LMF
MA, CCJP, LMFT, LPCC
MA, LMFT, CEDS
MA, MFTI, PCCI
MA, LMFT, LPCC
MA, LMFT, EMDR
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Psy.D
Ph.D., PSYC, CST, CSAT, CCPS, EMDR 1&2
Marriage & Family Therapist,LMFT
Marriage & Family Therapist,LMFT
MA, MBA, LMFT
Marriage & Family Therapist,LMFT
Counselor, MA, LMFT
LCSW, CEDS-S, CDWF
MS, MFTI, PCCI
So a family member is addicted to drugs and you’re besides yourself. You have no idea what to do. First you must remember that YOU cannot yourself fix the addict. The addict must be willing to fix themselves. So what can you do when you’re feeling helpless?
Offering non-judgmental sound advice and direction is within your control while you set firm, loving and consistent boundaries with the addict. Which means you don’t continue to make excuses for or bail the addict out of negative consequences. You do not continue to enable bad behavior or your words will mean nothing. You offer solid resources and plan for their follow through. If they do not show the same effort in their sobriety as you, you are in the danger zone of Co-Dependency.
1. Make sure if at all possible that a psychiatric evaluation has been done for co-occurring disorders (meaning existing possible mental health issues are fueling the need for your loved one to self-medicate their pain). Have a mental health professional evaluate for mental health issues such as major depression, Bipolar depression or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder).
2. Determine if your loved one needs a higher level of care for their safety and/or physical health reasons through a mental health professional. This will help you find the right placement for the level of treatment needed such as inpatient or outpatient.
3. Lead your loved one to forms of healthy support and connection and activity to replace the drug seeking behavior and negative peer relations that perpetuate these behaviors. Balanced is key in all around mental, physical, spiritual and relational health. Connect them to self-help groups such as 12-step, Church or sober living homes if housing is required. Introduce yoga, meditation, exercise and other self-nurturing activities.
4. Know your County resources as there are many drug and alcohol programs for adolescents as well as adults, including mental health treatment if financial constraints are involved.
5. If your emotions are overwhelming while you face the addict’s self-destructive behavior, seek out treatment for yourself and the entire family. Addiction impacts many relationships.
Remember: Do not feel guilty if your loved one decides to continue using and rejects sobriety. Sometimes someone has to hit “rock bottom” before they wake up and realize the need for rehabilitation.
Tips for loving someone who is addicted to drugs:
Seek support for yourself. This is often not as high of a priority as seeking help for your loved one, but can serve all involved and create a path toward healing.
Accept your own behavior. Examine and take ownership for how you might be contributing to, or enabling your loved one’s addiction. There is a large difference between “helping” versus enabling, get clear on what these differences look like in your relationship.
Establish healthy boundaries. Say “no” to enabling behaviors (giving money, a place to stay, rescuing, etc.) and stick to it. This is a good way to start caring for yourself, and also pushes your loved one to seek help.
Prioritize the things within your control. Strengthening your own emotional health through self care can make a significant difference in how you enjoy your life while loving an addict. It’s easy to focusing on what you want to be in your control- healing your loved one. While you cannot control what those around you do, but you can control how you respond to it and cope with it.
You are not alone There are many who have walked this path before you and professionals who can help give you the tools to manage it most effectively.
Addiction is not a moral failing. It’s a damaging habit.
The words “addict” or “addiction” are so freighted with negative meaning that I tend to avoid using them in my work with clients habituated to substances. Substances are just that. No more, no less. If my client is habituated to heroin this does not make them morally suspect, or a bad person. It just makes them someone who is habituated to heroin. Someone with a problem in their lives that they want to solve. A serious problem, yes. Even life-threatening, yes. But, still, a problem that can be solved, or at least addressed effectively in various ways. If my client wants to stop using heroin, then we work on that. The same is true for any client using any substance, from crystal meth, to alcohol to whatever it might be. The first thing we all should do is drop the moral judgement. Such judgements get in the way of supporting a loved one; get in the way of helping them solve their problem. Judgements of a loved-one’s behavior while using are appropriate and necessary, but judgements of the substance-use itself are virtually always counter-productive.
One major difficulty posed by opiates and to a lesser degree alcohol is that the body becomes physically dependent on the substance. A loved-one with an opiate habit who cannot get more opiate when they need it will truly feel physically as if they are going to die. Because of the nature of dependency, the brain cannot use its naturally occurring opiate-like endorphins, and these chemicals regulate numerous crucial physical functions. The brain needs more in a dependent substance-user to function normally. Dependency on amphetamines operates a bit differently, but the effect is largely the same: many amphetamine users report that “I feel normal” when they use their substance of choice. They may get high, but mostly the substance allows them to feel like themselves, and the more they use, they more they must use to get the same effect. So when we say to our loved-one “just stop” it’s simply not that easy. It never is.
Most of my clients truly want to stop using. These clients tend to have a better chance of ending their habit. Some though, do not want to stop. Or they may want to stop, but simply cannot. This is the toughest thing loved ones must face: sometimes, the substance-user simply does not want to stop. And until they want to stop, most treatment and most therapy will be, if not a waste of time, a very long and winding process. With clients like these their loved ones have the difficult task of being both understanding and compassionate and also holding the limit. Try to understand what your substance-using loved-one is going through, and accept it without judgement, with kindness, but hold the limit, that is, create and maintain appropriate boundaries with that loved one.
