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Tips for Surviving Substance Abuse of a Loved One

Many things cross your mind when you discover a loved one has an addiction. First, you may feel a sense of disbelief - “How did this happen?” You may think that you missed the signs or experience guilt for not noticing them sooner. The initial shock is the hardest to grapple. Many clients describe feeling a “gut punch” when they realize that the person they love - their son, daughter, spouse, or family member is struggling with an addiction. One of the most difficult things for family to accept is the “why.” There is an assumption that people who encounter substance abuse are only those whose circumstances create an environment for addiction (Ex: people exposed to substance abuse by a parent as a child, those with trauma, etc). However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. People develop addictions for a variety of reasons. Some being avoidance of pain, boredom, and self-medication of symptoms related to an undiagnosed disorder such as depression or anxiety. So, I often advise clients not to focus much attention on “why” their loved one is addicted, but on helping them become aware of their treatment options.

After the initial shock is usually an attempt to problem-solve. Please, please, please… do not try to rationalize your loved one’s way out of addiction. The truth is that rationalization is probably the last thing that they are capable of doing. Many times, substance abuse is related to an emotional need rather than a cognitive response. This means that people tend to use because they “feel” the need to use. Often time, it’s a way to cope with life stressors, avoidance of pain or past trauma, an overwhelming intolerance to negative emotions, and poor emotional coping resources. Instead of problem-solving I recommend being open-minded about what your loved one may be experiencing and explore a collaborative way of achieving sobriety.

After the shock, a demand to know why, and attempts to problem-solve your loved one’s way out of addiction, you may be left with feelings of helplessness. This is a sad reality for most family members, especially parents of those in addiction. Who wouldn’t want to “fix” their child’s problems, specifically ones that could be life-threatening and dangerous? As a mother of four I couldn’t imagine the pain associated with seeing your child plagued with dependence on drugs or alcohol. However, the main issue is that your loved one must do the work. He or she must come to a place where they are motivated to develop the strategies necessary to beat their addiction. Remember that substance abuse is something that a person has to acknowledge is a problem and work to change on their own.

Lastly, don’t forget to practice self-care. Seek treatment for yourself such as a support group or individual therapy. You’re carrying a heavy load when you walk next to someone going through addiction so be sure to have others to help you alongside your own journey.

In summary, here are the tips/ things to consider when discovering someone you love has an addiction:

  • Disbelief and guilt are common emotions associated with learning that your loved one is an addict.

  • Resist the urge to need to know “why” there is an addiction.

  • Be open-minded to what your loved one is experiencing.

  • Explored collaborative treatment approaches or ways to achieve sobriety.

  • Avoid trying to problem-solve or rationalize your loved one’s way out of addiction.

  • They have to want to change and work towards sobriety.

  • Don’t neglect your own needs as you help your loved one battle substance abuse.

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