Rules to Follow for a Family with a Drug Addict
If someone you love is abusing drugs or alcohol, you know how heartbreaking it is to watch them suffer, relapse, and realize they are powerless against their cravings. Addiction is a disease that doesn’t just affect the person enslaved by the substance, but everyone who loves and cares for the person struggling with the addiction. Their explosive mood swings, the deepened depression during the lows, and of course, the neglect that you feel when they are driven to get what they need when they need it. But you love them, feel for them, and just want to help them live up to the potential you know they are capable of. So you stay by their side, hold their hand during the hard times, and in some cases enabling them to use because you do not want to lose them.
What The Family Should Not Do with An Addict
Dealing with addiction is frustrating in itself and sometimes it shows. As an outsider, we think we know better because we, ourselves, are not a slave to crystal meth, heroin or whatever substance your loved one is addicted to. The cold hard truth is you are not a doctor, nor do you fully understand the addiction that they are going through. That said, there are several things not to do or rules to follow when dealing with an addict in the family.
Threatening the Family Addict: That is it! They are up at all hours of the night, throwing all their money at drugs or alcohol, partying, loaded and higher than a kite, and above all else, stealing from you to feed their addiction. They call you a buzz kill, but you are always there when they are sicker than a dog, vomiting their insides into the toilet, you comfort them when they are coming down, and you are the first person to offer to cook breakfast to help with their hangover.
But enough is enough, you are putting your foot down, like all the other times they have tried your patience for the last time. So you threaten to throw them out, cut them off, or force them to get help in the hope that they see the stress they are putting on you. As much as you mean well and you just want them to want to help themselves, threatening them only makes the problem worse and is not an eye opener like you are hoping. Unless you’re willing to hold true to that threat, a threat will do more damage. Triggers or cravings are often associated with stress. If they have had a long stressful day at work or something tragic has happened in their life, the craving to use and abuse to ease the stress is common. By threatening their stability, you are indirectly encouraging this kind of abuse.
Enabling the Family Addict: I understand that your intentions are noble, but enabling them to abuse drugs and alcohol is never the right answer. You may be a mother willing to carry the world on your shoulders for your child or a romantic interest that is so head over heels in love, you would move mountains if you had to. Giving them money, allowing them to use your car, making excuses for them, protecting them from the negative repercussions of their addiction does not open their eyes to their addiction.
Time Out: You may think putting your addict in time out is completely ridiculous because they are an adult or young adult, but the idea of time out is more important than the actual action. If an addict is engaging in behavior that is not acceptable or is destructive to themselves, remove yourself or your affection from the situation. If the person truly values your presence in their life they will realize that you are no longer around or you are not supporting their behavior.
How Can You Help A Family Member Struggling With Addiction?
To be honest, there is very little that you can do to help them get clean and sober. Substance abuse is a disease that is best left to professionals, but being a strong support system for them during rehab and afterwards is extremely important. The addict has to want to get help for themselves and no one else. Going through detox, personal and group therapy sessions, working steps, and overcoming the cravings is hard work that can only be done by the addict. That doesn’t mean there is not a place for you in their recovery, however. If anything, your support will be key when a crisis occurs. There are other things you can do to help them on their journey of recovery.
Positive Reinforcement: Rewarding appropriate behavior is by far the best method of helping them through this life changing process. Every meeting they attend or UA test passed can be positively enforced with something they enjoy. However, avoid promising them rewards ahead of time. Your goal is not to bribe them into getting clean or maintain sobriety, as they have to want to recover for themselves. If you promise them the world, once they have it they may just go back to using.
Attend Family Meetings: There are group therapy sessions that family members can attend while the recovering addict is in rehab. These meetings can help family understand addiction and more of what your loved one is going through and how best to help them.
Find Fellowships: Nobody knows the struggle a family member goes through better than fellowships. Fellowships like Nar-Anon, Al-Anon, and even teen programs for children of addicts can help those who struggle with a loved one’s addiction. Al‑Anon Family Groups has published more than 100 pieces of literature that helps friends and family recover from the effects of someone else’s alcohol consumption. These pamphlets compliment the meetings that are available and can be used to supplement the face-to-face meetings if they cannot find one to attend. Al‑Anon members share their insights and experiences with one another at meetings to help create an understanding and to provide support for those struggling with their loved one’s addiction. Dan Gallant, PH.D knows how hard it is to be a family member dealing with someone else’s addiction. Hear what he has to say about it.