September is National Recovery Month. 2019 Marks the 30th year of this important initiative to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover. This year’s theme is theme is Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Are Stronger. The theme acknowledges the community impact of addiction from healthcare to first responders.
It also hints at the fact that addiction doesn’t happen in isolation. When a loved one is struggling with addiction, it affects the entire family. “Alcoholism or any kind of addiction is a family disease,” says Mariann Smith, LCPC, LMFC, CADC. “Because,” Smith adds, “with every alcoholic there is usually an enabler who is supporting the addition, whether they realize it or not.”
How to recognize if a loved one might be experiencing addiction
Have you been noticing that something is going on with your loved one lately, but you’re not sure what it is or even something they need help with?
It’s hard to acknowledge a loved one may have an addiction problem, but keep in mind that addiction doesn’t discriminate and can happen to anyone, from teenagers to artists to teachers to office executives.
“Maybe they’re just in a funk,” you think. “They’re just under pressure. I’m sure they’ll snap out of it soon.” While that may be the case, Smith, who specializes in substance abuse, especially alcohol addiction — shares some common signs of addiction and steps you might take to help a loved one.
There are several tell-tale physical signs that might indicate something is going on, including:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Wearing dirty clothing
- Looking tired or rundown
- Poor hygiene
- Not eating well
- Weight loss
- Changes in mood
And behavioral changes that can spark a red flag, such as:
- Changes in work performance (going in to work late, poor performance reviews, getting fired, calling in sick or asking loved ones to call for them)
- Recent changes in their circle of friends
- Increased desire for privacy (shutting themselves in rooms or hiding their phones when they’re using it)
- Spending more money than usual
- Letting bills go unpaid
- Lying about where they are
Whatever signs they may be showing, be honest with yourself about what you’re seeing. “I think my husband is taking drugs” isn’t really a thought any partner wants to deal with, but you’re only allowing them to hurt themselves more by ignoring the signs.
Helping a Loved One: Self-Care Comes First
It’s like the flight attendants tell you before a flight takes off: place the oxygen mask over your own nose first before assisting others.
“Self-care is critical,” says Smith, who recommends programs like Al-Anon, a 12-step program, or an alternative, SMART Recovery (see resource links below) to find support and community for family members. “Get help for yourself first. Your own behavior it’s the one thing you’re going to have the most control over,” says Smith. “If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to be fully present for your loved one.”
Five Strategies to Stay Strong When Helping a Loved One Facing Addiction
Set some boundaries.
If you’re the partner of someone who’s abusing drugs or alcohol, you must remember to take care of yourself. But how do you maintain healthy boundaries? First determine which behaviors are simply unacceptable to you (e.g. missing work all the time or lying about where they’ve been—what is a firm line for you?)
Once you have clear boundaries set, articulate the consequences and follow through. For example, of a loved one drinks too much, their keys get taken away.
Detach with love.
Yes. It hurts to see your loved going through this, but you can’t let their substance abuse run your life, place all the blame on yourself or worse, try to fix them on your own. As Mariann puts it, “You have to separate the person from the behavior. People who use drugs and alcohol are not bad people. They are making poor decisions [and have learned] to cope with life’s challenges in unhealthy ways.”
Make a safety plan.
The ugly truth is that things can get violent. Some people facing drug and alcohol addiction can become emotionally and physically abusive, especially toward someone coming between them and their substance of choice. Make a plan to get yourself to a safe location, whether that means giving a friend a heads up that you may need a place to stay for the night or having a private stash of money set aside for a hotel room.
You want to be supportive but may have no idea what to do. This is where psychoeducation comes in, meaning therapy that is for you to better understand what your loved-one is experiencing.
Think of it as counseling that helps you help your loved one. With psychoeducation, you’ll have the chance to get educated on what addiction is, what groups like AA are, what recovery looks like, and so on. It’s also a great place to get answers to your questions like “How can I best support them?” and “What do I do after rehab?” tailored to your specific situation.
Most importantly, at the end of the day remember that setting boundaries and doing any or all these things doesn’t always save your loved one or your relationship. People who are addicted are still going to do what they want to do.
Where to find support.
You’re at the point where there’s no denying it. Now’s the time to get support. Marianne puts it best: “If you don’t get support, behaviors aren’t going to change. No one can do this alone.”
There are local, national, and online support groups to help with every kind of addiction under the sun. Here are a few:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): One of the most well-known support groups
- Al-Anon: A support group for family members of alcoholics
- Families Anonymous – A 12-step fellowship for family members and friends of those with drug or alcohol-related issues
- SMART Recovery: instead of a 12-step program, this four-Point Program helps individuals build motivation; manage cravings, emotions, and behaviors
- SMART Recovery Family & Friends: A support group for family members
And don’t forget about SAMHSA’s National Helpline (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). They’re a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day resource for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. They can even help refer you to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
Give us a call.
You can also give a confidential call to our intake line at The Juniper Center to see how we can help, 847.759.9110 x1 or contact us here.