How Addiction Affects Family Members
It’s common knowledge that addiction is a family disease. This means that the entire family unit – parents, siblings, children, and spouses – is impacted by an individual’s substance use.
Young children are perhaps the most strongly affected by a loved one’s addiction. Early exposure to a parent or sibling’s substance use can result in feelings of anxiety and depression, while also making a child feel unsafe or neglected.
Some people may feel that they are forced into a caretaker role. When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, their entire lives revolve around obtaining and using these substances. It is common for their other responsibilities, whether personal or professional, to fall by the wayside. This means that other family members, often spouses or older children, must step in to help the addicted person function in daily life. Unfortunately, this enabling behavior means that loved ones focus on the needs of the addict above their own.
Ditch Your Inner Enabler
There exists a fine line between enabling your loved one and helping them to genuinely recover. For example, those who have a family member in treatment may be tempted to step in and continue taking care of daily tasks for them, such as cleaning, cooking, and caring for pets. They may also feel compelled to nag their loved one to attend meetings or follow-up appointments, or otherwise focus on their recovery.
It is noble to assist a person in need, but you should not enable them. Enabling is defined as removing the natural consequences of an addict’s behavior. In active addiction, this can involve loaning money or making excuses for the addict in your life. This over-functioning often continues even when substance use has ended. Luckily, it can be addressed, and the addict may begin to live more independently.
First, you should stop doing anything that allows the addict to continue living their previous lifestyle. They should be encouraged to continue their recovery efforts while also seeking to support themselves financially, for example. Create a timeline for when they should meet these milestones and stick to it. Avoid taking on their responsibilities and instead create boundaries for how you will aid them moving forward (and how you expect to be treated). If these steps are followed, enabling behavior should convert into healthier helping behavior.
Focus on Yourself
It may seem counterintuitive, but focusing on your own needs is of primary importance. It is difficult to support someone else when you are stressed or overwhelmed yourself. Remember that your family member is not your personal project, but an individual with agency and their own sense of responsibility. You can still encourage them and help out from time to time, but it is vital to emphasize your own self-care moving forward.
The best form of self-care is to spend time doing activities you enjoy. This doesn’t have to mean taking a bubble bath or doing a face mask – you can instead go dancing, take a nap, or treat yourself to a nice meal at your favorite restaurant. You can also practice restorative techniques like meditation or yoga in your spare time.
Additionally, you should begin concentrating on your physical health. The mind-body connection means that bodily well-being and mental well-being are inextricably linked. Therefore, prioritizing an exercise routine and eating nutritious meals can make a great difference in your physical and mental health.
Seek Support for Your Family
Family members of addicted loved ones have gone through a lot. They’ve experienced stressful events on a daily basis, and in addition, have become increasingly cut off from others.
Addiction is a disease of isolation, even for those in the family. This is why peer support can be hugely helpful. Finding others who share your experiences can reduce feelings of loneliness, and hearing how they have navigated the early stages of their loved ones’ sobriety can provide a roadmap to your future. Joining peer groups like Al-Anon can be hugely impactful for your own healing and recovery.
Additionally, family members should seek professional help. Many treatment centers will offer family programming to provide education about addiction, as well as living with someone in early recovery. Other facilities provide group sharing and recovery plans to family members. Lakeside-Milam also offers outpatient mental health services that may be helpful to those suffering from depression, anxiety, trauma, and other concerns.
If you have a loved one who is in active addiction or early recovery, it is vital to recognize that your needs are important – even if they are often overshadowed. At Lakeside-Milam, we offer comprehensive services and resources to assist all family members throughout the recovery process. To learn more, contact us online or by calling 866-818-9051.