According to the 2018 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), 5.8% of Americans were either dependent on alcohol or had problems stemming from alcohol use. 11.7% of over-12s reported use of illicit drugs during the previous month.
When you consider that’s 1 in 20 people struggling with alcohol, and 1 in 10 taking illegal drugs, it wouldn’t be surprising if you have addicts in your family.
Examining these statistics doesn’t tell the whole story, one amounting to millions of people and their family members with lives in disarray thanks to substance abuse and addiction.
Addiction is a family disease that doesn’t just impact the person grappling with alcohol use disorder or substance abuse. Whether it’s helping a loved one accept that they need treatment, or helping them during the challenging times they’ll face as they start the process of recovery, the role of family is key.
Now, if you have a loved one suffering from an addiction to drink or drugs, you’ll doubtless have many concerns. You’ll be asking yourself questions like:
- How can I help my loved one?
- How can I ensure they get the treatment they need?
- Does my loved one need to go to rehab?
- What support groups are available?
- Is there any help available for me?
Remember that addiction doesn’t discriminate. People of all backgrounds and social demographics can be impacted by this degenerative disease. While addiction has no cure, it is eminently treatable.
Your role if your loved one is addicted to drink or drugs should be supportive without enabling them to continue using substances. The more you learn about the disease of addiction, the better placed you’ll be to help your friend or family member.
And education about addiction is where you should get started when considering how to help an addict in the family.
12 Ways to Help Addicts in the Family
- Educate yourself about the disease of addiction
- Try to influence your loved one without controlling them
- Attend family therapy sessions
- Consider appropriate private therapy sessions
- Keep your expectations reasonable
- Organize the right treatment for your loved one
- Try maintaining a sensible sleep schedule
- Exercise for 30 minutes each day
- Make and eat meals together
- Minimize friction where possible
- Encourage your loved one to create a network of sober peers
- Emphasize the importance of peer support groups
1) Educate yourself about the disease of addiction
Perhaps you find yourself blaming a loved one suffering from addiction to drink or drugs. If so, you may benefit from learning more about this disease. We don’t say that condescendingly, but because it’s commonplace for people without an understanding of addiction to imagine it stems from a moral failing or weakness rather than from changes happening in the brain.
If you find yourself filled with anger and resentment directed at your loved one, when you understand that addiction is not a choice, you should find that anger dissipating.
You should learn as much as possible about addiction in the ways that best suit you. If you enjoy searching for information online, you’ll find a plethora of resources. Get started with our addiction blog. You could also head to the bookstore or the library if you prefer reading physical books. Watch movies about addiction to get a different insight into the disease.
The time you spend on this research won’t be time wasted. The clearer your understanding of what your loved one is going through as they grapple with dependence on drink or drugs, the more effectively you can help them throughout recovery.
2) Try to influence your loved one without controlling them
It might be that you’ve tried to force your addicted loved one to get help, and perhaps this attempt failed. Maybe the person agreed to sober up but they failed to follow through. This is not surprising. As we mentioned, addiction is not a choice over which the person exercises control. Once dependent on drink or drugs, people become compelled to continue this behavior even if they are aware of all the negative consequences. Why is this?
Put simply, the risk and reward center of your loved one’s brain has been rewired as a result of compulsive drinking or drug taking. Once triggered, the person craves the substance so strongly that they will use it even if they don’t really “want” to.
Now, if you blame the person or become forceful and confrontational, this is highly unlikely to yield dividends. Forcing an issue over which your loved one has diminished control is anyway unfair.
That being said, you can take full advantage of the influence you wield over your loved one. This can be compounded if you gather together a group of friends and family to hold an intervention.
Whether you chat one-on-one with your loved one, or in a group setting, you should reinforce how much you love them and set clear boundaries regarding unacceptable behaviors. Show them help can be arranged, but you will no longer tolerate the chaos of active addiction.
