When a loved one is struggling with an addiction, it can feel like you are watching them drown. You’re trying so hard to help them that you begin to feel as if you’re drowning too.
Addiction changes people.
It quite literally changes their brain chemistry, it alters their behaviours, it changes who they are as people – and over time, substance abuse can turn your best friend or spouse into someone you don’t even recognize. This can be extremely traumatic and emotional for the people who are trying to help them.
If you are the family member, friend or spouse of an addict, helping yourself cope with the emotional toll this is taking is just as important as getting them the help they need. Addiction can cause chaos and destroy relationships, and yet a sense of community and love is sometimes what a person struggling with an addiction needs the most.
When someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse problem, supporting them through withdrawal, rehabilitation, relapse and the negative consequences of their drug use on their physical and mental health can feel draining. Being supportive of a friend or family member who is a struggling addict requires patience, tough love, faith and a lot of self-care.
After all, you can’t fill anyone’s cup if yours is empty.
What Help Is Available For Those Supporting An Addicted Loved One?
Most people aren’t equipped to help someone with an addiction.
When it comes to helping an addict, the more you know about mental health and the effects of long-term drug abuse the better. But even people who are qualified in this field, and who work in rehab centres, will tell you that it affects you differently when it’s your own spouse, family member or friend who is addicted.
While you may be scrolling through Google trying to find help for the loved one in your life who is struggling with an alcohol or drug problem, you should also consider the many different programs that are available to help family members and friends of addicts.
FARCanada: Help For The Family Of An Addicted Loved One
FARCanada (Families for Addiction Recovery) is a Canadian charity founded by parents of children who have struggled with addiction. The goal of this charity is to provide support to families of addicts.
FARCanada offers parent-to-parent support groups, and they organize educational community groups to inform the general public about addiction, health laws and drug policies in Canada.
The parent-to-parent support hotline is totally free and done by phone, so it’s completely private. Parents who have been in the same position you are currently in lend an understanding ear, listen to your story and provide insight and resources to help you cope.
There are also parent support groups that meet in safe spaces to discuss strategies for parenting a child with an addiction, share information and resources and most importantly, provide support in difficult times.
For more information on FARCanada, click here.
Consider Attending an AA/NA Meeting WITH Your Loved One
AA and NA meetings are typically open to the general public, meaning you have the chance to attend one of these meetings with the person in your life who is struggling to overcome an addiction if they are comfortable with it.
Attending one of these meetings can educate you about what your loved one is struggling with and help build a closer relationship between you and the addict in your life. Al-Anon is a program for alcoholics that is actually designed for family members and friends of those struggling with alcohol abuse.
These meetings allow you to meet other family members and friends of addicts who are struggling with the same things you are, and ultimately enables you to build relationships and friendships with people who understand what you’re going through.
Part of taking care of yourself could (and should) include seeing a therapist or counselor and talking about how loving and supporting the addict in your life affects you.
Doing this can help you overcome complicated and emotional feelings you have towards the addicted loved one in your life, and help you build healthy coping mechanisms for yourself. Another important part of seeking therapy is to avoid allowing resentment and pain to grow in your life, and to talk about your feelings throughout the entire addiction recovery process that you’re supporting your family member or friend through.
Supporting someone through the often ugly, dangerous and painful sides of addiction can take a toll on your mental and physical health – and seeking therapy to talk through these emotions can be extremely helpful.
Family Counseling Sessions
If your loved one is willing and able, attending family counseling can help break down barriers and build a strong line of communication between you and the person who is struggling with addiction.
Family counseling can also offer you insight into your loved one’s mind, often allowing you to see things from their perspective. Likewise, the person in your life who is struggling with addiction may start to see (through counseling) how much their addiction has negatively affected your life. This kind of knowledge and understanding of each other’s struggles can help you build a solid foundation on which you can both work together to combat addiction.
Family therapy sessions are often tense, and people sometimes lose patience with the process, because family history, drama, and intense emotions broach the surface and can be difficult to deal with.
It can be tempting to skip family therapy, and it can be very difficult to convince the loved one in your life to attend these sessions with you, but this is often essential to the health and wellbeing of everyone involved. Meetings should be kept on a regular basis and you should go into them with an open heart and mind.
SMART Recovery (and CRAFT Therapy) For Family & Friends
SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. CRAFT Therapy stands for Community Reinforcement & Family Training therapy. Meetings for these therapies are available in person and online and are targeted towards the friends and family of loved ones struggling with addiction.
Their website is equipped with a “find a meeting” tool where you can easily search for a friend and family meeting near you.
SMART Recovery’s Family & Friends programs offer you print materials, access to local resources, and meetings that follow a two-prong approach. You get the tools and support for the wellbeing of the family (or friend) unit, and you get the tools and support for providing effective support to the loved one in your life who is struggling with addiction.
To learn more about SMART/CRAFT meetings for family and friends, click here.
Online Organizations or Support Groups
The internet is a wonderful place to connect with people who are struggling in the exact same ways you are. Not only that, but organizations that got their start as online support groups (like Shatterproof, which originally started as a Facebook group) are actually dedicating time and resources to making real change in the world of addiction.
Being a part of something bigger than yourself and dedicating time and energy into raising awareness, ending the stigma and spreading knowledge about addiction can help you help others who are struggling.
Leading By Example: Building a Healthy Life
Building a healthy lifestyle that includes therapy, counseling, support groups, and positive coping strategies can not only help you struggle with the emotional toll of loving someone with an addiction, but it can also serve as a reminder and motivation for the addicted people in your life.
Taking care of yourself, in many ways, is one of the most important parts of caring for and supporting the addict in your life.
Photo credit: Marian May. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.