You need not enable, or approve of their habit, or approve of their behavior while they are using, you need not give in to your loved one. You need not give them money, you need not give them a place to live if they are using, if that is your boundary, but you do have to try to understand them and what they are going through while in the midst of their substance use. Genuine, authentic efforts to understand your loved-one while holding appropriate boundaries with kindness, are more likely to get through to your substance-using loved one than moral judgements and rejection. They must find their own way, and you can help them do it by offering understanding of who they are, and acceptance of what is happening to them. This is a way to maintain a useful, vital connection with your loved one. This is the kind of work I do with substance users and their families.
It is also true that even a client who does not want to stop can benefit from time in effective treatment, if for no other reasons than to be in a safe place where they can be taken care of and stop using for a time.
Seven Steps You Can Do if Your Loved One is Addicted to Drugs
Depending on whether your loved one is still in denial or if you have just come out of denial and realized there is a problem, the first part is to take care of yourself by becoming mentally, physically and spiritually fit before over expecting your loved one to take action. This is not in all cases, but in most the active user or addict is most likely going to use until there is a consequence or awareness that the behavior is out of their control. Therefore, your role is essential to prepare for sobriety, and yes, you have a purpose of maintaining emotional, spiritual, mental and physical sobriety and health to help your loved one because the disease effects on family members in one way or another.
First, accept the reality of the problem, and be mindful of when you are making excuses or overcompensating or even covering up for their addiction.
Second, seek help from a therapist, counselor or perhaps religion or spiritual advisor that can support you and help you gain strength as well as resources.
Third, avoid shaming the addict and judging. The disease is tricky and unfortunately your loved one is committing shameful acts under its influence.
Fourth, learn about the disease as much as possible, the more you know the better equipped you can be to deal with the situation including the possibility that your loved one may resist treatment.
Fifth, learn from those in recovery and what they felt and how they would see your situation by attending panel meeting, community events and rehabilitation center family programs. Many times, there are open family meetings that include Alumni and families that can help you gain awareness of what you can do, create these relationships.
Sixth, if possible, and your loved one is willing to see a physician or psychiatrist that is familiar with addiction, support them in making an appointment and / or attend with them to gain medical advice.
Seventh, review the loved ones insurance panel if you need to prepare of rehabilitation and your loved one is willing. Be mindful of thinking a 30 day program is all it takes and your loved one is cured. Sobriety is a lifestyle change and takes daily practice, therefore avoid the idealistic notion that there is a quick fix.
This is a question I get often. What I suggest seems to have a paradoxical feel to it. What can you do for them becomes what you can do for yourself. This is paradoxical because you want to help. You want to ease the pain and suffering. You want to provide a way out. You can, by taking care of yourself. This may seem like I’m trying to sell you magic beans, right? The analogy I use speaks to a whole new level of self-care. Think of the last time you flew on a plane. Do you remember what the flight attendant shared in the beginning? I barely do because I was too busy futzing with my e-reader. So I’ll help remind you. The attendant states as follows: “If the cabin happens to fill with smoke or loses air pressure an air mask will deploy below you. You are to place the mask on yourself first, then help others around you”.
My first thought is ‘yeah right’… my loved one is having a tough time, my first reaction is to help them”. The more I think about it the more the attendant becomes right. If I don’t have my mask on and suffocate how helpful do I become? Don’t I add to the list of problems to be solved? How relatable is this? You are asking your loved one to receive help, be vulnerable, and stop living the life they live. What are you doing for your life? You may stay up all night wondering if your loved one is coming home. Or maybe you call in sick to help them in the ER. Are you really “helping” them? My guess is that when you neglect yourself you are not any good to your loved one. Your intentions may be in the right place, but your actions are counterproductive. In fact, you may be doing more harm than good.
So this is the place that I’d give you some tools on how to care for yourself. Take time for yourself first. If you’re tired take a nap. If you need quiet, get away. If you need relaxation, take a bath. If you care for yourself first, you will have more to give. Start small. If getting away for an hour seems daunting, try 5 minutes. Take time this week to give yourself what you need… oxygen. Rest. Peace of mind. It’s possible, these aren’t magical beans.
What I find often in working with clients who suffer from addiction is that the family of the addict is left with feelings of guilt, shame, and isolation. How did this happen? What did we do to cause this? How could we have prevented this? There are often many unanswered questions, and guilt over this issue. I would suggest that the loved ones of a person who is suffering from addiction do the following things:
First, get educated on the subject. The more one knows about something, the less intimidating and big the problem will seem. The more a person understands the problem, solutions can then be formulated based on understanding and rationale. When we do not understand something, we often fear it and thus stigma is created. Know the problem you are dealing with.
Second, seek support. Join support groups. Find others who are going through the same problems. It can be extremely isolating for the loved ones of the person suffering from addiction. Seek out a network of support, whether it be groups, talking to friends, or other family members. Addiction does not afflict only the person who is addicted. It affects everyone around the addict in the same way that a stone creates a ripple effect when dropped in a calm body of water.
Third, talk about it. I talk to many parents who feel guilt and shame over their loved one’s addiction, that they keep everything in. This causes internal stress, anxiety, and oftentimes depression over the addiction. Talking about it creates a space where the addict’s loved ones can release their own pain caused by the addiction.
1. Recognize what is within your control
Recognizing we can’t control our loved one’s choices is often one of the hardest lessons to learn when the person suffers from an addiction. It’s infuriating. It’s humbling. It’s utterly heartbreaking to feel so powerless. But our loved one has to be the person who makes the choice to change. Recognizing what is within our control is far more effective than continually looking to our loved one to change.
