10 Tips for Families Coping with Addiction
Between April 2019 and March 2020, 270,705 people in England and Wales sought treatment for addiction (1).
While this number may seem relatively low, there are undoubtedly many more who have not yet reached out for help. It is also not only the person suffering from an addiction that is affected by it.
Each person dealing with an addiction will undoubtedly have several close friends and family members worrying about them and wondering what they can do to help.
If someone you know and love is currently struggling with an addiction, it is normal for you to have questions and concerns such as:
- How to support your loved one
- How to care for yourself as you support your loved one
- Are there support groups for families of people suffering from an addiction?
There are several ways for loved ones to help a friend or family member with addiction while also taking care of their own mental health. Some helpful tips are:
1. Learn about addiction
Understanding that addiction is not caused by weakness or a lack of concern for their health or personal relationships is incredibly important. Once you understand that addiction comes from chemical changes within the brain, you will begin to feel more sympathetic towards the person and possibly let go of any anger or frustration that you may have harboured for them.
There are many ways to learn about addiction. Many websites are dedicated to addictions and addiction support. Bookstores and your local library will also be a good place to look as there are many books written by professionals in the field that can provide you with information on how to accept, understand, treat, and even prevent addiction.
2. Attend peer support groups
Peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be incredibly helpful for people suffering from addictions, but they can also be useful for the family members of people with an addiction. Having a close relationship with someone who is going through addiction can be challenging and stressful.
It can lead to doubt and distrust that can destroy relationships and family dynamics. Peer support groups are attended by family members not only to help them understand addiction but also to find support from other family members going through a similar experience.
These groups can help a family member feel less isolated and greatly improve their own psychological wellbeing.
3. Try family therapy
Family therapy can help to open up the lines of communication that may have been damaged due to addiction. Addiction can introduce secrecy, distrust, miscommunication and anger among family members and these sessions provide a safe place for everyone to speak openly about how they feel and give everyone a chance to feel heard.
Families will learn how to communicate with each other and also to have healthy boundaries. Families that once felt like they could never salvage their relationships can be completely turned around by family therapy.
4. Make healthy routines
Addiction can cause everyone to feel that they have lost control. A good way to regain some of that control is to create healthy routines as a family and stick to them. This doesn’t have to be anything too taxing, something small like agreeing to eat dinner together every night or on certain nights of the week is a great place to start.
Sitting together at the table gives everyone a chance to talk about their day and how they are feeling. It creates a better sense of family and eventually everyone will become more comfortable in each other’s company.
5. Have realistic expectations
It can be easy to get carried away when a loved one agrees to seek treatment for addiction. However, it is important to understand that the problems will not go away overnight, and the bad habits may even reappear at some point in the future.
Understanding that addiction recovery is a life-long process is important in managing your expectations. There will be times where you feel that the person is making excellent progress, but there will also be times when you feel like no progress is being made at all. This is all completely normal.
Putting too much pressure on yourself or your family member will only increase everyone’s stress levels.
6. Don’t forget about your own mental health
It’s easy to get lost in the world of addiction when you are helping a loved one recover; you’re looking at addiction websites, reading books about addiction, attending meetings, and trying to control your emotions when you are around that person. This can be incredibly overwhelming, and you could feel like the other person’s addiction has taken over your life.
This is why it is so important to look after your own mental health. You need to take some time out to do things that you enjoy. Whether that is going to the gym, taking a long walk, reading a book, gardening, or cooking – it is important that you don’t lose yourself in the process of trying to find the other person.
You will be much more useful to them and their journey towards recovery if you have taken some time to recharge your own batteries.
7. Have one-to-one therapy
Studies show that family members of people with substance use disorders suffer from higher levels of stress and depression (2). While family therapy is a great way to mend the family unit as a whole, private therapy sessions may be required to allow you to process your own emotions in a safe and non-judgemental environment.
It is normal to feel anger and disappointment towards your family member, however, it is not always helpful to show them these negative emotions. Allowing these emotions to build up will only increase your stress levels and without therapy, you might eventually allow these emotions to spill out in an outburst towards the person who is trying to recover.
Finding a private therapist to help you work through your emotions could be invaluable.
8. Get into a sleep routine
It may be difficult to shut off your mind when you are stressed and worried about a loved one, however, if you get yourself into a regular sleeping pattern, it will become easier for you to fall asleep each night and you will feel generally less stressed.
Studies show that regularly losing sleep can increase your stress levels, while healthy amounts of sleep can reduce stress levels (3).
You will be much more useful to yourself and to your loved ones if you are making sure that you are getting enough sleep at night.
9. Set a healthy example
Leading a healthy and active lifestyle will not only make you feel mentally and physically better, but you will also be setting a healthy example for your family member.
Exercise boosts certain pleasure chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, so by doing this you will also be combating your own stress levels through a tough situation.
Certain healthy foods such as fatty fish, nuts, oats, berries, and bananas can also naturally boost your mood. When your loved ones see the positive changes in your own mental and physical health, they might be inspired to follow suit.
10. Be understanding and non-judgemental without enabling
When you are dealing with a person who is suffering from an addiction, it may be tempting to use tough love as a tactic and tell them that they did this to themselves.
If you follow the previous tips, you will be learning how to control your emotions privately and in a healthier way. If someone who is struggling with addiction feels judged, they could be pushed further away from their family and closer to those enabling their addiction.
Don’t make excuses for them, don’t call in sick to work on their behalf and don’t give them money. Do let them know that you understand that addiction is an illness and that you will be there to help them through it any way you can.
Let them know that you are not judging them and that you don’t think any less of them. If they feel accepted by you, they are more likely to open up to you.