Empowering families and loved ones helps those dealing with substance use disorders find their own sense of empowerment in recovery. Millions of people nationwide and around the world are dealing with substance use disorders. Substance use negatively affects multiple aspects of a person’s life, including their physical, mental, and emotional health, their finances, and their relationships with others.
There is no doubt that a substance use disorder harms the person who uses substances. However, it also severely impacts their close family and friends. Learning effective ways to protect their health and well-being is essential in doing so. Not only does empowerment help the family, but it can also help their loved ones.
Empowering Family Members Regarding SUD
Loved ones of people dealing with a substance use disorder can often feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and helpless in the face of addiction. While groups like Al-Anon and other 12-step programs reassure family members that they did not cause their loved one’s addiction, nor can they control or cure it, many still face their own struggles even as recovery begins.
Unfortunately, the challenges and mental health issues that families face are less talked about, and families are often expected to find their own support during this difficult time so that they stay safe and protect their own mental and emotional health.
Family members need support so they are better equipped to support their loved ones as they seek treatment and follow through on recovery. While they cannot provide a cure themselves, families can have a significant impact on the recovery process of their loved ones – but this can take its toll. Tips for family members of an addict to find empowerment can help families care for their own health while supporting their loved ones.
Empowering Families for Addiction Recovery
Every family faces unique circumstances when a loved one has a substance use disorder. Some family members have grown accustomed to enabling the behavior of their loved one, others may face unfair accusations, and still others may experience abusive behavior on the part of their loved one. This variety of circumstances can make it hard for families to get the help they need.
Still, while empowerment will look different for each family, the important thing is that family members’ own health and wellness are not forgotten.
Unfortunately, amidst the chaos caused by frequent, persistent substance use, it is far too easy to lose the struggles of family members. In fact, nearly all research about the negative effects of substance use is focused on the individual suffering. While this is extremely important and should not be forgotten, it’s also essential to understand how substance use affects the individual’s closest loved ones.
If you are a family member of someone dealing with substance use, you should:
- Endeavor to understand more about substance use disorder and the situation you’re facing,
- Recognize your emotions and your needs, and
- Determine how to best support yourself and your loved one.
Educating Yourself About Substance Use Disorders
If someone in your life continues using a substance despite the negative impact it is having on their life, it’s important to educate yourself on substance use disorders. When you research and learn about substance use, you may avoid common misconceptions.
Without a thorough understanding of these disorders, you may make the mistake of believing that substance use disorder is a failing of your family member’s character, that it’s their own choice, or a product of their own stubborn behavior. While the decision to begin using substances is what began the issue, substance use disorder has made simply ceasing the use of the substance physically and mentally impossible for them.
Substance use disorder is no longer a choice that your loved one has made but is instead the result of changes in the brain, often spurred on by trauma or another mental health disorder. Educating yourself about the science behind substance disorders can help you understand how you and your family have been affected, as well. Many families blame each other and are tempted to shame the individual using substances. While it is normal to feel frustrated or even resentful, these feelings can serve to worsen your own situation. Learning about SUD can help you protect your own mental and emotional health.
Look for information from reputable sources like:
- Books about addiction chemistry in the brain,
- Online studies about the impact of drugs and substances on the brain, and
- Trustworthy articles about addiction treatment and recovery.
Connect With Families Like Yours
It’s helpful for many people to connect with peers and other families dealing with similar circumstances. It can be hard living with a friend or family member who is dealing with substance use, and most family members report feeling alone in their struggles. But if you want to help your loved one, you have to take care of your own health first.
Taking time to learn ways to cope with the stress and challenges of living together is key, and family support groups are one way to do that. There are support groups created specifically for families and loved ones of those who use substances. These groups are a supportive and safe place for you and your family to learn about the impact of substance use, the effect it can have on a person, and the effect it may be having on you.
Support groups can help you:
- Learn how to cope with substance use in your family
- Achieve a better quality of life
- Understand how to manage and lower conflict with someone who has a substance use disorder
- Find support in a community
- Improve your own health and reduce stress
- Reduce your feelings of isolation and frustration
- Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA)
- Families Anonymous
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones
- NAMI Family Support Group
- Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP)
- SMART Recovery Family & Friends
- Family Interventions
Attend Family Therapy
Families and loved ones living together can face several interpersonal difficulties when someone is struggling with substance use. An effective way to deal with these issues and communicate with each other is by attending family therapy. These programs are created to help family members understand each other and work through resentment, anger, distrust, and guilt in a guided and healthier environment. Family therapy can help loved ones understand each other and set essential boundaries.
It’s also been shown that family involvement in treatment and recovery programs can positively impact:
- The health of each individual family member,
- Overall family functioning,
- Relationship satisfaction between family members, and
- The willingness of family members to change.
Get Yourself Private Therapy
Substance use disorders in individuals have been shown to have negative emotional and behavioral effects on their families and especially their children. Family therapy is a great way to work through interpersonal family conflicts, and peer support groups can negate some negative effects. However, you and other individual members of your family could benefit from professional counseling or therapy.