· You get to define your boundaries.
· You get to define what you will/will not put up with.
· You get to be vocal about the impact of the addiction on you.
Remember, this is not about blaming your loved one. We are looking to increase your awareness of the addiction’s impact on you and identify what steps you can take to minimize that impact.
2. Recovery is a family effort
When our loved one enters a recovery program, he/she receives intense therapy to learn about the addiction, what patterns have contributed to keeping it in place, and alternate forms of coping. The loved one’s family also needs education and encouragement in order to be the best support system possible. We need to understand both our role in the addiction and how we can offer the most support moving forward. Just as ongoing therapy is essential to the person in recovery, partners and families often find therapy a useful tool to understand their role in the recovery process as well as understand personal reactions to the recovery journey.
3. The importance of self care
You know that old reference to the airline safety instructions about putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others? That’s a powerful metaphor for all relationships, especially one where we might be in a caregiver role. We can’t give from an empty tank. This means, if we want to offer the best support for our loved ones, we have to take care of ourselves first. What makes you happy? Making time to exercise, meditate, or spend time with friends can help replenish your spirit so that you have more to give.
When a loved one is addicted, it is not uncommon to experience a wealth of emotions within a small window of time. Anger, sadness, and grief are all very common. Of all these emotions, though, I encourage you to find it in you to choose unconditional love when searching for answers on how to help. Love manifests itself in many ways, and addicts can often feel extremely isolated and alone. Acts of love are powerful and can break through even the toughest of exteriors.
One of the most helpful things you can do for your loved one, first and foremost, is to make sure they know that you support them 100%. If they are comfortable talking to you about what they are struggling with, listen to them without judgement. Sit with them and just be present. I recommend leaving advice to the professionals, but by lending an ear and just being there to support them, your simple presence is a reminder that they are loved and that they are not alone.
If addiction is something you have never had experience with- Read up on it, ask experts, and learn more about what your loved one may be going through. Keep in mind that there are support groups (Al-Anon) for people who’s loved ones are addicts. Al-Anon can be a great resource for family members of addicts, as these groups offer a supportive atmosphere for people who are going through similar experiences. Having a community where you can express your feelings in a safe environment gives you perspective and a broader sense of what your loved one is going through.
Ultimately, it is up to your partner to seek help- But you can lead by example through living an honest life where you engage in loving, meaningful relationships, and also by setting appropriate boundaries. Addiction is a very personal thing, but it isn’t something anyone should go through alone. Offer support, be compassionate, and most importantly, love unconditionally.
Addiction, no matter the form causes grave consequences for others that are affected by the addiction and by those that are addicted themselves. With my background in meditation, mindfulness practice, and martial arts, I take on a mind, body, spiritual approach to working with clients. I believe when we change one thing we are able to affect change(s) within a whole system, which changes the relational and situational dynamics within ourselves and with others that may be in their addiction.
Mind: From the thoughts we think come the emotions we feel. Take an honest assessment of possible feelings of guilt, shame, and tolerance levels around seeing a loved one suffering. This acknowledgement places ourselves in a position of choice. We get to choose what kind of behaviors we are willing to facilitate – healthy ones vs. unhealthy, enabling behaviors. Through choice we take responsibility for the part(s) we play in the relationship and take responsibility and accountability for what we are able to change within the relationship.
Body: The thoughts we think and emotions we feel affect our bodies – it is after all one whole unit. We balance the healthy thoughts with healthy actions and behaviors for our bodies, which looks like movement and exercise. Exercise and movement are essential components to help facilitate and process the emotions we feel (especially negative ones). When our nervous system is operating from a calm-centered place it gives us greater clarity in the thoughts we think, and the actions we take.
Spiritual: Having a spiritual relationship with something greater than our self gives us the added support in remembering that we don’t have to do all of it on our own. A spiritual community can give us the space and place to further process feelings of grief & loss, anger, pain, or guilt. When we gives ourselves a healthy space to operate from we allow our loved ones to know what healthy boundaries look like, and become that beacon of light for them to get help for themselves when they are ready.
If someone you love is an addict (particularly if this person lives with you), you may recognize some or all of these behaviors in yourself: Worrying, pleading, bargaining, crying, threatening, complaining, rationalizing, etc. Sound familiar?
You may have noticed that these behaviors do not achieve what most people in this position want – to change and/or control the addict. The frustrating reality is that the more you try to control the situation, the situation controls you. Your well-being, or even your ability to breathe effectively some days, seems to be inextricably linked to whether your loved one is using or not. So what to do? Probably the most counterintuitive thing you can think of – nothing. At least nothing for the other person. Do things to help yourself.
Many folks find this line of thinking to be surprising, curious, and usually selfish. Until it works. Not works to “fix” the other person but to create some long-forgotten boundaries.
How does one achieve this? Remind yourself on a regular basis that the other person will change when they are ready to do so for themselves not for someone else. That way, the changes have a stronger chance of sticking. Let the person know you care immensely and love them greatly but that you are going to let them figure their lives out. Reacquaint yourself with what you love to do, even if it means being away from home and not monitoring on a daily or nightly basis. Find an Al-Anon meeting in your area. You will be amazed by how many others are grappling with the same challenges.
You may wonder if there is a time you can help your loved one. Absolutely. When they come to you and ask for it. When they have finally reached that point. You’ll be ready.
