Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
My Child Struggles With Mental Health And Addiction Issues. How Can I Help Him?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over half of the individuals who suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism also have a diagnosable mental health disorder, otherwise known as a co-occurring disorder. In many cases, the harmful psychological effects of addiction exacerbate symptoms of the mental health disorder, while these underlying psychiatric issues worsen the addiction. This destructive interaction is called comorbidity.
Gina’s son Connor struggles with comorbidity. Gina says her son is depressed and has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a complex mental condition associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.
Connor began self-medicating at the age of 13 with marijuana, which he calls his medicine. Now, Connor also uses crystal meth. He tells Gina that it helps to, “clear his head.” Gina says she wants to help her son but doesn’t know how. Gina has tried setting boundaries with Connor. However, he constantly crosses her boundaries.
Gina acknowledges that, when your son is mentally ill and addicted to drugs, things get complicated. She says that one moment you are talking to the person you love and know, and the next, they’re someone you don’t know. Gina says her son’s struggles have changed her family from happy-go-lucky to walking-on-eggshells. Gina also says her family avoids her son for fear that they’ll say the wrong thing and set Connor off.
Gina’s family has learned what every family going through this struggle knows. When someone you love becomes sick and they refuse to get help, there are a lot of emotions that you will experience. Stress, anger, fear, anxiety and grief are the most common. To survive, families may shut down their emotions and become tolerant of intolerable behavior. Without a support system, the family becomes exhausted, sick and fractured.
All of Connor’s necessities are paid for by his parents. The money he earns from his part-time jobs is spent on drugs. Even though Connor has stolen money from his parents and pawned his mother’s jewelry, he has never had to face harsh consequences of his actions.
Instead, Gina blames his behavior on his mental illness and drug use. She believes that Connor can’t help himself. Unfortunately, without consequences, there is little incentive for Connor to change his behaviors.
Going through the intimate experience with a loved one who is struggling with addiction is traumatic. The devastating effect that this illness has on families will create physical, emotional and psychological scars. Everyone in the home is affected.
Siblings who aren’t addicted may feel neglected. Parents don’t consciously stop thinking about their other children. It just happens over time. As the addicted person becomes sicker and the home more chaotic, families settle into crisis response mode. To keep the peace, Gina’s family has adjusted their needs to accommodate Connor’s at all times. As the old saying goes; a happy addict is an enabled one.
Love sometimes means making hard choices. The purpose of setting limits is not to punish the person you love, but to send them a clear message: using drugs and alcohol, or participating in any other unsafe behavior is not welcome in the home.
Making changes requires one to ask hard questions like:
Have You Set Boundaries?
Does your addicted family member take advantage of you? If the answer is yes, it’s time to learn how to say no.
Boundaries are what keep you healthy. They tell people how to treat you, what you’re okay with and what you are not okay with. Tolerating behaviors that feel hurtful is not healthy for either party. When you fail to set boundaries you imply your needs don’t matter. You will feel used, resentful and mistreated. Learning to communicate openly, honestly and with respect minimizes this result.
Are You An Enabler?
You need to be honest with yourself. One of the hardest question to ask yourself is this – am I enabling my loved one?
Parents of adult children struggling with comorbidity may feel they need to over function in their relationship. By setting up boundaries, you are requiring your loved one to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Boundaries also teach them to become more independent. When an adult is enabled it keeps them dependent, creating a needy and pathological relationship between the enabled and their enabler.
It’s important to recognize addicted persons are not dull or slow-witted. They are highly intelligent, intuitive, and they know how to manipulate their surroundings. As a person who suffered from addiction and anxiety, I know the true power of people like me. Whether in active addiction or in recovery, those of us who want something will find a way and the means to get it.
You don’t help your loved one by playing into their illness. When you require them to care for themselves you offer them the means to make choices that will ultimately boost their confidence and change the direction of their life.
The best plan of care for Gina and her family is to find a program that provides support for the entire family. Throughout treatment, a primary psychiatrist works with clients to determine the most effective medication regimen. Once the client becomes physically and psychologically stable, the family can be brought in for therapeutic sessions and healing can occur together.
If Connor is resistant to getting help, Gina will need to make some tough decisions to save her son’s life. Intervention and state commitment laws can save lives.
One thing’s for sure; if nothing changes, nothing will change. It’s not helpful to enable your mentally ill, addicted family member. Placating Connor is aiding in his demise. Although he may not be happy about it at first, a co-occurring disorder treatment program is his best chance at a successful long-term recovery.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance 1-888-614-2379.