Most of us are familiar with the saying that addiction is a family disease. This is true because no matter how healthy your family systems might be, when one member is struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD), it affects the entire family.
When someone you love is battling a SUD, you will find that you’re directing most of your energy towards them. While it’s understandable, becoming entangled in the loved one’s disease can be very hard on your own physical and mental wellbeing. There’s also the added challenge of avoiding dysfunctional relationship dynamics. To learn more about having a loved one in active addiction, and the impact on your life, read on.
Challenges of active addiction in the family
Families face serious challenges as they attempt to manage the repercussions caused by SUD. The constant worry about your loved one — will they return home safely each night, will they get a DUI, will they lose their job, will they be violent today, and so on — can result in serious health consequences.
Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a general sense of instability can cause you to suffer from sleep disturbances, poor eating habits, and a loss of interest in your own wellbeing and happiness. SUD also causes conflict between family members who may not agree on how to respond to the issues they are facing. This can lead to hostility and resentment, among other powerful emotions, within the family.
Maladaptive coping responses
In addition to the impact of your loved one’s SUD on your own health and wellbeing, there is also the risk of some maladaptive coping behaviors creeping in. Although you may have the best of intentions — wanting to help and support your loved one — these actions end up causing more harm than good:
- Enabling: It’s very common for family members to find ways to limit the damage the SUD is causing your loved one. However, by covering for them, lying for them, or paying their bills, you just keep them comfortable in their disease. The family member feels no pressing desire to change if all their needs are being met.
- Codependence: In relationships where one or both parties have a SUD, Codependency can often develop. This form of toxic relationship can emerge when you become fixated on controlling your loved one’s disease. Taking on the helper or savior role can stem from an unhealthy need to feel valuable, to the point of being a martyr.
- Denial: Being in denial about a loved one’s SUD can help cover up any feelings of shame, guilt, or fear temporarily. As long as you can ignore the problem, you avoid having to face it. Denial only postpones your loved one from getting the treatment they need, and allows the disease to progress.
Support resources for loved ones
If you’re attempting to help your loved one but are feeling overwhelmed, you may benefit from finding support groups for families dealing with SUD. These organizations can provide fellowship, guidance, resources, and support for individuals who have a family member struggling with SUD. Some of these include:
- Al-Anon (al-anon.org)
- Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA.org)
- SMART Recovery Family and Friends
- Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Local support groups (referrals through a mental health provider)
Other self-care actions to take to protect your own health and wellbeing include:
- Seek out the help of a therapist.
- Get regular exercise.
- Get enough quality sleep.
- Visit your friends.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Practice relaxation techniques.
- Engage in hobbies and activities you enjoy.
- Treat yourself to some self-pampering.
Until your loved one is ready to commit to getting treatment, it’s imperative that you protect your own mental health. Be there for them, but don’t sacrifice your own wellness in the meantime.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307