Addiction Information for Friends and Family

Watching a loved one battle with addiction is difficult. You can take solace, however, knowing that there is something you can do to help. Friends and family of a patient in recovery can act as a major part of their support system. For patients who are recovering from substance abuse disorders, the presence  of friends and family will do a lot to help with their long term sobriety goals. There’s a lot that you can do to help your loved one beyond just providing moral support and encouragement. If you are willing to be present for your loved one through the trials and tribulations of recovery, you can being with some of the following activities:
  • Accompany your loved one to support group meetings
  • Seek out other support group meetings for others like you who are supporting a loved one in recovery
  • Do research and get educated about the disease of addiction
  • Educate others – share your knowledge of addiction with family and friends
  • Create a stable environment for your loved one that will encourage their sobriety
  • Attend therapy sessions that focus on communication and setting boundaries
  • Inventory your own actions – determine if any of your behaviors are enabling your loved one’s addictive habits

Addiction is a Family Disease

Addiction affects more than just the person addicted. It is called a “family disease because its effects stem from the individual who is abusing Although the addicted person is the only one abusing drugs or alcohol, addiction affects all members of a family. Not always but it’s usually a sign of dysfunction in that individual’s home life, personal relationships, or social network. Drug rehab often brings up troubling issues in a family’s life, such as relationship conflicts, substance abuse, domestic abuse, or past traumas. It's not going to be easy or comfortable to go through this process but it's necessary for the family to heal together to ensure long-term recovery.

Spotting the signs of addiction

Although family and friends are often the first to see signs of substance abuse, they often don’t want to confront their loved one out of fear of the unknown: How will their loved one react? Will this push them away? How will this change things? Enabling behaviors are prevalent among those close to an individual because of such concerns. Enabling a loved one might be easier than the arduous process of getting them help for their issues; however, seeking help is the right thing to do. For the sake of your loved one and those around them, it is necessary to deal with symptoms of addiction. Several common physical signs of substance abuse are as follows:
  • Glassy or red eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Pale complexion
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Poor motor coordination
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Marks or bruises from a needle
  • Excessive sweating
  • Lack of personal hygiene
Beyond physical symptoms, below are some common emotional and social indicators of addiction:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Defensiveness
  • Isolation from others
  • Secretive behavior
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities/hobbies
  • Change in style and propriety of dress
  • Problems at work or in school
  • Relationship/marriage problems
  • Financial issues (constantly needing to borrow or stealing money)
Although these signs are common, they do not necessarily indicate that your loved one has issues with substance abuse. With that said, a lot of individuals suffering from the disease of addiction also find themselves struggling with their mental health – this is known as having co-occurring disorders. If you are concerned about seeing these symptoms in your loved one, you may still be reluctant to confront them; however, it is important to take care of those you love regardless of their struggle.

Support vs. enabling

Among families, a common contributor to addictive behaviors is codependency.  This is when an individual enables their loved one’s addictions to either gain power over their loved one, or does so in an effort to receive love and approval from their loved one. Often, because this behavior can occur beneath the surface, it is difficult to discern between whether someone is showing actual support for their loved one or if they are simply perpetuating codependent behavior. Frequently, the individual who is enabling their loved one won’t necessarily realize that they are doing so, which is why understanding the difference between support and codependency is so important. The following are some differences to help you determine if you what you are doing is being supportive of your loved one or if you are actually enabling them:
  • Motives – While a supportive partner is one who wants to help their loved one achieve sobriety, an enabling partner will have the ulterior motive to want to keep their loved one sick in order for the loved one to continue needing their partner’s help. A supportive partner will go to meetings, counseling, and similar workshops or groups with their loved one. They will never abide or participate in their loved one’s addictive tendencies. In contrast, a codependent partner will attempt to sweep their loved one’s addiction under the rug, lying or loaning them money, and even going so far as using drugs with their loved one under the pretense of supervising them.
  • Attachment – As far as attachment is concerned, a supportive individual, though looking out for their loved one’s well-being, will not sacrifice themselves in order to help their loved on who is suffering from addiction. This is in opposition to a codependent individual, who will give everything they have – ie: time, money and emotional support – to help their loved one through their struggle with substance abuse. This is unhealthy and can get to the point where the codependent individual has given so much of themselves to help their addicted partner, that it causes them to suffer from their own mental and emotional issues.
  • Boundaries – It is especially important to establish clear and unyielding boundaries when helping someone who is going through issues with substance abuse. A supportive individual will help their loved one in need, but only to the point that it does not cross a reasonably set boundary. The supportive individual will not tolerate threatening behavior or inappropriate actions taken by their loved one under any circumstances. Those who are codependent will not have any boundaries whatsoever, or, if they do, their boundaries are easily crossed and disregarded, leading to trouble for the codependent.
Codependency is, in fact, a type of addiction. Much like their partners going through issues of substance abuse, codependents will require therapy and support in able to heal from the emotional trials that they have experienced from enabled their loved one’s addiction. Al-Anon groups are a wonderful way for family members and close friends to find others with whom they can identify to get the help that they need to fully support (and not enable) their partners who are battling the disease of addiction.

