How Your Loved One's Addiction Affects You
Watching a loved one deal with an addiction can make you feel helpless. But there are ways to lend a hand: The first step is learning all you can about addiction.
By Jean Rothman
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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When a friend or family member is undergoing treatment for addiction to alcohol or drugs, it's only natural to want to do everything you can to help. Many people whose loved ones are addicts ask how they can become more empathetic and understanding. Experts agree that the power to do that lies in knowledge.
“The first way you can help is by learning as much as you can about addiction,” says Ray Isackila, a licensed chemical dependency counselor in the department of psychiatry addiction recovery services at University Hospitals in Cleveland. “For example, it might be helpful to discover that addiction is considered a brain disease rather than a failure of will.”
Addiction Support: Starting Points
Isackila says there are many resources that can help you find out more about what your loved one is going through. You can look online, read books, join a support group such as Al-anon, , or , and/or get information from an Internet chat group or a telephone support service.
You can also try a more personal approach, says Isackila. “You might want to talk to people who have been through this process, or consult with a minister, rabbi, or other leader of your religious community.”
Addiction Support: Family Therapy
Motivating your loved one to get and stay in treatment by going to family therapy can be very helpful. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, having a family member involved in the addict’s treatment and follow-up increases the chance that addiction treatment will be successful.
“Any good addiction treatment program will have a component of family therapy,” says Isackila. “This may include sessions that last an hour or two every week, or you might be asked to attend an entire ‘family week.’ ”
But what you need to watch out for is assuming responsibility for your loved one’s problems.The addict needs to learn to be responsible for himself and his addiction, and his or her family needs to learn not to take on the addict’s problems. If the addict is having difficulty dealing with problems related to addiction, remind that person that he has a sponsor to talk to, and that he can go to a meeting where people are familiar with these types of situations.
That’s what Jan did. Jan is the 49-year-old wife of an alcoholic. “When my husband was having a rough time in treatment I learned to tell him ‘I love you, I care about you, but I cannot help you with this,’ ” she says. “I would suggest he talk with his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, or other recovering addicts, or his therapist, but I was careful not to take on his problems. My counselor helped me see that this was a much better way to support him than letting him dump his uncomfortable emotions on me.”
Addiction Support: Taking Care of You, Too
When someone you love is battling addiction, it’s important not to lose sight of your own well-being, says Isackila. “It’s so easy to become isolated and preoccupied with whether the addict is going to drink or use drugs. Family and friends often experience anger, fear, and frustration. You need to be sure that you don’t get pulled into a downward spiral.”
Russell Goodwin, a licensed chemical dependency counselor with IMPACT Solutions in Beachwood, Ohio, recommends talking to a professional with experience in addiction. “A counselor or therapist can help you build your own network of support,” Goodwin says.
Video: How Partners and Loved Ones Are Affected By Opiate Addiction
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