By John Darr, LCSW, CSADC
Living with a loved one who has an addiction is a stressful and often painful experience. The effects of addiction on family members are long lasting and can be devastating. If you are living in a family where addiction is a problem, here are practical steps you can take to help yourself and encourage the addicted person to seek help.
Start with yourself.
Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Stop focusing on trying to get them to stop and pay attention to your needs. Ask yourself “Is what I am doing helping?” In most cases it is not and can even prolong the addiction. Find a support group; A-Anon and Al-Ateen are great resources for families. You can find them online or in the phone book.
Seek professional help.
Find a counselor who is experienced in working with families and addiction. Tell the addicted person that their addiction is causing problems for you and invite them to come along. They may resist at first but at least you are letting them know what you think and feel about their addiction in a healthy way. If it comes to the point that you have to do an intervention it won’t be a “surprise” to the addicted person.
Use “crisis as opportunity.”
Wait for an incident in which the addiction causes pain for the addicted person and use it as an opportunity to get them to seek help. Don’t talk to them about your concerns when they are intoxicated or high or not in any pain – this is rarely effective. Describe the behavior that caused the crisis in a non-judgmental way, point out to them that the crisis was caused by their addiction and recommend that they get help. Discuss with your counselor beforehand and have your counselor agree to see you on short notice the minute the addicted person agrees to seek help. Find out in advance what treatment resources are in the area so you are ready to call for an appointment as soon as they agree to enter treatment.
Even if the addicted loved one does not get help, the family can begin to recover by refusing to enable the addictive behavior, by giving up the desire to “control” the addicted person and by focusing on their own recovery.
Addiction often reduces family members to a life of “survival.” Family members can take positive action by focusing on their own health first, letting go of trying to control the addiction and turning crisis into opportunity. By following these steps, you can begin the journey from “surviving” to “living”!