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Rules of Dealing with Addiction in the Family

Whether it is behavioral such as gambling, or substance-related, addiction is an incredibly difficult thing to deal with in a marriage and/or family. Addiction can take a person you know and love, and completely change them, ruining your connection to that person.

The first steps to getting help are well outlined. Ending an addiction is a process that can take years, but it always begins by taking the first steps to identify the problem. It’s a daunting first step, but the most common option – the professional intervention – is always wise.

The journey only really starts there. For the person struggling with their individual recovery, it’s a tiresome and hard road. There are countless treatment options, tips, residential facilities and outpatient programs. Addiction recovery is highly personal and individual, so how can the family help, if at all?

First, it is crucial to establish that family is not just helpful, but important for recovery. While there is every indication that someone can fight an addiction single-handedly, it is far from the best or most efficient path. Having a support system in recovery can make all the difference. There are multiple steps a family can take to aid their love one on the journey. Let’s go over them.

Learn About Addiction

Addiction is a terrible disease, with copious amounts of educational material on the subject. While the scientific consensus on the exact mechanisms and nature of addiction are still blurry, science has come a long way in figuring out what addiction isn’t. Knowing the difference between myth and fact in the world of addiction and addiction recovery is extremely important, especially if you want to gain some perspective on what your loved one is going through and may be thinking.

Addiction feeds on negativity, hopelessness, shame. If your loved one is continuously being made to feel hopeless and ashamed they will only feel compelled to escape the negative emotions through addiction.  Instead, show support for them in new hobbies and endeavors, by providing them with the emotional support they need to confront issues without the use of their addiction. By taking constructive action you can effectively help cut off any reason for them to cling to old coping mechanisms. Which is why it’s important to:

Be Supportive

Aside from educating yourself on the nature of psychological addiction, substance abuse, physical dependency, and the treatment options available across different kinds of addiction, your best bet towards being a helpful part of your family member’s long-term recovery is to be supportive. Addiction itself is already highly negative and volatile – feeding the flames with insults or patronization will only make things worse.

However, you don’t have to be hostile or angry to feed an addiction – there are many ways you could accidentally enable your family member. Help them instead by avoiding triggers and associations, and make it clear that you will not under any circumstances enable their behavior. Treat addiction as the serious disease that it is – if your partner or family member was suffering from a severe risk of heart disease due to diet, would you indulge their love for excessive cholesterol and trans fats? Or would you help them rigorously control their own intake and utilize exercise to reduce the risk?

Among other things, addiction also feeds on the emotional vulnerability of the person struggling with the addiction. For example, higher stress means higher chances of a relapse – especially right after residential treatment. If you decide to help your loved one get into rehab, one of the most critical supportive moments will be right afterwards, when they ease back into life. They will have the opportunity to feel accountable and responsible again – however, you do not want them to be overwhelmed by the change from therapy and rehab to real life. The best way to help is by helping your loved one find and create structure in life. Help them plan schedules, keep occupied, and find new hobbies or interests to cope with the stress and emotional issues surrounding addiction.

Take Care of Yourself

It is easy to minimize your own struggle when prioritizing the recovery and struggle of your loved one, but don’t forget that this is ultimately their own individual fight. They have to come to terms with how best to maintain sobriety, and they have to find their own reasons to avoid their addiction. You cannot stop gambling for them, or stop drinking for them.

What you can do is keep sane and keep healthy. It does not help an addict if you reduce yourself to emotional ashes focusing entirely on them – if anything, they’ll feel like a burden and a problem for the family. Do not let that happen.

Instead, find ways to cope with stress on your own time – pick up light exercising, and dig head-first into work, go out with friends, create some needed me-time, and practice other positive habits like mindfulness. Be healthy, and do your best to be happy while being honest about the situation. By finding a way to keep the family functioning normally during recovery, you can further encourage and perhaps even inspire change.

This isn’t an overnight thing, nor is it an endless journey. However, things won’t really be back to “normal”. Instead, embrace a new life – one where your family is stronger together, having worked through an extremely formidable issue and come out better for it. Take away what you will from this journey, and don’t ever let it tear you apart.

 

 


Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.