By Haley Kennedy, Recovery Coach – 6.10.2022 –
Substance use affects everyone — not just the person living/struggling with it…
Often, family members are left feeling helpless; there are so many emotional webs to untangle —sadness, shame, fear and anger—all while trying desperately to help a loved one stay alive and find recovery. They can often lose sight of their own lives and wellbeing. Or they may struggle with deep remorse, feeling somehow responsible for their loved one’s addiction: “Maybe if I’d done things differently, they wouldn’t [fill in the blank].” But addiction isn’t a parent’s fault. It’s not a sibling’s fault. It’s no one’s fault.
Can a parent control their child or guarantee they recover? No. Can a sibling strong-arm their brother or sister into treatment and recovery? No. But family members can find peace, hope and self-worth completely independent of a loved one’s addiction. Here’s a few tips on how to support YOURSELF if you are dealing with a loved ones’ substance use.
- Educate yourself.
- Learn about addiction. Addiction is a disease; it is not a moral failing, nor is it a lack of willpower. Without this understanding, you may blame your loved one or yourself for their illness or feel shame and guilt that can interfere with getting help for yourself.
- Learn about drugs. If your loved one is addicted to:
- Cannabis – There is little chance of overdose except for edibles. Long term heavy use can cause a medical condition with severe vomiting [Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS)] which can be relieved by hot showers. It is far safer than synthetic marijuana like K2 and Spice.
- Opioids – You should have Narcan [naloxone] and be trained on how to use it.
- Alcohol or benzodiazepines – Stopping cold turkey can be fatal.
- Learn about recovery. There are many roads to recovery. Your loved one will have to figure out which path is best for them. Episodes of recurrence are not a sign that recovery has failed. Recovery is the process of learning how to live with a chronic illness. Your loved one is learning.
- Learn about treatment. Just likes the roads, there are many different types of substance use disorder treatment spanning from inpatient to medication, to holistic. [If you have questions regarding treatment options, we are happy to help!]
- Learn about stigma. We change the perspective and narrative surrounding substance use disorder first at home, with our loved ones. Then as we educated others, we change society’s views about addiction.
- Get Help.
Even if your loved one doesn’t want help, helping yourself can help them. Just like on an airplane, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first.
- Visit your doctor and discuss your own mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.
- Relax – yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, sleep, listen to music, spend time with your pet.
- Maintain your own social life: friendships, date night, hobbies.
- Maintain healthy diet and exercise.
- Limit your own substance use.
- 3. Join a Family Support Group.
12 step meetings exist to support your loved one, and they utilize a peer-support method that benefits everyone in the room. Family Support Groups do the same; because there are many other families that are affected by this too, and no one needs to suffer in silence or alone.
- Al-Anon Family Groups: Al-Anon teaches family members the 3 Cs: “you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it.” They are worldwide, and similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and are based on the 12 Steps. Meetings are led by persons with lived experience, not by professional clinicians. https://al-anon.org/
- Nar-Anon Family Groups: Same idea as Al-Anon, excepts the focus is on addiction to any drug, including alcohol. https://www.nar-anon.org/
- SMART Recovery for Friends and Family: These meetings — available both in-person and online — provide concerned families the tools they need to effectively support their loved one, without supporting the addictive behavior. These tools also help Family & Friends better cope with their loved one’s situation and regain their peace of mind. https://www.smartrecovery.org/family/
- Be hopeful.
- Most people recover.
- Long term recovery takes time and can includes slips.
- Slips do not mean treatment has failed or your loved one has failed.
- Never give up
- Behind/underneath the substance use, your loved one is still in there.
- Recovery could be just around the corner.
- Even those who have struggled for decades can recover.