Family Member Support Guide
Drug addiction is a disease that affects the entire family. When one member of a family suffers, oftentimes the entire family suffers. In some instances, loved ones who struggle with addiction may begin to engage in covert or otherwise questionable behaviors in order to continue their drug or alcohol abuse.
These behaviors may include:
- Manipulating family members.
Statistics show that the children of individuals who suffer from addiction are more likely to suffer from behavioral problems and potential genetic predispositions that render them more vulnerable to developing addictions as well.1
Over time, the destructive influence of drug use within a family can cause family members to feel helpless. The truth is, however, that families are not helpless when it comes to protecting themselves and their loved one who is struggling with addiction.
If you find yourself in a family with at least one member with addiction issues, one of the first steps you can take is to educate yourself about the processes that play into addiction development, and ways that it can be treated.
Resources are available in your community that can teach you about addiction and human behavior. A couple of well-known community support groups include:
If you are not sure how to pinpoint treatment resources to help through this difficult time, call 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers?, and we would be happy to provide information about appropriate substance abuse treatment options.
Once you have learned how addiction can take control – often following the pattern of other chronic illnesses – you may be in a better position to understand what your family member is going through.
Certainly, the information you learn will not excuse your loved one’s behavior. And you should refrain from using your education as a tool to enable his or her drug addiction.
However, you may find that you can harbor more compassion and less resentment toward your family member when you know more about addiction’s stronghold and ability to affect your loved one’s behavior.
Plan an Intervention
In the past, families and friends of people suffering from addiction were often told that their loved ones had to make the decision to get help on their own.
These families would feel forced to sit back and throw their hands in the air – praying that their son, daughter, parent or sibling would “hit rock bottom” before it was too late.
In more recent years, however, the process of the intervention has proven beneficial for some families.
What Is an Intervention?
An intervention is a process by which family and friends deliberately confront individuals struggling with addiction about the damage their addiction is doing to both them and the people they love.2
With the help of a professional interventionist, individuals may begin to see what their addiction is costing them – in terms of relationships, finances, and personal health.
Interventions serve to introduce “rock bottom” to your loved one. Rather than waiting around and risking serious injury or death as a result of your loved one’s addiction, interventions help your family take back some control. They confront individuals with the dangers of addiction while also offering solutions to get out of addiction.
Successful Intervention May Lead to Treatment
If successful, the intervention could prompt your family member to immediately enter a detox facility – followed by a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. In the event of such a successful outcome, it is important to have already done the research to find a facility that is ready to accept your loved one into treatment immediately.
Your family’s involvement in the drug treatment process does not end once your loved one has agreed to seek treatment, however.
What Is the Family’s Role in Rehab?
Families can play a superior role addiction rehabilitation by providing the loved one with a supportive and safe harbor.
There are two major types of rehab structures for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. Family support for the recovering individual may look a bit different, depending on the type of rehab structure chosen.
These two main rehab structures include:
- Outpatient rehab. Patients in outpatient rehab undergo addiction treatment while living at home. They make regular visits to a rehab program facility for some combination of both therapy and pharmacological treatment.
- Inpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab programs are residential treatment facilities where patients stay overnight for 24/7 monitoring by staff personnel. Inpatient programs may either occur in hospital settings or in non-hospital settings. Hospital settings offer around-the-clock access to healthcare professionals and medical resources – while non-hospital settings often offer intermittent monitoring from visiting healthcare professionals. Inpatient rehab is better for those with severe or long-standing addictions, and better for those who also struggle with coexisting medical or mental health conditions.
Upscale rehab facilities do tend to cost more than standard rehab facilities. These rehabs offer 24/7 residential addiction treatment with the added benefit of high-end, resort-like amenities designed to maximize comfort for the recovering individual. Executive programs additionally offer special resources and program structures that let busy working professionals maintain an active involvement at their workplace throughout recovery.
Outpatient Rehab – How to Support Your Loved One
If your loved one is enrolled in an outpatient program, he or she may need a safe place to stay during treatment — away from the reminders and temptations of drug and alcohol abuse.
Refrain from Alcohol, Yourself
If the recovering individual has already been living at home prior to treatment, the family must be willing to make changes to their lifestyle. If the family members are not addicted to alcohol – but simply consume alcohol responsibly – then they can help their loved one by refraining completely from any alcohol consumption. At the very least, family members should refrain from drinking alcohol in front of the recovering individual.
Offer Alternative Housing If Other Addictions Are Present at Home
If other members of your household also suffer from alcohol or drug addiction but have not yet made the effort to seek recovery and treatment, it may be best that the recovering individual in your family resides elsewhere during treatment.
Another aspect of family involvement in outpatient treatment includes providing constant encouragement to the recovering individual. Offering a compassionate shoulder to cry on, for instance, can go a long way to helping your loved one overcome the cravings associated with withdrawal and recovery.
Many times, those in recovery who feel alone will succumb to their cravings and go against their own desires to get well. This is due to the changes that occur in the brain as the body becomes dependent on a substance. Addiction can even lead individuals to continue their use of drugs and alcohol even in the face of negative consequences.3
By providing emotional support, family members can help those struggling with addiction to recover by helping alleviate those feelings of aloneness.
Inpatient Rehab – How to Support Your Loved One
If the recovering individual has decided on inpatient treatment after consulting with his or her healthcare provider, the family can still maintain an active role in the recovery process.
Below are several ways you might consider supporting your family member as he or she undergoes inpatient treatment:
- Write letters of encouragement to your recovering family member.
- Make yourself available for family counseling sessions.
- Refrain from judging your family member – or from communicating condemnation to him or her.
- Visit your family member when it is permissible at the rehab facility.
