What to Do If a Family Member is Abusing Drugs or Alcohol

Published on June 5th, 2018

When a loved one struggles with addiction, it affects the entire family. Many people feel like giving up or are at a loss about how to handle a family member suffering from a substance use disorder. Families play a big role in the support and recovery of an addicted individual. There are resources out there that can help you learn how to deal with addiction and find support groups for families. Substance use does not discriminate and affects people from all communities. Before you consider ways to deal with an addicted loved one, it’s important that you understand the nature of their condition. When you have a better understanding of what you are dealing with, you can take the steps necessary to help your family member.

Educate Yourself About Addiction

A good place to start is by researching the particular substance that you believe your loved one is using. Unfortunately, you can receive misinformation from other family members or friends. It’s best that you stick to facts from reliable resources that specialize in addiction treatment. Scientists and researchers are constantly learning more about how drugs interact with the cells in the brain. Education can help you understand how drug addiction can result in a change in brain chemistry. It is not the result of one’s stubbornness, weakness or willfulness. You can find a wealth of resources online and in many bookstores. Even your local library should have books about the science and chemistry behind addiction.

family member abusing drugs alcoholTo determine if your loved one has a problem, observe their behavior for a short period of time. Speak to the family member one-on-one or seek advice from a professional.

Once you have identified the signs of addiction, it may be easier to start the conversation with your loved one. Speaking with other people about the addiction of your loved one can be detrimental. You should ask for their permission before discussing their issue with others and be respectful of their privacy.

Don’t be an Enabler

Do not enable or allow yourself to be bullied or abused by a drug user. It’s easy to be verbally abused by an addicted individual due to their mood and irritability while on drugs or while experiencing withdrawal. It is common for a drug user to steal from their family members to continue to fuel their drug habit. If you know or suspect that this is happening to you, do not cover up their actions. It is important that they suffer the consequences of their own choices and that you do not enable their behavior. This includes not supplying them with money for drugs, paying off their bills, lying to employers or making excuses for their bad behavior. You should never put yourself in a situation where you can potentially be physically abused. While it may be difficult, you must speak out for your own protection by contacting the authorities if you are being assaulted. Do not argue with an addicted individual when they are under the influence.

Seek Outside Therapy for Yourself and Your Family

AA meetings aren’t just for addicted individuals themselves. Al-Anon is a support group for families of loved ones who are abusing drugs or alcohol. There are Al-Anon groups available worldwide and held seven days a week. It’s about bringing families together who have been affected by a loved one’s drinking or drug use. Al-Anon is a great resource for support where you can share your story with others experiencing similar situations. When a family member is addicted to drugs, it can create a stressful home life. This makes it hard to communicate effectively and clearly early on.

Alateen is a part of the Al-Anon family and is a support group for teenagers who have been affected by the drinking of someone else. Young adults have the opportunity to meet with their peers in similar situations. These programs are a safe place where no one has to feel judged. There are no fees or dues required to be a part of Alateen or Al-Anon. Studies have shown that people attend meetings with the hopes of learning how to live a better quality of life, improve their psychological health and lower their stress.

Family therapy programs or sessions can help break down any sense of guilt, stress and distrust. They are vital to helping everyone involved transform into tight, well-oiled units. It can be extremely helpful to seek out professional help and learn how to proceed with your family member. Individual family members can meet with personal counselors on a one-on-one basis. Private sessions can help them overcome their own personal issues. Therapists help provide coping skills through private therapy for families who are stressed out from the chaos of addiction. Therapists may teach you how to meditate to handle stress. They may also discuss with you the signs of addiction and what to look for. Family therapy is an important tool meant to encourage the family to find ways to help each other live without drug abuse.