The Art of Self Care While Balancing Life with an Addicted Person
No one has to tell you, living with an addicted person in your life is stressful. Whether the person is a spouse, partner, relative, friend, child, or adult child, the effects can wreak havoc on every aspect of your life including your mental and physical health. Loved ones often neglect themselves out of pure emotional exhaustion. Others feel guilty for making time for themselves.
At some point in the chaos of addiction, the concept of self care got lost. However, it is vital to practice the healthy boundaries of self care, self love, and emotional “time-outs.” A healthy boundary of self care is not only valuable for the loved one of an addicted person, but also provides modeled behavior of what self care looks like to the addicted person.
There are many different ways to establish a regular pattern of self care:
1. Spend some time in nature. Take walk, a hike, or a bike ride, or go the beach, a lake, or a river. What matters is getting out. There is something about being out in nature that calms the mind and reduces stress.
2. Take emotional “time-outs” such as a mini midday meditation where you focus on your breathing, and little else; a phone call or meet up with a friend where the topic of addiction is not discussed; get a massage, stretch, read, or take a nap.
3. When tempted to isolate, reach out. Join a support group in person or online; seek professional support from a counselor, clergy, or spiritualist.
4. Write yourself “Self Love” notes and read them daily. Compile a list of 10-15 affirmations that are personal to you to remind yourself that you matter: a) I accept myself; b) I have the right to be happy; c) I let go of negative self talk.
5. Clear the mind through journaling. Journaling helps to process emotions that can get stuck in a rumination loop. Once the thoughts are written, you can give yourself permission to let it go.
Learning to balance life while living with an addicted loved one can be a challenge. However, the benefits of self care are undeniable: stress is reduced, the mind is clearer, and the immune system gets a healthy boost. With a little practice, you can learn the art of self care.
If you are reading these words, then hopefully you have come to the realization that your love and efforts are not enough to make the person you love end their addiction.
By now, you have done things for your loved one that you know he or she could have done for their self, made subtle and not so subtle requests, tried directing them towards healthier pursuits, begun your life as a detective (measuring their intake, finding out where they are and with whom), and endured an endless stream of worrying, wishing, and waiting. It’s time to focus on you.
Taking away your feelings of being overwhelmed and alone is the most critical step you can take.
Go get support for yourself today. In my opinion, your best sources for support are a qualified therapist who understands your dilemma and Alanon (http://www.al-anon.org). The two together can be a truly winning combination.
Why go to Alanon? It is my experience that for someone struggling with a loved one’s addiction there is no more important place to be than a place where other people truly have and are living your experiences and are immediately ready to step beside you. These individuals do not tell you what to do, but offer tools and support so you can figure out what you need and what truly works for you.
Along with Alanon, a qualified therapist will help you navigate the deeper issues and begin to move you toward a better understanding of how you got here and what you can do to best help your loved one, yourself, and your family. Therapists are typically very familiar with addiction, but it is imperative that you find one you connect with, you feel safe with, and who understands the terrain. You may have to try more than one. That’s okay. Talk to them on the phone first. Meet with them a few times and find another one if it is not working for you.
When you move to a life model of taking care of yourself and receiving help, you open the door for your loved one to do the same.
Many things cross your mind when you discover a loved one has an addiction. First, you may feel a sense of disbelief – “How did this happen?” You may think that you missed the signs or experience guilt for not noticing them sooner. The initial shock is the hardest to grapple. Many clients describe feeling a “gut punch” when they realize that the person they love – their son, daughter, spouse, or family member is struggling with an addiction. One of the most difficult things for family to accept is the “why.” There is an assumption that people who encounter substance abuse are only those whose circumstances create an environment for addiction (Ex: people exposed to substance abuse by a parent as a child, those with trauma, etc). However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. People develop addictions for a variety of reasons. Some being avoidance of pain, boredom, and self-medication of symptoms related to an undiagnosed disorder such as depression or anxiety. So, I often advise clients not to focus much attention on “why” their loved one is addicted, but rather on helping them become aware of their treatment options.
After the initial shock is usually the attempt to problem-solve. Please, please, please… do not try to rationalize your loved one’s way out of addiction. The truth is that rationalization is probably the last thing that they are capable of doing. Many times, substance use/abuse is related to an emotional need rather than a cognitive response. This means that people tend to use because they “feel” the need to use. Often time, it’s a way to cope with life stressors, avoidance of pain or past trauma, an overwhelming inability to experience negative emotions, and poor emotional coping resources. Instead of problem-solving I recommend being open-minded about what your loved one may be experiencing and explore a collaborative way of achieving sobriety.
After the shock, a demand to know why, and attempts to problem-solve your loved one’s way out of addiction, you may be left with feelings of helplessness. This is a sad reality for most family members, especially parents of those in addiction. Who wouldn’t want to “fix” their child’s problems, specifically ones that could be life-threatening and dangerous? The issue with this is that your loved one must do the work. He or she must come to a place where they are motivated to develop the strategies necessary to beat their addiction. Remember that substance abuse is something that a person has to acknowledge is a problem and work to change on their own.
Lastly, don’t forget to practice self-care. Seek treatment for yourself such as a support group or individual therapy. You’re carrying a heavy load when you walk next to someone going through addiction so be sure to have others to help you alongside your own journey.
In summary, here are the tips/ things to consider when discovering someone you love has an addiction:
– Disbelief and guilt are common emotions associated with learning that your loved one is an addict.
– Resist the urge to need to know “why” there is an addiction.
– Be open-minded to what your loved one is experiencing.
– Explored collaborative treatment approaches or ways to achieve sobriety.