This doesn’t need to be a one-shot deal either. By repeatedly talking to your loved one about the benefits of recovery, the support they have on hand, and the importance of getting well, you may nudge them toward getting the help they need.
3) Attend family therapy sessions
When someone is addicted to drink or drugs, it’s their partners, parents, and siblings who bear the brunt of the negative consequences of the actions stemming from substance abuse.
If you’re finding your loved one is causing you a great deal of distress, maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking about this.
Alternatively, you could be tired of trying and failing to get your partner or relative into addiction recovery. This can easily turn into a fruitless cycle of blame.
Conflict, silences, and the blame game are all counterproductive, so what can you do?
Consider a family therapy program. Here, you’ll learn how to better communicate your feelings, and you’ll all learn better listening skills. If you’re all prepared to take guidance and put the work in, family therapy can help you to heal rifts, build trust, and move meaningfully forwards as a tight unit rather than a dysfunctional family.
4) Consider appropriate private therapy sessions
Now, it might be that you’ve finally got your addicted loved one into a treatment center. Maybe they’re already well underway with recovery. You could find some benefit from family therapy, and you’re happy that your loved one is receiving the counseling and therapy they need.
How about you, though?
Caregivers of addicts often experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression. It can be easy to focus all your energy on helping your spouse or sibling at the expense of yourself.
Consider engaging in private therapy where you can work through any anger and resentment you’re feeling. You can also improve the way you deal with stress and destructive thoughts so you can better look after yourself while also taking care of your addicted loved one.
5) Organize the right treatment for your loved one
Whether your loved one needs help arranging residential rehab for a severe addiction, or whether they are able to engage in an outpatient program, you should do all you can to streamline this.
If your loved one also has an underlying mental health condition – dual diagnosis – you should ensure this is treated at the same time as their addiction. Integrated treatment plans will maximize the chance of sustained recovery for the addicts in the family.
All that counts when you’re interviewing treatment centers for rehab is finding the right fit for your loved one. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to recovery.
6) Keep your expectations reasonable
Once your loved one finally commits to treatment and the recovery journey is underway, it’s natural to be filled with a sense of hope and positive thoughts about the future. At long last, your loved one is where they need to be getting the help they so badly require. Finally, everything will be better.
Or will it?
Bottom line, radical change such as that involved detoxing and cleaning up from substance abuse can take time. You could find your loved one unable to commit to sobriety. As they cling onto their old habits, you continue living on a knife edge. It might be that they become frustrated with the gradual process of recovery and relapse.
You should expect these outcomes and more, and you should prepare yourself in advance to minimize the frustration you will feel if things don’t go to plan.
It’s tough to get precise data on relapse. Most estimates show somewhere between 40% and 60% of addicts relapsing at least once on the way to ongoing sobriety. It would be accurate to say that relapse is a part of recovery for some people.
So, if your loved one slips up, you should help them to focus on moving forward. They can put a blip like this behind them and draw strength not to succumb to those cravings the next time they strike. Reinforce to your loved one that recovery is not a single event, but rather a process.
Managing expectations, then, can make the ups and downs of a loved one in recovery appear far less troublesome when they inevitably arrive.
7) Try maintaining a sensible sleep schedule
Much of the upheaval associated with addiction takes place in the middle of the night. This is typically the time when loved ones return from bars or parties, when they meet their dealer, or even overdose.
This being the case, it’s not at all surprising that many addicts in the family undergoing the recovery process find their sleep patterns shattered. Rather than resting and recuperating, part of the brain is active, ready and waiting to head off the next crisis.
Now, once your loved one has stopped using and started treatment, this should make it easier for you to sleep. Aim for at least 7 hours a night if possible. Try creating a regular sleep schedule if you find yourself struggling to rest enough. Waking and sleeping at the same time can help you to prime your brain for deep sleep.
Sleep is not the only thing you need to take care of either…
8) Exercise for 30 minutes each day
If you’ve been battling with depression or stress as a result of your loved one’s addiction, simply taking 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each day could help significantly.
