While there is no doubt that those with an addiction suffer greatly from their disease, the hurt doesn’t end with the person actively using or drinking. The sad reality is that addiction never just affects the individual using, but everyone around them as well. Families who have witnessed their loved one struggling with addiction understand this better than most.
When an addicted loved one seeks treatment, it can be a relief to the family. Finally, there is an end to the torment that addiction has caused.
However, treatment is just the beginning of a much longer journey that families play a large supporting role in- recovery. With so much pain to go around, how can a family truly ever recover from a substance addiction?
How does addiction affect the family?
When a family member suffers from the disease of addiction, their mind is solely focused on chasing their next high or getting their next drink. Unfortunately, this mindset creates anxiety, deep emotional pain and distrust among the entire family, who can’t count on their loved one to follow through on any of their promises.
The erratic behavior of a family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can take shape in many ways including:
- Job instability
- Stealing from family members
- Sudden mood changes
- Denial of drug or alcohol abuse
- Lying to family members
- Financial distress
Due to the troubling consequences of substance abuse, the surrounding family members often feel that they need to take on more responsibility to compensate for their addicted loved one. The increased responsibility can cause even more tension between family members who feel resentment for having to deal with the damage their addicted loved one left behind after their latest binge.
As the foundation of a family continues to fracture under the weight of addiction, family members begin to live their lives constantly on edge. They will have to try and keep up with the never-ending series of lies their addicted loved one will create to deny and excuse their behavior. Family members will also start to form lies of their own to try and hide what their addicted loved one is doing from anyone outside the family unit.
Unfortunately, the longer a loved one continues using, the deeper the hurt and resentment towards them grows.
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In the midst of active addiction, it can be hard to see the full depth of destruction that abusing drugs or alcohol creates within the family. However, the anxiety, resentment and lies that surround addiction can often be so great that the damage is irreparable.
Currently, there are about 23 million Americans that suffer from a substance abuse problem- but what this number fails to capture is the millions of others suffering at the hands of their family member’s addiction.
How can the family help their addicted loved one in recovery?
Living with someone in recovery is no easy task. It will require patience, understanding and most of all, unrelenting commitment to a loved one’s health and recovery. But that doesn’t make it impossible.
One of the most important things a family member can do to aid in their loved one’s recovery is understanding that there is no quick fix for addiction. Rehab, while it does provide a great starting point for recovery, is not a cure for addiction. The chance of relapse is always present and statistically speaking, is going to happen for over half of the people living in early recovery.
Additionally, the consequences of a loved one’s addiction will continue to reveal themselves even after treatment. While a family member is in the fragile beginning steps of their recovery, it’s critical that relatives provide them with the support and understanding needed to overcome challenges including:
- Finding steady employment
- Paying back financial debts
- Taking care of previously overlooked health issues
- Rebuilding healthy relationships
- Avoiding people and places that trigger relapse
These stressors are common of a life in recovery, and without the right support, can often lead to relapse. To limit the risk of relapse, reducing the stress of a loved one in recovery is imperative. This could mean finding a financial advisor, setting up regular doctor’s appointments and meeting with a career counselor in order to set the family up for the greatest chance of success in recovery.
Accept that to support a loved one’s recovery, oftentimes close family members will have to maintain a drug or alcohol free lifestyle too. This requires getting rid of all substances in the home and finding new activities for the family to do together that don’t involve alcohol or drugs.
While family members may be hesitant to change their personal lifestyle, this is the perfect opportunity to create new memories together free of the substances that caused so much pain to the family in the first place.
Recovering together as a family.
Before a family can begin healing together, it’s important for the parent, spouse, sibling or any other relative of a loved one in recovery to receive help if they need it. Just as an individual in recovery needs support from others, so do their family members.
There are many groups, such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, that provide family members with the emotional support to cope with the stress that can come with supporting a loved one in recovery. When one family member reaches out for help, it can encourage other family members to do the same. A healthy foundation begins with each individual member of the family being emotionally prepared to accept their role in recovery.
Once the individual healing has begun, recovering as a family is all about teamwork. There are plenty of resources dedicated to helping families regain trust, move past feelings of resentment and mend damaged relationships.
Family care and counseling is dedicated to putting families back together. It also provides them with the tools to understand what happened, what could happen in recovery and how to protect the new family unit they have become.
Above all, recovering from addiction as a family will take time- and that’s okay. There is no correct timeline when it comes to mending family ties after suffering through a substance addiction.
What’s important is that the time spent together is used to rebuild a strong family foundation and encourage one another in recovery. While recovery will come with its own set of challenges, it’s no doubt worth the fight.