Supporting the Family Members of Someone Struggling with Addiction

Substance abuse is a chronic disease that has a deep impact on the whole family. The family is a system; changing one part of a system influences all other parts of the system. When one family member struggles with addiction, the whole family bears the full burden. We mostly focus on the person struggling with substance misuse, but their family members need support too. Here’s how to recognize common signs that someone may have a family member fighting addiction and how to approach them to help.

Signs That a Person May Have a Family Member with Addiction

Sometimes there are signs, sometimes there are not. Common indicators that someone may have a loved one battling substance misuse include:

  • Reduced productivity
  • Distracted (focus is pulled to managing the situation with their loved one)
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Missing work and family obligations
  • Changes in attitude/interactions

How to Approach Someone About Their Family Member’s Substance Misuse

Be aware they may be defensive that you’re judging them or their loved one for struggling with substance misuse, but generally speaking family members are thirsty for information on the disease and how they can help.

The most important thing going into this conversation is attitude. If you have negative perceptions of people struggling with addiction, you must check them at the door. If you can’t, find someone else to have this conversation. Negative ideas will come through in your words and actions, and for this conversation to be effective, it cannot be about judgement. The point of this conversation is to express concern and offer resources.

Tips for Having a Productive Conversation

  • Pick your moment. You are expressing concern and offering help. Focus on this only.
  • Be non-confrontational. Have this conversation from a place of caring. Ask “Is there anything I can help you with?”
  • Set aside time so they can talk. They’ve likely been looking for someone to talk to about this situation. Don’t rush them.
  • Listen. You don’t have to be a counselor, but listen to their concerns and be compassionate.
  • Share resources.
    • Employers often provide counseling services through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

If You’re the Family Member

It’s natural to act in a protective manner when it comes to family, but you cannot do this alone and you have to take care of yourself.

Youturn Health believes the ideas of tough love and letting people hit rock bottom are outdated. With today’s opioid crisis and the rise of fentanyl overdoses, we simply don’t have time to wait for people to ask for help. Families need information and support. The resources we listed above are for you. A few more thoughts:

Get Involved with a Group

We are social creatures. You don’t even need to enjoy the content of the group. Just being around people with similar struggles will prove uplifting.

The benefits of group are clear:

  • Universality – you realize you are not alone
  • Altruism – you get to help others
  • Imitative Behavior – you hear from others who have gone through the same thing
  • Develop Coping Skills – more adaptive responses
  • Instillation of Hope—perhaps the most powerful factor

Take Care of Yourself

  1. Do something fun for yourself that is solely meant to provide entertainment and fun and is not work related.
  2. Prayer and meditation. Regardless of your personal beliefs, prayer and meditation have positive impact on neurobiological pathways.
  3. Find a confidant. One to one. Sometimes you can’t share at group level and having a one-to-one relationship can be invaluable. This could be a therapist, a sponsor, or a coach.
  4. Eliminate toxic people from your life. You have no time for people who drag you down. Eliminate judgmental people.
  5. And most important. RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO ISOLATE. ISOLATION CAUSES DEPRESSION.