Take Time for Yourself

It may seem selfish, but in order to be there for your loved ones, you need to take care of your own health and well-being. It can be exhausting to live with an addicted individual, so taking time out for yourself is important. Remember that you have no control over a loved one’s choice to use drugs, and you can’t force them into addiction treatment. Don’t put exercise, sleep or important doctor’s appointments on the back burner. Start off your day with a short walk or yoga session to help reduce stress. Exercise releases dopamine and oxytocin in the brain that can help prevent depression. If you have been struggling with sleep due to your chaotic lifestyle, that can severely affect your mood. People who receive less than four hours of sleep have a higher risk of experiencing exhaustion, stress, anger and sadness. If you are helping a family member stay successful in their recovery, you need to be mentally sound. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule will prepare your brain for a deep sleep.

Providing Financial Assistance for Treatment

Families suffer from a loved one’s substance abuse financially in many ways. This can be due to loss of employment, inability to maintain consistent employment, stealing, legal issues or spending too much money on drugs. There are still ways families can help financially through the recovery process. Many rehabilitation facilities are costly and are not covered by health insurance. You can ask for direct donations from family members and friends, or you might research other ways to finance their rehab stay. After treatment, help them look for employment and teach your loved one how to manage their finances.

Understand That the Recovery Process Is a Slow One

When a family member enters treatment for addiction, it can be an overwhelming time of your life. Once they return from treatment, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. It’s important to understand that recovery is a process. Individuals in early recovery are prone to make mistakes or relapse. They also might display a completely different personality. Don’t have high expectations and become overbearing.

Families in recovery should encourage new, positive activities. You can all benefit from participating in relaxing activities as a family unit. Such activities could be cooking, gardening, hiking, playing an instrument, volunteering with animals or meditating. Positive activities are excellent for mental health and can give you and your loved ones a sense of self-worth. When a hobby becomes repetitive, it calms the chemicals in your brain cells. Over time, the activity becomes a soothing form of meditation by slowing down the brain cells.

Relapse is part of the recovery process, but as a family, you can help reduce the risk. If your loved one does relapse, offer them encouragement. Use the tools you learned in therapy to help them recommit to their recovery. Promote a healthier lifestyle and avoid triggering situations at all costs. Addicted individuals tend to consider relapse as a failure when it’s really a sign that their treatment needs to be tweaked. The more support your recovering family member has, the greater the chance of them beating their addiction. Healing within the family is an important part of recovery. Many relationships are broken in some way by a drug abuser’s actions during their downward spiral. Family therapy should continue even after time in a rehabilitation facility has ended. You can build positive family involvement by:

  • Attending regular group therapy sessions
  • Being an active participant in the rehabilitation program of your loved one
  • Continuing to work with your loved one without judgment
  • Becoming trained in crisis intervention
  • Advocating on behalf of your loved one
  • Providing a healthy environment after rehabilitation
  • Staying in touch with your loved one’s doctors and therapists

Family participation in the recovery process benefits all involved. Your loved one who is struggling with addiction will feel a positive pressure to stay in treatment. While sober, they can hear how their addiction impacted the rest of the family. This is a great motivator to keep them on the right path for change.

Become an Educator and Advocate

Friends and other family members who may not be familiar with addiction seem to always have an opinion. Some may feel that addiction is a form of weakness or believe that is the family’s responsibility to fix the problem. If you are surrounded by an environment such as this, it can be difficult to stay positive. When you hear negative comments about addiction, speak up and share what you’ve learned through therapy. Advocates of drug-addicted individuals fight for their rights and their families. They help them with fair treatment regarding employment, housing, insurance and educational loan programs. Their goal is to fight against discrimination associated with past drug addiction. You can become an advocate and work with those in your community who are affected by drug and alcohol dependence.

This is just one of several ways you can use your experience to make a difference. You can ask your government representatives to get involved in legislation that benefits recovering individuals. There are several opportunities to volunteer at treatment centers around your area. You could host an event in your neighborhood to help increase awareness or contact local schools to speak out about drug and alcohol prevention. Encourage your loved one who has been suffering from drug addiction to speak out themselves. When they are in long-term recovery, speaking out about their addiction can help them maintain their sobriety. Their efforts can also encourage other people to get help and begin their own journey of recovery from substance abuse.

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