Exercise encourages your brain to release so-called feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. Get a natural high to complement the high of seeing your loved one commit to sobriety.
High-energy exercise sessions are also a wonderful way of venting frustrations in a positive way.
You could also exercise with your loved one to help them replace their old destructive behaviors with healthy alternatives.
9) Make and eat meals together
If you and your whole family have hectic lifestyles, it can be easy to snatch food on the go and to eat separately.
Use your loved one’s commitment to recovery as a chance to reclaim family meal times. You can build on the work you’re doing in family therapy in a relaxed setting, and the act of eating together is an age-old method of bonding.
Even if this is impractical on a daily basis, aim to eat together as a family as often as possible. This small step can pay serious dividends.
10) Minimize friction where possible
You may have become accustomed to a family dynamic with high levels of conflict while your loved one was addicted to drink or drugs. This is unpleasant for all concerned, but it doesn’t need to be this way.
Seize the opportunity to reset destructive behaviors when your loved one starts the recovery process.
Reduce tension by working on your communication skills both in and out of family therapy. Be prepared to deal flexibly with problems as they arise. Spend time together as a family rebuilding trust and closeness. Express your feelings openly.
It’s simplistic to assume you can avoid all tension and friction, especially when your loved one is likely to be irritable and adjusting to dramatic lifestyle changes. By being aware of the need to keep home life stress-free, though, you should find it easier to diffuse conflict when it arises, and to keep it to a bare minimum.
11) Encourage your loved one to create a network of sober peers
When your loved one is detoxing and recalibrating their body and mind after addiction to drink or drugs, this calls for major changes to their lifestyle.
Part of healthy change is associating with sober peers rather than returning to drink or drug buddies.
Everyone in recovery is different, and it may be that your loved one is able to hang out with old friends without being tempted to drink or use drugs. More likely, they would benefit from spending time with people engaged in healthier pursuits.
Do all you can to encourage your loved one to move in a new and more positive direction.
12) Emphasize the importance of peer support groups
For many people in recovery, attending 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous is invaluable. There are also many other peer support groups catering to those with dual diagnosis, bipolar, OCD, and a range of other conditions. Just like when you’re choosing a treatment center, finding the right 12-step group is something that’s entirely personal.
Not only should you encourage your loved one to attend meetings as required, but you should also show an interest in what they’re going through and learn what you can about the group’s underpinning philosophy.
How About Relapse?
Now, assuming your loved one is engaged in an appropriate recovery program, you should be on guard for relapse occurring.
You should ensure there are no intoxicating substances on the premises. Removing temptation goes a long way. Also, look to explore new activities and interests with your loved one, even if this is just a small goal like cooking or eating together. If your loved one is changing their behaviors, supporting them in this endeavor is worthwhile.
You can further prepare yourself for the possibility of your loved one relapsing by:
Being aware of your loved one’s warning signs
Monitoring your loved one so you can pick up on any possible red flags and act accordingly
Working out a plan for responding to signs of a relapse or a relapse proper
Involving other people like treatment providers when formulating a relapse prevention plan
If relapse looks likely despite your best efforts, be supportive and do all you can to prevent them from slipping up.
If you’re unable to intervene and your loved one drinks or uses drugs, refrain from judgment. We know this isn’t easy, but try to focus instead on helping your loved one recommit to treatment.
Treatment for Addiction at Renaissance Recovery
If you have an addict in the family, you have an important role to play in their recovery. The more you understand about the disease in question, the stronger your chances of meaningfully helping them.
Whether your loved one is dependent on drink or drugs, and whether or not they have an underpinning mental health condition, we’re here to help at Renaissance Recovery.
If you’re not sure what kind of treatment program would make the best fit for your addicted loved one, why not reach out and let our friendly team guide you? Call us today at 888.330.9449 and we’ll get your loved one back on the right path.