Addiction is a family illness. Sadly, it is often the loved ones of the addict who suffer the most. It seems illogical, that a drug someone isn’t themselves taking could have such a detrimental effect on their own mental and physical wellbeing. Yet speak to those who have witnessed their loved one’s addiction unfold, and they will tell you that addiction takes no prisoners and impacts everyone around the addict. It is like a tornado destroying everything in its path. Its effects can often be more detrimental for family members than for the addict themselves. Whilst in the depths of active addiction, during a relapse or an overdose, the addict is numb and unconscious to what they are feeling and experiencing. The family bearing witness and most often going to great lengths to treat their loved one’s condition, whilst in shock and very sober. They will watch someone they love become someone they don’t even know, or worse, someone they fear.
If we think of a rock being thrown into a pond, we know that as it hits the water it creates a ripple effect. The same can be said of addiction. As the rock of addiction hits the pond water, the resulting waves are the destruction that is caused by the addict’s unhealthy and harmful behaviours. Living with addiction in your family is like living on a battlefield, never knowing what will happen next, what bomb will explode or who will get hurt in the process.
If you, or someone close to you, is feeling the effects of addiction in the family, read the following strategies to help from our alcohol and drug rehab counsellors.
1. Don’t blame yourself
Families of addicts often think they are at fault, that they could have done something to prevent their loved one’s addiction. This is not true. Addicts suffer from a disease that centres inside their brain. You did not cause it, you cannot control it and you cannot cure it. It is a huge step to support someone suffering from an addiction, and whilst you can do all you can to help, ultimately the responsibility to get better lies with the addict themselves.
2. Talk about it.
There is a lot of shame and stigma against addiction in today’s world. Often family members will simply pretend it isn’t happening and prefer to sweep the issue under the rug, adopting a ‘show must go on’ mentality. This won’t help matters at all. Remember, addiction thrives on secrecy, so talking about the issue and shining a light on it is crucial and can be the first step towards recovery. Try to move away from the shame and guilt you feel, get vulnerable, and talk honestly and openly with the addict about what is going on. Sometimes it is the most difficult conversations that will create the most growth and the ability to move forward.
If you are struggling to start the conversation, learn more about a drug and alcohol intervention with the help of our private rehab, The Providence Projects.
3. Set boundaries
Addicts are masters of manipulation, lying, cheating, and getting their own way. You need to make it clear to the addict what behaviour is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated and stick to those boundaries. These will protect you as well as the addict and help to move you away from enabling the addict, or from a state of co-dependency.
4. Make yourself a priority.
The psychological impact of watching someone you love destroy themselves with drugs and alcohol is bound to have a negative effect on all family members. Anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts can all result, and as such, self-care needs to be a priority. Take time out for yourself to do things you enjoy, such as reading, exercise or just going for a coffee with friends. It is important to take time for yourself away from the addict and the problem of addiction as it is such an all-consuming disease. It may also be helpful to seek out a trained substance abuse counsellor or therapist who can support you in what you are going through.
5. Find support groups
Trying to support an addict in getting help is an incredibly difficult thing to do, and it is even harder doing it alone. There are many support groups out there which can offer advice, such as Al Anon. People find these groups very cathartic, as they provide you with an outlet to share your feelings and experiences, and can help you to see that there are other families going through the same thing. The friendship, support and identification you will get can make it easier to cope with the reality of your loved one’s addiction.
6. Get your loved one help
To stand the best chance of long-term recovery, your loved one will most likely need clinical help, in the form of a residential stay at a private rehab clinic. Whilst it seems like a daunting step, if you do your research and educate yourself as much as possible, you can find the rehabilitation programme most suitable to your needs. Drug and alcohol rehab centres often offer family therapy, which can be very helpful in addressing addiction as a family disease, and challenging the unhelpful dynamics and behaviours that have come into play.
Finally, where possible, try to separate the ‘addiction’ (the untreated behaviour), from your loved one themselves. They are not the creature that their addiction turns them into, however difficult this may be to believe. They are very ill, but with the right support and professional help, the addict can recover, and their family can recover too.
If you would like more information about drug or alcohol addiction, or are considering a private drug rehab or alcoholism treatment programme for yourself, a family member or a friend, please contact one of our experienced team of counsellors at The Providence Projects, on 0800 955 0945.