Getting a loved one to seek help

Coming to terms with the reality of having a loved one who is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction can make an individual feel frightened or overwhelmed. It’s perfectly normal to feel fear or even helplessness. When faced with the prospect of having to get your loved one to seek help, where do you even begin? What can you say that will change their minds when they appear to be someone you don’t recognize anymore? Under these circumstances, issues with communication are frequent and sometimes can make reaching out seem like an impossibility. It is a scary thing to do, but now is the most important time to take control of the situation and confront your loved one. It may be the only way to help them begin to heal. Speak to your loved one. Be direct with them and be honest about your observations of their behavior and how it makes you feel. Remind them that you are there to support them and that your confrontation comes from a place of genuine love and concern for their well-being. Though it may be tempting, do not give in to the impulse to judge or criticize your friend. Reserve these statements to share with a professional therapist during your loved one’s treatment. If you are uneasy about the thought of an individual intervention with your loved one, consider speaking with a substance abuse counselor or other authority in the field to help you figure out how to most effectively confront your loved one.
  • Interventions
  • Family Therapy
  • Long-term Sobriety
Sometimes a one-on-one discussion is not ideal. Hosting a formal, rehearsed intervention as a group of concerned individuals, who care about the well-being of their loved one can help to present a collective front to the individual suffering from addiction and show them the way to begin their recovery. Each person can present their thoughts and feelings in the hopes that their loved one will truly hear what is being said, understand how their behavior is negatively affecting their loved ones, and agree to seek treatment. Often, this will be enough to prompt an individual to agree to a rehab program; however, this is not always the case. An addict who is still in denial will refuse unless presented with an ultimatum, the consequences of which will be significant enough to change their mind. To ensure the individual’s agreement to enter a rehabilitation program, they will usually be presented with a treatment contract. The best way to stage an effective intervention is for the group to get together and rehearse their approach in advance. There’s no telling what might happen when a loved one is confronted about their addictive behavior, so it is important to plan for anything. Seek the advice of a substance abuse therapist will help to guide you through the process of assembling and enacting the intervention. It is also wise to choose a rehabilitation center for your loved one prior to the intervention in case you will need to get them there right away. As soon as possible is always the goal.

Resources

You might be feeling at odds with your emotions when it comes to caring for a loved one who is suffering from the disease of addiction. Guilt, anxiety, and fear are often to be felt in such instances. To help you process your own emotions while helping a loved one through a difficult time, we have provided a few resources below:
  • 12-step groups – The steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other similar groups are for more than just those who are in recovery. The steps can be applied to a lot of situations in life and can be especially helpful for the friends and family of addicted loved ones. Al-Anon, Alateen, Codependents Anonymous, and Families Anonymous are all dedicated to helping the loved ones of addicts and alcoholics to work through what they have experienced having been affected by the disease of addiction. If you look at your local resources, you are likely to find at least one regular meeting that is applicable to you.
  • National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) – This is a non-profit organization that helps children of alcohol-dependent parents. Their goal is to ensure that the children of alcoholics are given the help and support they need in order to grow up in a healthy and safe environment.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – This government agency presents their research on substance abuse to the public in accessible ways to help share a better understanding of the disease of addiction. NIDA offers a wide range of online resources about addiction, treatment, and recovery.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – This is another organization that conducts research in order to educate the public about issues of substance abuse and mental illness. There are a variety of substance abuse related resources available through the SAMHSA website. 
There are also many resources to be found in your local community. Mental health centers, spiritual groups, volunteer organizations, and more will help you to connect with others who have had similar experiences or are in similar situations as yourself. At Circle of hope, we believe that family and friends are an important part of the healing process for our clients. Our experienced team of caring professionals is ready to assist you in getting your loved one the help they need and providing you with resources to help yourself as well. If you have a loved on who is currently suffering from the disease of addiction, call us now for information about our advanced treatment programs.