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Supporting the Families and Friends of Addicts
By Jamie Becker
Most people have been touched by substance abuse in some way. When your child, spouse or loved one is struggling with addiction, it can take a tremendous emotional toll on your family. Friends and family members of alcoholics and addicts often feel confused, angry, frustrated and helpless.
Observed every September, National Recovery Month is a time to educate Americans about treatment and mental health services that can help those with mental and/or substance use disorders to live a healthy and rewarding life.
“In the last several years, an increase in prescription drug and heroin abuse has brought increased attention to addiction in the United States,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “This coverage has helped lessen some of the stigma and judgment that’s often associated with addiction, leaving many people more willing to seek the help they need.”
But what about the family and friends of addicts? What kind of support is in place for them? The LHSFNA strongly recommends impacted family and friends seek support from an appropriate support group and consider seeking additional emotional and mental health support through a member assistance program (MAP) or by utilizing benefits that may be available through a LIUNA health and welfare plan.
- Take care of yourself. Living with an addict can be time consuming and emotionally draining, so make time for yourself away from the addict. This gives you time to recover and focus on the positives in your life.
- Protect your money and finances. Many addicts use money needed for bills, groceries and other necessities to feed their habit. Keep a separate checking and savings account only you have access to.
- Avoid self-blame. You can’t control another person’s decisions and you can’t force them to change.
- Do not work harder than the person you’re trying to help. Being a caretaker is not good for you or the addict. The best approach is not to do things for the addict, but instead to be an example of balance and self-care.
- Refuse to accept abusive behavior. Addiction is not an excuse for physical violence or emotional abuse. If your loved one is dangerous to live with, get out and stay out until sobriety is achieved for a marked amount of time.
- Ask for help. Talk to a professional mental health specialist or go to a support group such as Al-Anon.
- If possible, try not to be negative when dealing with the addict. That may increase their feelings of guilt and push them further into using.
- Remember the three Cs of dealing with an addict. You didn’t Cause the addiction, you can't Control the addiction and you can't Cure the addiction.
What Not to Do When Dealing with an Addict:
- Don’t enable the addict by covering up or making excuses for their behavior or shielding them from its negative consequences. Make it clear you are no longer willing to be part of your loved one’s addiction.
- Don’t attempt to punish, threaten, bribe or preach.
- Don’t try to be a martyr. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to use drugs.
- Don’t take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
- Don’t hide or throw out drugs.
- Don’t argue or discuss things with the person when they are high. It won’t get you anywhere.
- Don’t take drugs with the drug abuser.
When it comes to dealing with a loved one’s addiction, remember that you are not alone. Many different groups exist that can provide support and connect you with others experiencing similar situations.
Al-Anon offers a recovery program for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic acknowledges the problem or seeks help. At Al-Anon Family Group meetings, friends and family members of problem drinkers share their experiences and learn how to apply the principles of the Al-Anon program to their situation.
A sub-group of Al-Anon, Alateen provides emotional support and understanding for younger friends and family members of problem drinkers.
Nar-Anon is the branch of Narcotics Anonymous that helps family members and friends of drug addicts. While it is a sister organization of Narcotics Anonymous (NA), it is a separate entity.
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA): www.adultchildren.org
ACOA provides a forum to individuals seeking to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. The term “adult child” is used to describe adults who grew up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes and who exhibit identifiable traits that reveal past abuse or neglect.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Associate Director of Health Promotion.]