Approaching Addiction in the Family

The family functions as a unit. It is interconnected, with a series of different parts depending on and supporting each other. According to Catherine Ross and colleagues, it is a type of ecosystem in which overall health relies on each individual’s physical and emotional well-being. Sometimes the well-being of an individual is compromised by stress, pressure, or anxiety, and a coping method is needed. When the individual becomes reliant on one method, a dependency can be formed, as seen with drug and alcohol addiction.

With this general model of family and health in mind, it becomes necessary to understand how to approach a family member with an addiction. The care that a substance abuser can receive from their family is an important source of help and support. Talking about an issue such as alcohol and drug addiction with the abuser can be extremely difficult, however. While it could be tempting to avoid talking about a family member’s addiction, it is actually better to confront the issue.

By expressing concern or frustration, family members can establish open communication. The best place to have this conversation is in a quiet environment free of distractions. You should express your worries openly and create a caring and supportive atmosphere. Instead of outright pointing out that the substance abuser consumes too many drugs or too much alcohol, it would be more beneficial to bring up instances in which the behavior of the abuser worried you. Explain these instances and how they might indicate a problem that needs attention. Options for getting help include treatment programs, counseling, and support groups. Explaining these options and learning about them together can encourage the abuser to decide on a preferred method.

Try to avoid conflicts with the abuser. If the abuser refuses to admit that they have a problem or insists that there is no reason to be concerned, it is necessary to restate how you feel. Avoid placing blame or guilt on the abuser. Accusatory statements, usually “you” statements, should not be used. Examples of this include “You need to stop drinking so much” or “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” support statements. For example, “I feel worried about (specific behavior)” or “When you (specific behavior), I feel…” Although addiction is a personal experience, try to emphasize the “we” instead of the “I.” For example, you could say, “We are suffering an illness” instead of “I am suffering an illness.” (Rojas)

The best thing to do is to keep offering support and let the abuser know that you care about their well-being. If you are still worried about the abuser’s safety and well-being even after talking with them, try to seek assistance from a medical professional and discuss your concerns.

The recovery process can be long and having patience is essential. The abuser has to decide that THEY want to stop using drugs or alcohol before the treatment process can begin. Once the treatment begins, the patient will still need care and support throughout the entire process. Sometimes there are relapses with the addiction, but patients can learn from these events and stay supportive and focused on the recovery process.

An open and caring environment between the patient and their family is critical during recovery. Keep in mind that recovery can take time. You might see your loved one undergo certain common stages of recovery such as intake, detoxification, rehabilitation, and ongoing recovery. (Watkins) Withdrawal may occur during detox and medication may be required. During rehab, the patient will likely identify the reasons behind their addiction and will usually go through either individual, group, or family therapy.

The recovery process begins after rehab. It can be a lifelong process. Some patients find it easy to live free of drugs or alcohol and some find it very hard. The important thing to remember is that the family is a unit. Providing care and support for each other is essential for each individual’s well-being. By sharing any concerns with the abuser, the family is creating an open and supportive environment for the abuser to feel safe in. With this strong core, the substance abuser and the family can overcome the addiction together.

Rojas, Mariano. “Suffering Ailments and Addiction Problems in the Family.” Springer. Springer                Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015, 2015. Web. 19 Dec. 2016.

Ross, Catherine E., John Mirowsky, and Karen Goldsteen. “The Impact of the Family on Health:   The Decade in Review.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52.4 (1990): 1059. JSTOR                        [JSTOR]. Web. 19 Dec. 2016.

Watkins, Meredith. “The Addiction Rehab Process.” The Addiction Rehab Process. Rehabs.com                2016, n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2016.