When someone struggles with an addiction, it doesn’t just affect that person. Addiction is often called a family disease because it affects everyone who loves the addict. Loving an addict can be painful, and can diminish your quality of life, but there are steps you can take to help yourself as well as your loved one.
There are resources available when your loved one is an addict. Sometimes understanding addiction, how it works and the treatment process can be helpful, as can sharing your story and hearing the stories of others.
When you first discover your loved one has a substance abuse problem or an addiction, it’s understandable that you would be concerned, frustrated, anxious and more.
It’s essential to understand that if your child, spouse, or another loved one is struggling with addiction, they aren’t doing it on purpose. Addiction isn’t a personal failing, and it isn’t a representation that you weren’t a good parent or loved one to the person with the substance use disorder.
Addiction is viewed as a chronic disorder, and a complex one at that. Addiction changes the function of the brain as well as the behavior and essentially every area of the affected person’s life. Stopping the use of addictive substances typically requires professional treatment in some type of rehab program. Treating addiction requires holistic care and is often long-term.
When you love an addict, know that it’s a compulsive disease. It’s one where a person can’t stop using a substance even when there are negative side effects on themselves and their loved ones. If the person with an addiction does go to treatment, their loved ones and family members often play an important role in that process.
A term often discussed and heard when referring to loving an addict is codependency. Codependency often occurs as someone who loves an addict wants to help that person, but in the end they are allowing the addiction to thrive.
Signs of codependence can include:
- Taking on a sense of responsibility for the person who has an addiction disorder
- Putting the feelings of the addicted person before your own
- Having a fear of the relationship ending because of an underlying fear of abandonment or rejection
- Feeling unable to talk about one’s own feelings
- A lack of personal boundaries
Helping Your Loved One Who Is An Addict
While codependency is considered a negative component of loving an addict, there are things that you can do to help someone you love. Sometimes loving an addict can require a tough stance, but ultimately this is going to be the most helpful for you and your loved one. Some of the ways you can help your loved one who is struggling with a substance use disorder include:
- Learn more about the disease of addiction including the signs, symptoms, effects and the fact that it changes the brain and behavior
- Accept that you can’t do the work for the addict to get treatment and recover
- Create firm boundaries and stick with them
- Encourage your loved one to seek treatment– you might even look for treatment centers for them and do research to help them find the right facility for their needs
- Try to set an example of a healthy substance-free lifestyle for yourself
- You can provide support, but that doesn’t mean you try to avoid or cover the substance use or the effects it creates
- Take care of yourself and your needs
Support Groups for Loved Ones of Addicts
When you love an addict, it can be exhausting. It can take a tremendous toll on your mental and physical well-being. Joining a support group can be helpful to allow you to take care of yourself.
There are different support groups available, and two of the most well-known include Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. Both are family groups based on 12-step principles.
Some of the benefits of participating in a family support group include:
- Participating in a support group can help you stop feeling a sense of shame or stigma because you’re surrounded by other people who have similar experiences to your own.
- You can learn more about setting healthy boundaries and productive ways to cope with your loved one’s addiction.
- When your loved has an addiction, it’s easy to feel alone and to stop taking care of yourself because you’re so focused on the other person. A support group can help you engage in self-care.
My Addiction Info offers different resources for the loved ones of addictions. We feature stories from writers who have lived through these experiences, drug guides, self-care information, and other resources.