It is difficult dealing with a family member who is struggling with an addiction. It takes intentional listening, meaningful communication, avenues for change, and self-care to persevere.
Pay attention to what your loved one is saying and doing. Listen to both verbal and nonverbal cues. What are the warning signs? Those struggling with addiction will usually voice warning signs, or these can be found in their body language.
One parent I worked with said she could tell her teenage son was struggling because he was no longer himself. Signs he showed were constant restlessness, sleeping during non-traditional hours, and irritability. After doing a sweep of his room she found a stash of drugs. It wasn’t until the family confronted the matter that they knew what was actually going on.
The worst thing you can do is keep quiet. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open to your family member who has an addiction.
Asking questions and seeking answers is not being invasive, in fact it shows them you really care. Even if your loved one is not forthcoming, keep pursuing them and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Supportive questions are helpful, for example, “How are you doing?” and “Is there something we can talk about?”
Talking does not have to equate to confrontation. Remember to be kind, attentive, and honest.
This is a term that you might have heard about. But what does it really mean? Tough love is really honesty. It is how we speak the truth to what really matters. It is really the act of climbing out of denial and demonstrating to our family member that we want to help them, and not enable them.
This can mean taking away certain privileges, or not lending them money or material goods. These should not be seen as punishments, but rather protective measures. Trust your instincts. While it may seem “tough” to do, it’s really showing them that you care. A former client of mine shared how angry he was at his wife for asking him to leave, but it ended up being a catalyst for stopping his drinking. Years later he can’t stop showing how appreciative he is for what she did.
Pave a Way
Always keep the door open for your family member to change. Don’t lose hope. It may take a long time to change. But never give up hope. It does not mean you tolerate the addiction; it means you have faith that things can get better. But keep in mind it is never a guarantee.
Paving a way means providing them the opportunity to change. It’s okay to help them get into a rehabilitation program (even pay for it if you have the means), it is okay to offer to go to a 12-step meeting with them, it is okay to pave the way. This does not mean enabling, in fact you have to set good boundaries and free yourself of blame and responsibility for their addiction. You can be a help agent and yet not carry a heavy burden.
Helping a family member can be stressful. There may be days when you feel you can’t take it any longer. Please take care of yourself. Take time for relaxation. Spend time with family members who are not struggling with addictions. Keep yourself surrounded by positive people. Take up a hobby, get good exercise and eat well. Practice prayer, mediation, or mindfulness activities.
You are of no help to your family member, if you are burned out. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Remember, you are not Hercules and change doesn’t happen overnight.
I have a client who is very spiritual and each day she says a prayer for her cousin who is addicted to heroin. It helps her to know she is giving it up to her higher power, and she rests better knowing it is not in her hands.
- What can you do today that would be helpful for your family member who has an addiction?
- What do you need to let go of that might relieve you of self-guilt, pain, or frustration?
- What self-care activity can you do this week?
- Who can you reach out to who can understand and be of help and encouragement to you?