As recovering individuals regain their ability to think clearly, they may be humiliated and embarrassed by their behavior. By showing support throughout the recovery process, families can help to restore the self-confidence that the recovering family member has been without for some time.
Tips and Tricks for Helping your Family Through the Rehab Process
The rehabilitation process involves addressing the components of both physical and psychological addiction. The initial detox phase is when the body rids itself of any physical traces of the substance that was abused. The behavioral and emotional components of addiction are addressed during the remainder of rehab – when therapy and counseling are often heavily used alongside occasional pharmacological treatment.
You can play a role in helping your family member through both phases of the rehabilitation process.
Support During Detox
During the first stage of the recovery process – the detox phase – your recovering family member may experience a range of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Physical illness.
- Excessive lethargy.
- Changes in appetite.
A few tips for helping your family member get through these initial hours of severe discomfort can be helpful:
- Play games. Keeping your loved one’s mind off of what his or her body is going through can help the time pass more quickly.
- Read aloud. Find a favorite childhood book or a new bestseller, and pass the time by escaping into a healthy fantasy.
- Try not to rehash old hurts. This is not the time to discuss why your family member may have chosen to use drugs for the first time. Conversations surrounding the addiction can lead to blame and undermine the recovery process in its earliest stages. Instead, keep the conversation on a more pleasant note. Talk about new future possibilities that will be available once your family member has successfully completed treatment.
- Try to stay awake. If your loved one is suffering from insomnia, try to remain awake with him or her. This will not only help the long hours pass, but it will also minimize the temptation they may have to sneak away and satisfy any cravings for drugs or alcohol.
Support After Detox
After your loved one’s detox phase has ended, one of the most important tips to help your family make it through the recovery process is to keep a positive attitude.
Having a positive attitude will not always be easy, as the recovery process is a difficult one. If needed, you can arrange to have your family members visit with a counselor or therapist one-on-one to relieve some of the stress they may each be feeling.
In cases where your recovering family member is a teen, sessions of multidimensional family therapy have proven to be beneficial to all members of the family – as they help to develop4:
- Improved parenting skills.
- Improved relationship skills.
- Improved family management.
Frequently Asked Questions About Addiction
A few of the more common questions family members often want answers to include the following:
- What is addiction?
- Can’t my family member stop using drugs if he or she really wants to?
- Is there a cure for drug addiction?
1. What is addiction?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic disease.3 It is a relapsing brain disease with specific characteristics – including a compulsion to continue using drugs no matter how bad the consequences are.
Addicted individuals may:
- Suffer from physical illness.
- Suffer from mental depression.
- Incur legal problems.
- Lose their job.
- Fail in school.
None of these consequences matter to addicted individuals while they are in the throes of the disease, however. Families can play an important role in helping their loved one understand the power of addiction over their minds and bodies.
2. Can’t my family member stop using drugs if he or she really wants to?
This is a tricky question.
One of the first requirements for successful drug addiction recovery treatment is the user’s desire to get his or her life back. However, the desire to stop using drugs is not always enough.
Addiction Changes the Brain
As an individual becomes addicted to drugs, the brain goes through a number of physical, emotional and psychological changes. These changes can:
- Disturb one’s ability to make good decisions.
- Interrupt critical thinking.
- Worsen one’s ability to control his or her own behavior.
Addiction Changes the Body
In addition to the changes in the brain, the body can experience terrible physical effects from the withdrawal of certain kinds of drugs. Recovering individuals may experience extreme physical pain in the joints and muscle tissue when drugs are suddenly stopped. As much as these individuals may want to achieve sobriety, they may find themselves unable to stop using on their own – simply since they feel the need to relieve the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms “one last time.”
3. Is there a cure for drug addiction?
Addiction is often a chronic process, much like diabetes – unfortunately, there is no easy “cure.”
It is possible, however, to manage addiction symptoms through a comprehensive treatment plan so that the addiction no longer controls one’s life on a daily basis. The treatment process may take some time, and the recovery process is often lifelong.
Some recovering individuals report that after a while, the cravings lessen and aren’t as noticeable. Others say that they continue to fight cravings on a daily basis – even years after they’ve stopped using drugs. Each individual is different, and each recovery process is unique.
There is hope for the addicted individual, however. With the proper professional and family support in place, your loved one can indeed recover from an addiction.
Continuing Family Support After Rehab
Once your family member has completed the rehabilitation treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction, he or she will need ongoing support to remain successful.
When Your Loved One Relapses
One important aspect to remember – especially in the early days of recovery – is that relapse is often a regular aspect of addiction. Not every recovering individual will relapse, but many will. Relapse does not mean that the treatment program was unsuccessful.
Relapse does require, however, that you and your family pick the pieces up again, keep moving forward, and keep spirits high. Maintain a self-encouraging state of mind and understand that a relapse does not mean failure.
Play Your Part in Minimizing Temptations
Be sure to help your recovering family member stay away from harmful influences by keeping drugs and alcohol out of the home as much as possible — including prescription medications that have been legally obtained for other members of the family. If these medications are required, keep them locked in a safe – away from your family member who may be tempted to use them.
Learn More and Find a Rehab Facility Near You
Remember that no matter how bad things may have become, you and your family still have the potential for a bright future full of possibilities.
If you have any questions about addiction, about your family’s role in the recovery process, or about finding a rehab facility near you, call us today at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers?. We are here and happy to help you when you are ready.
- Real teens ask: is addiction hereditary? (2011). National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens.
- What is an intervention? Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
- The science of drug abuse and addiction: the basics. (2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Sherman, C. (2010). Multidimensional family therapy for adolescent drug abuse offers broad, lasting benefits. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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