– Avoid trying to problem-solve or rationalize your loved one’s way out of addiction.
– They have to want to change and work towards sobriety.
– Don’t neglect your own needs as you help your loved one battle substance abuse.
Every day we are bombarded by the media with people’s “crazy” behaviors and enticed to read up on celebrities’ latest affairs and out of control escapades. This can make us feel as if “craziness” is our daily bread. Subsequently, when we are seeing love one’s struggles with compulsive behaviors, we may not have the strength to rise up and take a proactive stand. Nevertheless, you are already a master of taking a proactive stand as you are reading up on this important topic. Be commended for your courage- here are your tools to face common myths about compulsive behaviors and to create breakthrough.
1. Thinking Your And Your Loved One’s Struggles Are Due To Incompatibility, Relational Difficulties, or Because You Are Not Good Enough
Compulsive (also known as addiction) behaviors often are most visible in our most intimate relationships. As a result, we may think they are about us-that we are not good enough, attractive enough, we have an anger issue. However, compulsive behaviors are often rooted in early childhood experiences: In the first eight years of life we learn to connect with ourselves and others through the way how our caregivers connected with us. If our caregivers do not know how to role model healthy ways to connect to ourselves, we do not know how to connect to our feelings. When difficult situations come up and one does not know how to handle those feelings, coping through behaviors that can create addictive patterns can develop. Back to your relationship: your loved one’s struggles with compulsive behaviors is not your fault- so be gentle with yourself
2. Thinking That Your Loved One’s Problematic Behaviors Go Away On Their Own
The nature of compulsive behaviors is rooted in brain chemistry that needs to be attended to: The brain’s reward center gives the message “I want what I want [food, sex, porn, love] and I want this right now”. Let’s face it, we all can all have a strong urge to get something (ranging from a pair of shoes to the next gadget or bigger BBQ), and we all sometimes succumb to our desires. At the same time, if we needed to buy more shoes to feel better even if we maxed out our credit lines, our brain’s reward center got high-jacked and developed an addiction pattern that does not go away on its own. To the contrary, addictions bring about negative health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and premature death.
This may feel overwhelming as you are reading this, but rest assured that there are professionals who are trained in providing specialized support and who can equip you with the tools so that you are not being negatively impacted by your loved one’s hijacked brain chemistry. Consider therapist search engines specifically for partners of individuals with addictions (e.g., https://apsats.org/find-a-specialist/or https://www.sexhelp.com/find-a-therapist/). You will be equipped to set healthy boundaries and assert yourself in an empathetic way – which is the way to not getting pulled down by your loved one’s struggles but instead becoming a witness of healthy change.
3. Thinking That “When My Loved One’s Stress Is Gone, The Problem Behaviors Will Resolve Themselves”
Addictions can be most obvious during stressful times. While it is true that mastering live events such as your daughter’s wedding or transitioning to retirement can decrease stress, the brain does not like to give up on addiction patterns. Instead, it may follow an “ebb and flow” patterns (under stress addictions tend to be stronger than during other times).
Regardless of how much stress you and your loved one are facing, unlock you and your loved one’s long-term, sustainable health but grabbing your oxygen mask first: Pursue what you want to see happening by equipping yourself with tools for healthy communication and stress relief such as relaxation resources. Community workshops for family members of individuals with addictions, stress management courses, and psycho-education classes on addiction can empower you to replenish yourself, set boundaries, and create a change you would like to see.
4. Thinking: “I Am Strong, I Can Handle This Alone”
Even if you may operate best on your own, the impact of a loved one’s addiction can create negative health outcomes in yourself. You may or may not feel anxious or depressed by your loved one’s issues but may notice that you cannot sleep, overeat, or cannot seem to get to the gym. Not to mention that you feel you are the first catching whatever sickness goes around in the office. Research shows that people’s immune system is taxed if they are dealing with someone else’s problems.
You don’t have to face this on your own! Allow yourself to create a roadmap for direction by sharing with a specialist who is trained to help you tackle your health, and who will help you with concrete tools to reset your health, decrease any trauma that your loved one’s behaviors brought into your life, and equip you to give healthy consequences in response to your loved one’s behaviors.
5. “If You Have A Person With Compulsive Behaviors In Your Life, You Must Be Addicted, Too”
The pioneers of addiction treatment considered addiction as a family affair: if one person has it, others in the family must be “co-addicted”. The newest research, however, shows that family members are not addicted but instead may suffer from chronic stress responses if they are consistently dealing with the chaos and unpredictability that comes with addictions.
Take the time to find a professional who is trained in trauma reduction techniques and who can teach you how to effectively deal with the stress caused by someone else’s problem behaviors. This will get you unstuck and decrease your pain. It will also create healthy change and help you move past wishful thinking, ruminating about lost opportunities, and feeling stuck.
Even if it may feel counter intuitive or impossible due to your circumstances, specialized support is available to you to create the change that you want. You are worth it!
If you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs, the most important thing you can do is to accept them without judgment. This may be difficult to do, but if they are feeling judged, they may likely shut down and will not be receptive to anything you have to say. There may be shame they are already feeling for the issue, and any kind of judgment can really keep a barrier between you and your loved one. I know it can be difficult to see someone you love struggling, but if you can offer them unconditional acceptance no matter where they are in their recovery path – it will keep the relationship open and welcoming for when your loved one is ready to seek the help they may need.
