Living with a drug addicted family member?
Drug addiction has the potential to severely damage the life of the addicted individual. It also has the potential to severely damage that’s individual’s close family members. Living with a drug-addicted family member is a 24/7 balancing act, as loved ones try to help the addict without getting swept into their destructive orbit. The uncertain emotional situation can cause anxiety, stress, and depression for those closest to the addict. Living with a drug-addicted family member is the reality for many Americans. The statistics are alarming, as in the USA, millions of Americans are struggling with addiction to various substances such as opioids, cocaine, or alcohol.
Common Emotions Felt by Family Members of Drug Addicts
What can we do to help our loved ones without enabling them? How do we help them without hurting ourselves? How do we know when we’re doing the “right” thing? Developing effective interventions and strategies is an ongoing process but, for starters, here are some basic steps to stay safe while helping your loved one out:
Steps to stay safe
The more we know, the more we’ll see and recognize. The signs and symptoms of drug addiction can be staring you right in the face, but until you’ve empowered yourself with enough information, you may not see them.
2. Protect Yourself
Family members of drug users often face abuse—whether it’s physical, emotional, financial, or sexual. You cannot help your addicted loved one, or yourself, until you cultivate ways to protect yourself, even if that sometimes means calling for help.
3. Care for Yourself
Attend to your health, social, financial, and emotional needs. This includes tending to your eating and sleep habits, exercising, setting boundaries, socializing, and whatever else you require to be in the best position to deal with this difficult situation.
4. Check Yourself
Firstly, make sure your addicted family member is working at least as hard as you are. Becoming a caretaker sets you on the path toward enabling. More to avoid:
- Accusations and judgments
- Arguments or conversations while they are under the influence
5. Don’t “Enable”
- Cover up their abuse
- Lie for them
- Allow boundaries to be crossed
- Shield them from the consequences of their behavior
6. Create the Healthiest Environment for All
First and foremost: A sober environment is a healthy environment. Our goal as family members is to reduce triggers, allow time for meetings, and (as mentioned above) not protect our addicted loved one from any and all consequences. Research shows that change is more likely with those who navigate the negative fallout of their addiction.
We may wish things could go back to “normal” but this is the new normal. In fact, the old normal probably played a role in creating your current situation. Embrace this reality and work together to move forward into a future of better and better “normals.”
8. Don’t Try to “Buy” Sobriety
It may sound simple or obvious, but do not give money or credit cards to a drug-addicted person. If you want to provide some support or relief, you can purchase what they need—be it food, clothes, transportation cards, etc.—and give it directly to them.
9. Forget Promises
A person with an addiction wants to make and keep promises as much as anyone else. Unlike everyone else, however, they usually cannot keep such promises. It’d be fair to say they are often powerless to follow through on their commitments. By asking them to make promises you know will be broken, you increase the likelihood of guilt, shame, resentment, and conflict.
10. Seek Professional Help
You are not alone. Your loved one is not alone. If this process has become more than you can handle—if your well being is in jeopardy—reach out. There’s no shame in asking for help. Find a support group like Al-Anon. Seek out a qualified therapist and schedule an appointment as soon as you can.
Rebecca Klasfeld is a licensed clinical social worker in Boca Raton, Florida. If you are dealing with a family member who is using drugs or alcohol, you are invited to call at 561-441-9933 or fill out the contact form and click send. Together, we can strategize a plan to help you manage and reclaim your life.