When A Loved One is Struggling with an Addiction – 6 Steps To Take

When a Loved One Has An Addiction - 6 Steps to Take

If your loved one is fighting addiction or even struggling with mental illness and an addiction, you may be wondering how you can help. You don’t want to become an enabler, as this will only make the addiction worse. Yet it’s an equally scary feeling to cut off your loved one until they get clean. So what can you do?

When a loved one has an addiction.

  1. Get educated.

    Addiction is a disease. If you found out that your loved one had an illness, you would research it. Do the same for addiction. Read about the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, the reasons why it occurs and how to be an active support person.

  2. Observe their behavior.

    Take a few days to observe the behavior of your loved one. It’s a good idea to have clear examples of the types of behavior that concern you. Share this information with other key family members and determine how to approach the situation.

  3. Talk to a professional

    Speak with a substance abuse specialist, guidance counselor, mental health expert or other helpful professional. This person can guide you in the right direction. They may recommend staging an intervention. They can also help with developing a safety plan if you feel that your loved one could be a threat.

  4. Line up a treatment center.

    Depending on the situation, your loved one may need professional intervention to change their ways. Before staging an intervention, have a treatment center picked out. You don’t want any delays between the intervention and treatment, otherwise your loved one may try to manipulate you or change their mind. Give them an ultimatum: It’s treatment or being cut off from the family, for example. Make sure you are specific and clear with the ultimatum. I.e.: If they don’t accept treatment then they are going to be cut off financially, from seeing or spending time with family members or their children, no more “crashing” or housing at family members’ homes, etc.

  5. Attend family support groups.

    Just as your loved one will require therapy to understand their harmful behaviors and negative patterns of thinking, you need therapy to deal with your emotions. Addiction takes a toll on the family unit, so deal with your feelings head on. Find support groups in your area through Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.

  6. Be active in their recovery.

    Continue to be an active support person in your loved one’s recovery. You can support them without supporting their habit. Attend family therapy sessions, communicate with their doctors and counselors and support their aftercare plan when they return from treatment.

It’s important to remember that you cannot change your loved one’s behavior. The only behavior you can change is your own.

Learn more about what to do if your loved one is suffering from both a mental illness and addiction by reading this blog.

Please take the time and share this with anyone you know who has a loved one who is struggling with addiction. Now is the time – Please don’t wait.


About the Author

This post first appeared on the website of The Dunes East Hampton Rehab Center and is reprinted here with full permission. The author wishes to remain anonymous.

7 Comments

Mary

Hi what about hearing from a person who has an addiction? I agree with a lot that’s already been said but am interested in what a person with an addiction has to say.

Reply
Jacques

I don’t know what to say, especially when they have been caught up for years. If they don’t want to change, its tough.

Reply
Martha-M

My 24 yr old grandson had been clean for years; has started back using; making unwise choices. I go to Naranon group. My 11yr old grandaughter, his sister asks for help understanding. Our family doesn’t talk about this together. I ask my daughter questions; feels she is upset with me. I’ve reached out to my addict; sometimes he comments but we don’t see each other. I don’t see their family much. They are busy. Time passes; it feels we are further apart.

Reply
Barbara Couturier

They accused me of being addicted to my Oxy or Percocet.
I stopped taking them.
I took Ambien, my Daughter’s Husband worked nights and would come home and play with his dogs in the kitchen above my head.
Their autistic boy sweet sweet Memphis, would have bad dreams, and sit at the bottom of the stairs and cry.

I heard him they did not.

The kids had no bedtimes, no rituals, no books, no bedtime stories. Just horrible tv games about killing that the parents played.

When they ask me to leave “I want you out of here yesterday” my bank account was $57,164.66 lighter.
That was four years ago, I have not been allowed to see my Grandkids since

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Barbara this is such an awful thing for you to go through. I know how much you are struggling, and it’s completely understandable given the loss of the relationship with your daughter and your grandchildren. I imagine you would be such a loving and committed grandmother. I hope that one day your grandchildren are able to know how much you love and miss them. They deserve that, and so do you.

Reply
Meejon

So many questions answered,thank you,I dont even know how I got to this sight.

Reply

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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