Another thing I’d like to point out is that you can be supportive and accepting but also maintain your boundaries. Ultimately, your loved one will need to make the decision to change, you can’t make this happen for them as much as you would like to see them get better. If you find you are doing more work than your loved one in regards to their treatment or recovery, you are doing too much. They need to be able to move forward on their own path of recovery. You can be there to accept them, love them and support them, but also have the compassion to allow them to make their own choices and decisions for their personal growth. It can be painful and isolating to have a loved one who is addicted. I suggest to try to get connected to a group of individuals who are also family members of people struggling with addiction such as al-anon, Alateen or Nar-anon so that you can get your own support during the process as well.
Even though there are millions of individuals struggling with addiction, there are many more loved ones suffering right along with them. One of the areas that are primarily impacted in the lives of individuals struggling with addiction is communication. Isolation and anger are the most common communication patterns that emerge in relationships during substance dependence.
As a loved one, the first step you can take is to educate yourself. The more you know about addiction, the more you can understand and help them. You can get yourself educated through support groups, seminars, readings and books. Education will help you recognize behavior patterns that are associated with different types of substances.
The second step is safety. As a loved one, you need to determine if you and your loved one are safe. Some individuals may become violent and unpredictable when they are under the influence which may constitute danger for the ones around them. Also, whether or not your loved one is driving under the influence and going to work that may lead to work injuries are an important factors to recognize.
The third step is talking to your loved one in a way that is not judging, punishing and pressing. You cannot ask them to stop because they already want to, but they cannot. You may express your concerns about the individual and tell them that they can come to you whenever they need help to go through a treatment program. Even though they may seem defensive first, they will remember your conversation when they feel like they are ready to quit.
The fourth step is monitoring your enabling patterns. Co-dependent patterns arise when you start covering up for your loved one when they lie, make mistakes or doesn’t show up to work or family gatherings. You may need to stop giving them money and making excuses for them. These behaviors are enabling, not helping and you allow your loved one to continue their addiction by enabling them.
The fifth step as an individual whose loved one is struggling with addiction is to take care of yourself, sharing your pain with your loved ones and not feeling guilty about spending time doing the things that you need to enjoy. Seeing you upset and stressful will push your loved one away from opening up to you as they may see their addiction as a burden on you if you appear stressed.
When working with clients who are struggling with addiction, I begin by normalizing the bedlam they say addiction is causing them. I tell them that I have heard their stories many times and that they are not alone. I explain to them that addiction has been around for a very, very long time, much longer than they or I, and that it is a skillful, experienced foe; an expert at what it does. I temper their expectations by explaining to them that, although it is unlikely that they will be able to defeat it by themselves, there are numerous steps they can take to defend themselves from it and plenty of resources in the community to help them do so. Then I provide them with information on those resources.
The trouble with addiction is that it is an equal opportunity abuser. It doesn’t care who or what its victims are. It is a wily adversary that stalks the vulnerable amongst us and has a penchant for those who are in emotional or physical pain. Just as a fox stalks its prey in a chicken coop, pounces on its victim, and causes chaos amongst the other inhabitants, addiction brings chaos into the lives and homes of its victims’ loved ones. So, what should we do when addiction pounces on our loved ones and wreaks havoc on everyone around?
1. Talk to your loved one. Come from a place of loving kindness and assume a non-blaming stance. There are dangerous narratives in our society that tell us that the victims of addiction are weak, shameful, bad people. They are not. Your loved one is not the problem. Addiction is the problem. Be mindful that engaging with pathologizing narratives by scolding, shaming or blaming your loved one you will be supporting addiction’s efforts to take control of your lives.
2. When talking to your loved one, use externalizing language to separate them from the problem, addiction. For example, instead of saying “I am so angry with you because you and your drugs are ruining our lives” you could say “I am really concerned that addiction is going to harm us and I want to help you fight it.” This simple but very effective intervention clearly identifies addiction as the problem and frames the fight against it as a team effort.
3. Educate yourself about addiction and recovery, particularly the kind of addiction that is attacking your loved one. Knowledge is power and the more power you have against addiction the more likely you will be to have a positive outcome. There is a myriad of free educational resources available online or at your local library.
4. Locate resources in your area such as 12-step programs, and outpatient and inpatient treatment centers. Suggest to your loved one that you might explore them as a team, that it would be an opportunity for the two of you to battle addiction together. By doing so, you will help suppress guilt and shame, the weapons that addiction uses to advance its assault. If they are unwilling to consider these resources, leave brochures and pamphlets where they can locate them if they have a change of mind.
5. Be hopeful. If you’re not, addiction will gain the upper hand against you. Be mindful that addiction can be managed effectively and that the majority of addicts who complete addiction treatment programs stop using and improve their psychological, social, and occupational functioning. (Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, National Institute on Drug Abuse)
6. Attend a 12-step program where you will learn how to take care of yourself, avoid being an enabler, and cope with the stress of living with an addict. You will meet other supportive people whose lives are also being impacted by addiction.
7. As addiction is a systemic problem, family therapy is indicated. Stressors within the family are often the triggers for addiction and relapse. When the dynamics amongst family members are enhanced through therapy, recovery and sustained sobriety are more likely.
8. Protect yourself and your family members. Addiction is an expert at talking our loved ones into doing things they would not normally do. Establish clear boundaries with them and always enforce the consequences of any violation. Take steps to ensure not only your and other family members’ physical safety but the safety of your property and finances.
9. Be mindful that you cannot eradicate addiction from another person by yourself.
10. If addiction encourages your loved one to be violent, make a plan in advance (preferably with a therapist) so that you can escape and find shelter.