If you are frequently caring for your family member, it can be exhausting. Professional help can help you cope with and understand your unique circumstances. Therapy can provide several benefits, including:
- Having a judgment-free space to talk through your feelings
- Discovering healthy coping methods
- Learning what you should and shouldn’t feel responsible for
- Learning methods to handle your loved one’s destructive habits
- Providing meditation and mindfulness techniques to handle stress
Allow the Time to Heal
If a loved one with a substance use disorder has received treatment and is beginning the recovery process, the situation can lead to high hopes in the rest of the family. Though this isn’t inherently bad, this hope and the expectation that comes with it is a high standard to reach. Recovery is not a straight road, and change will not happen immediately. It’s important to manage your expectations during the recovery process.
If you expect your loved one to break bad habits and unhealthy behaviors quickly and begin a new and completely different life in recovery, you will likely be disappointed. Relapse is a common part of the recovery journey, and even those who do not relapse will not change overnight. It’s important to build a foundation and work to prevent relapse, but your loved one experiencing a relapse does not mean that recovery is impossible.
Families must find a balance between holding their loved one accountable while respecting them and understanding that mistakes are human. Recovery is a much longer process than many families realize. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about recovery is that it is a lifelong journey, as substance use disorders cannot be cured – however, they can be managed.
Communicate With Each Other
It’s essential to keep open communication between you and the rest of your family. Whether your loved one is actively dependent on substances or is working through the process of treatment and recovery, ensure that communication remains strong between all members of the family. If communication between you and your loved ones is strenuous or impossible, consider other steps, such as family therapy or personal therapy.
Communication ensures that you and your family can express emotions, boundaries, and needs during this difficult process. Be sincere and focus on conversations that encourage progress rather than cycling through negative emotions. Remember that your goal is to be there for each other without sacrificing your own well-being.
Setting boundaries is an essential part of communication and a crucial component of recovery for both you and your loved one. You should set boundaries with your loved ones to let them know what is and what is not acceptable behavior. Ideally, a boundary is not a demand or expectation placed upon the person in recovery but instead a statement that lets them know what your reaction will be if they violate that boundary. For example, instead of telling your loved one that you expect perfection and will be angry if you discover they are drinking again, tell them you will remove your children from their presence while they are drinking.
Never compromise your safety or well-being.
Boundaries should especially address behaviors like:
- Domestic abuse or violence
- Endangering children due to risk-taking
- Financially damaging you and your family
- Any dangerous and illegal behavior
Partake in Activities
It’s important for a family to engage in fulfilling and enjoyable activities, both as a family and individually. This boosts the mental and emotional health of the entire family and allows everyone to find purpose in life beyond dealing with a substance use disorder.
Family and personal activities that can help recovering families include:
- Taking hikes
- Volunteer work
- Going for a walk
- Taking photographs
- Playing with children
- Listening to music
- Playing an instrument
- Going to a park
- Having meals as a family
These activities can provide you with a sense of purpose and enjoyment in life. As a family, these activities allow families to connect each day and can aid the work completed in therapy. These enjoyable activities can help your family feel more united in the face of SUD and other troubles.
Advocate on Behalf of Those Struggling
Negative stigma surrounding substance use disorders is incredibly common. Other people in your life may have inaccurate or judgmental views on substance use disorder and the issues associated with it. Just as many family members once did, they may believe it is the fault of the person dealing with the disorder, the fault of you and your family, a minor issue, or even a simple problem to be ignored. Even if they are not making these statements to you or your loved one directly, these assumptions and the resulting stigma can be very harmful.
When you encounter people in your life making insensitive comments or harboring inaccurate beliefs about SUD, you can help by providing the truth and a more accurate portrayal of substance use. You’ve done the research, and you have a lived experience. Conversations with others can not only help your loved one who is struggling but improve your community.
Empowering Families During Addiction Recovery
We’re excited to share that our board director, Jim Haggerty, is also the founder of A Time to Heal: Family Interventions. This revolutionary addiction recovery support service focuses on helping the whole family heal together.
They understand the fear and confusion that comes with grappling with a mental health disorder or addiction. That’s why they’re committed to providing individuals and their families with compassionate understanding, resources, and support needed to help them make sustainable progress toward their goals.
Their personalized intervention and family support services include pre-intervention consultations, intervention planning and facilitation, post-treatment support, family counseling sessions, behavioral health and SUD recovery case management, sober companion services, and more.
Their experienced team of addiction intervention specialists works with clinical providers to provide personalized care tailored to meet the specific needs of each client. They empower families to take control of their lives and provide them with the tools they need to recover, with a focus on building strong bonds between family members during times of difficulty.
Jenny Weatherall is the co-owner and CEO of Eminent SEO, a design and marketing agency founded in 2009. She has worked in the industry since 2005, when she fell in love with digital marketing… and her now husband and partner, Chris. Together they have 6 children and 3 granddaughters.
Jenny has a passion for learning and sharing what she learns. She has researched, written and published hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including: SEO, design, marketing, ethics, business management, sustainability, inclusion, behavioral health, wellness and work-life balance.