Addiction is an insidious disease that not only affects the person suffering from the disease but their families as well. When someone you love is in the grip of an addiction, it can be difficult to cope with. When addicts begin the recovery process, it is imperative that families support the person through the process. They need you in their corner cheering them on while they fight for their lives. It can be difficult to know how to help a recovering addict while maintaining a healthy life for you and the rest of your family. Self-care for families supporting an addict in recovery is important. Just like on a plane that is experiencing problems, you need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else. You are no good to the addict if you are not healthy and taking care of yourself first.
There are some tips and coping skills that you may find helpful while you are supporting a family member with an addiction. Remember that there is no shame in putting your health and well being first. This will allow you to be a stable, supportive influence for your loved one.
Educate Yourself On Addiction
Like any other medical disorder, learning about addiction is important to understand how to help your loved one. The field of addiction treatment is always evolving. New research is always being conducted for professionals to implement better ways of treating addiction. There are medications available that may help your loved one or a new kind of therapy that shows promise. When you learn about this disease and the treatment options available, you will be better able to advocate and discuss the best course of action with your family member.
Often, family members blame themselves for their loved one’s addiction. When the disease is better understood biologically, it can help to alleviate feelings of guilt about the substance abuse. Learning about the biological process of addiction can also eliminate the need to blame their loved one’s issue on weakness or lack of character. This can help families let go of residual anger and being the healing process during recovery.
There is a myriad of online resources and books about the scientific and medical process of addiction. For those families already struggling financially who can not afford the added expense of a computer or buying books, the local library is a tremendous resource for learning about addiction.
Join Support Groups
When a family member is struggling with addiction, it is important to surround yourself with people who have gone through similar struggles with their loved ones. Talking about the experiences and issues you are struggling to handle with others who have struggled themselves can be a great help. When a family member is dealing with a substance use disorder, other family members can feel isolated and alone. Support groups alleviate this feeling.
Support groups like al-anon & Alateen can help members who want a better quality of life, lower levels of stress, and better mental health. It is helpful to hear how others are coping with their loved one’s addiction and what works for them and what does not work for them.
Attend Family Therapy
Addiction does not occur in a vacuum. Even when a loved one is in recovery and sober, the issues of the past can affect the present. It will be necessary for trust to be rebuilt between all parties. Goals and expectations for everyone in the family can be discussed during family therapy sessions. These sessions can also be a great way for everyone to talk about their feelings and not allow hurts and bad feelings to fester. Families that were once defined by their anger and mistrust of one another have been able to transform into supportive, healthy units dedicated to the goal of a happy, sober life.
Spend Time Together as a Family
Addictions and a family’s coping strategies evolve. When one member of a family has an addiction, other members may avoid spending time with them, and this becomes isolating. When a family member is in active recovery, it is important to set aside time for everyone to come together as a family. This can be as simple as making it a point for everyone to eat dinner together every night. These dinners are a way for everyone to reconnect, to talk about your day at work and school.
Have Realistic Expectations
It can be tempting to blame everything that is going wrong in a family on one person’s addiction. This can generate an unrealistic expectation that once the person is actively seeking recovery, everything will be perfect again. Addictions and their behaviors do not occur overnight. Recovery and changing old patterns of behavior take time to become healthy again. It is important to recognize that addressing the issue of addiction is the first step towards better family life, but expectations of perfection and overnight changes are not realistic. Recovery is a process full of learning and some mistakes. Life will be better, but not overnight.
Take Time for Self-care
In families with an addict, during the active addiction members tend to focus their attention and energy on the addict. However, your happiness can not solely depend on your family member’s sobriety. It is important for all family members to have activities and hobbies outside of helping the person with the addiction. These things can include anything that you find enjoyable, like playing an instrument, hiking, volunteer work, gardening, cooking, and photography. Having an activity that you participate in that you will boost your mental health and help you cope with addiction issues your loved one is experiencing.
Physical exercise is a great way to not only stay physically fit but mentally healthy as well. Focusing on a long walk a few times a week or joining a gym can occupy the mind and keep unhealthy thoughts about your loved one at bay.
Getting enough sleep is imperative. During active addictions, loved ones often stay up late at night, or come home intoxicated and wake everyone up. This leads to lack of sleep and can lower the immune system. After a while, these sleep patterns become a habit and can lead to long-term issues, even when the addict is in recovery.
Seeing a private one on one therapist can be very helpful during the recovery process. There may be things you need to talk to someone about that you do not feel comfortable doing in front of the addict or other family members. Families of addicts often experience depression and anxiety during the recovery process, and a private therapist can help with that.
Family members of addicts need to discover healthy coping strategies both during active addiction and active recovery. Self-care, relearning healthy patterns, therapy, and education are all key components for handling the stressors of an addicted family member.