Our natural tendency when we see a loved one in trouble is to run to their rescue, even if that means rescuing them from themselves. The unfortunate thing about addiction is that trying to help will only make things worse if that person is not truly ready to get help. If you have a loved one struggling with addiction you must be able to distinguish between healthy vs unhealthy help. In other words, are you helping them fight against the addiction or are you helping them in hopes that they will join you in fighting their addiction?
If you find yourself trying to convince a loved one they need help and hope that meeting their every need and request will magically change their mind, then you’re in for a long ride and a painful reality check. You must understand that for as long as the addict is able to have their needs met despite their addiction there is no reason for them to recognize it as a problem. Your “help” may in fact be prolonging their denial which only serves for the addiction to cause more destruction to them and your relationship.
Providing healthy help is about helping them get connected to services, taking care of some of their responsibilities (paying bills, watching a pet, etc.) while they are receiving inpatient care, attending couples/family counseling and in most cases where the one addicted is your intimate partner, attending counseling for yourself. You may be wondering how your counseling has to do with the addiction if it is a problem your partner has, not you. I like to explain to those in an intimate relationship with an addict that recovery is not just about the addict getting help and staying away from situations which may trigger a craving, it is also about taking inventory of the relationship dynamics which may have contributed to the reasons that may have led to the partner feeling justified in using a substance and making positive changes that will compliment and reinforce the changes made during their recovery. Working on becoming the healthiest version of yourself can increase the chances that your loved one’s recovery will be a permanent success.
Realizing that your loved one is struggling with an addiction can be heartbreaking, confusing, and scary. It can feel overwhelming, and you may struggle to relate to your loved one. Though not always easy, an important thing to remember when you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction is to keep lines of communication open between you and your loved one. It’s important to be there for your loved one for support, while maintaining boundaries and balance so that you do not develop emotional exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and resentment. You need to take care of yourself, too.
Consistent boundaries are also important to avoid enabling the addiction or becoming drawn into it. Do your best to understand where your loved one is coming from, that emotional distress or trauma may be motivating the addiction, and your loved one may feel scared, angry, worthless and abandoned. Your loved one may have developed addiction as a means to cope with what is happening on the inside, even if it is not the healthiest option. Remember that addiction recovery and change in general is a difficult, complicated, gradual, and oftentimes overwhelming process, so don’t expect immediate results even after your loved one has joined a recovery or rehabilitation program. Part of recovery often includes managing relapse, so it is important to let your loved one know that this is natural, and that you are there for the long haul. Perhaps most importantly, it is always OK for you to seek support and guidance for yourself as you navigate this difficult process.
Maintaining Your Sanity While Supporting a Loved One through an Addiction
When those we love hurt, we suffer along with them. Whether it is your son or daughter, husband or wife, relative or friend, addiction hurts everyone to the core. This article focuses on a guide lining principle that can help you persevere and support a loved one through an addiction. However, if the addiction is life threatening, please seek professional help immediately.
You might have witnessed your loved one lose an important job, drop out of school, alienate friends, or realize that your money has gone missing to support their habit. It is human nature to get angry, frustrated and want to lecture, scold and belittle.
When you find yourself in this state of mind, remember this. You care about this person and seeing them throw their life away grieves your heart. So instead of giving in to your anger, access the caring part of yourself and express how much this hurts you. You might impulsively say,” You are being an utter fool, how can you not see how damaging this is to your life. Why are you being so selfish”. Instead you might try saying something like this: “You matter to me. When I see you hurting over lost friends and work, I worry and get scared for your future. I want you to have a wonderful life and feel I’m losing someone important to me”. Of course you want to use your own genuine emotions.
The key is to express your genuine and vulnerable emotions, not just anger. When the listener hears the sources of your pain. They get a sense that you genuinely care more about them than the addiction. You may have to swallow your pride in order to access this part of your heart, but the end result can lead to healing for you and healing for the ones you love. Learning to love someone through an addiction may be one of the hardest things you will ever have to go through. My 15 years of experience has taught me that this is the key to healing all relationships.
Yes, eating disorders are an addiction. They are a series of compulsive behaviors completed around food with the goal of reducing tension and anxiety. Eating disorders are often accompanied by obsessive thoughts of weight, calories and/or exercise. And engagement in eating disorders continues despite negative consequences such as, increased interpersonal conflict, serious health concerns and diminishing school or work performance. They are often paired with a secondary addiction of alcohol, pills, smoking and even caffeine.
As a loved one, it can be very hard to sit back and watch what is happening. A common instinct is to monitor and attempt to control the other person’s food or behaviors, like purging and over exercising. However, it is more effective in the long run to speak directly to your loved one about your concerns and fears for their safety and wellbeing. Ask your loved one if you can go with them to see a physician or therapist that specializes in this area. Let them know you would like to be a part of their recovery and listen carefully to what it is they need from you. Follow through with your commitments and promises to them. Trust, consistency and compassion are three very important ingredients of support, so make them your priority.
As the loved one of someone who struggles with an eating disorder, you may feel incredibly helpless. Remember you are not. Your gift is the gift of presence. No one recovers alone and someone to sit through the most painful of moments with is truly miraculous and healing. Be sure to find your own support. Join a friends and family eating disorder support group, go for a long lunch with a good friend, get a massage. Do whatever it takes so that your resources are in place and you can be of loving service to your family member in struggle. Recovery is a very long journey filled with missteps and slow downs. The gentle care you give to yourself along the way makes a difference in the care you give to your loved one.
Over 20 million Americans are affected by addiction and over 7 million with co-occurring addiction and mental disorders. Addictions negatively impacts people from all walks of life. It causes suffering to not only the individual with addiction, but also to the loved ones. What do we do when we come to the realization that someone we care about suffers from addiction? Do we shut them out of our lives unless they get help? Do we offer to help them get treatment?
Here are some recommendations based on my professional, as well as personal experience:
1. Get educated about addiction. There are many misconceptions regarding addiction and the people who are addicted. It is a real disorder and they are not simply lazy. Many addicts would seek help if they had support and guidance.
2. Get support. Addiction affects family members significantly, but you do not need to suffer in silence. Seek out supportive friends and family members, support groups and therapy.
3. Research evidence-based treatment options. SAMSHA offers a registry on their website to direct you to the treatments that are available, as well as treatment programs. There are many ineffective treatment programs that do not utilize current evidence-based treatments.
4. Talk to your loved ones telling them your concerns and providing resources for treatment.
5. If your loved one does not want to get treatment, communicate your limits regarding support and how present he or she will be in your life. We can do this with compassion remembering that those suffering from addiction in some way do want to get better. They often feel hopeless.
Ten Commandments for “What to Do When a Loved One is Addicted“
1. Thou shall take care of yourself, mentally, physically and spiritually regardless of what the addict is doing. You must be the best version of yourself to be able to help anyone in your life.
2. Thou shall detach with love from the addict. Resist the blame and shame game.
3. Thou shall communicate clearly to our loved one how their addiction effects our lives without accusations, threats and anger.
4. Thou shall not enable the addict with excuses and rescues to save them from natural consequences of their behavior.
5. Thou shall attend a support group or seek individual therapy to have a safe space to share our darkest fears and find like-minded individuals experiencing the same sadness and hurt.
6. Thou shall release the reins of control over the addict. Control is an illusion used to help decrease our worry and anxiety. The only control we have is our reaction to the addict.
7. Thou shall believe you did not cause the addiction. You are not that powerful. Addiction has its own power which is difficult to understand.
8. Thou shall believe addiction is a disease of pain, not weakness. Finding the source of pain is the beginning of a long, difficult and ultimate healing journey.
9. Thou shall have personal boundaries to protect yourself from the inevitable hurts and disappointments from the loved one’s journey.
10. Thou shall be mindful and be in the moment. There is only today for each of us with our hopes and dreams for that day. Embrace it.
When you find yourself, as many of us have, facing a situation in which a close friend or family member is caught in the throes of addiction: engage in self-care. Yes, the first person you need to consider is yourself; after all, you will be of little use to another if you are floundering. Self-care can take many shapes and forms, but in the world of addiction, it often includes a recovery program of individual therapy and/or support groups such as Al Anon, ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), or group therapy.
Many friends and family members of addicts are aware of the benefits of recovery programs for those challenged with substance abuse issues, but are surprised to hear that they, too, will benefit from their own recovery program. When a loved one is affected by addiction, we have to explore how it affects us and how we may be participating in the cycle of addiction. Individual therapy is an effective way to explore our relationship with addiction. Your loved one will likely require the assistance in the form of a personalized recovery program, inclusive of psychotherapy, life skills training, and 12 step programming. You too, may find peace through engaging in a personalized recovery program that fosters self-discovery, promotes acceptance, and enhances your will to make personal changes to positively impact your well-being. Invest in yourself and your personal recovery and nurture your ability to disengage from codependent behaviors. Utilize individual therapy as a tool to encourage healthy boundaries, limit destructive thought patterns and become an example of courage and self-respect. In my experience, this is the most effective way to help those we love when they are affected by addiction.
Shame. On. You.
Words that no one ever wants to hear. Yet these words are constantly ringing in the ears of our loved ones who deal with substance abuse or addiction.
How can we help them?
Learn about shame resilience. Here is a great read on that subject. http://www.habitsforwellbeing.com/shame-resilience-theory/
But back to here and now…when thinking about how to best support family members who are dealing with substance abuse/addiction…here is a twist—let’s take the focus off of “them” for a moment and take some essential time to learn about the things that you are shameful of, then join ranks with them in their quest for betterment. Not easy…right?
What does shame say? That we’re worthless and should just go back to where we came from because it’s not worth it in the end? In order for love to win, we need to muster up clarity and vision to see into the realities of our loved ones—that they carry a heavy burden and they don’t know how to do it alone. In fact they shouldn’t do it alone! There is such a sweltering feeling of internal isolation in the world of substance abuse and addiction (amidst all the support groups) for the one suffering and for family members because of the social stigmas and a hundred other things…and this is nothing more than a fatal blow in attempts back to wholeness. There is a biological need for true support …and that need is programmed into our very DNA! We are social beings who are wired for connection and we all need each other for our very survival.
Empathy is one of the answers here, and if you need a good refresher course on that, just watch this 3 min clip by Brene Brown. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
Now, roll your sleeves up and get to work on putting this shame-busting resilience into action. Make sure you are checking in with yourself as you do so…and if you have big feelings about what has happened over the course of your life or in how you are relating to the ones you love who deal with substance abuse/addiction, make sure you off-load those feelings to someone who can actually help (I.e. a therapist) and not to the person who is trying to build more resilience against such shaming. And one more thing…no need to be feeling ashamed about the shaming. Unfortunately, it is one of the ugly parts of being in our society…but we can take a stand against that and create more love for our loved ones to really soak in…because as the song goes…love is all you need?… or is it?
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