Helping an Addicted Friend or Family Member

Addiction is difficult — and often impossible — to beat without the support of others. In fact, spouses, friends and relatives frequently reach out for help on behalf of their struggling loved ones. Because friends and family play such an important role in the recovery process, they’re often included in drug rehab treatment programs, including those at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. If you have a loved one dealing with addiction, creating a support system for them can increase the chances of successful treatment and a lifetime of recovery. But helping them recover from addiction involves more than just providing encouragement and a listening ear. While your support is crucial, you can be even more actively involved in their healing journey in a number of ways.

Spotting the Signs of Addiction

Before you can begin helping your friend or relative, you must first be able to recognize the signs of addiction, which can be both physical and behavioral. Most substances present the risk for addiction, whether it’s alcohol, a prescription medication, or an illicit drug. The most obvious signs you might witness are your loved one repeatedly using a substance in excess, or finding drug or alcohol paraphernalia. However, many individuals are more discreet about their addiction. Listed below are some of the most common signs of drug and alcohol addiction:

Physical Signs
  • Eye changes (bloodshot or watery eyes, pinpoint pupils, etc.)
  • A pale or reddened complexion
  • Poor motor coordination
  • Needle marks or bruises on the arms
  • Shakiness or tremors at certain times of day
  • Changes in appetite or body weight
  • A stumbling gait
  • Poor hygiene and grooming
  • Unfamiliar body odors
  • Sweating without excessive physical activity
Behavioral Signs
  • Isolation from friends or family
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Failures at school
  • Poor performance on the job
  • Constantly borrowing (or stealing) money
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Atypical outbursts of anger or aggression
  • Secretive behavior

For your loved one’s sake, your sake, and that of their other friends and relatives, don’t ignore these clues. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that these signs may not always point to addiction, and not everyone who’s addicted exhibits these signs. So if you notice any, express your concerns innocently, without making accusations or jumping to conclusions.

Family Therapy and Support Groups

There are many family therapy and support groups available at various venues that focus on addiction and substance abuse. Some are offered in drug rehab centers during treatment, and others are offered after treatment (aftercare) is completed. If you live with or are otherwise close with someone who’s struggling, your attendance in these sessions may be critical, so try to be present as often as possible.

Family therapy in addiction treatment is intended to:

  • Identify the strengths and positive aspects of the family unit
  • Find ways to use those strengths to create a sober living environment
  • Determine the impact that substance abuse has had on the family
  • Help the family recover from the aftermath of the addiction
  • Connect the family with resources (psychosocial, medical, financial, occupational, or educational) they can use to improve their quality of life

It’s important for you keep an open mind and be prepared for any information that may be shared during these meetings. Addiction is often a sign of dysfunction in a person’s life, and group sessions like these tend to bring these issues to the surface. These may include relationship conflicts, generational addictions, physical or sexual abuse, or other traumatic events.

According to research from Columbia University, children who grow up in a household where at least one adult abuses drugs or alcohol are much more likely to develop a substance use disorder than children raised in drug-free homes. The study also found that teens who have a strong relationship with at least one parent have a 25 percent lower risk of developing a problem with substance abuse, and those with a strong relationship with both parents are 40 percent less likely to become addicted. While delving into these subjects can be uncomfortable for you and your loved one, it’s often a necessary component of the healing process.

Encouraging Your Loved One to Seek Help

Discovering that your friend or relative is addicted can be an emotional and difficult experience. You might be scared, helpless or overwhelmed about what to do next. Reaching out might seem incredibly challenging, but it’s not impossible. You can initiate the healing process by having an honest, heart-to-heart discussion with your loved one. Tell them your concerns and how you feel, without criticism or judgment. Let them know you support them completely, and that you love them.

If you’re uncomfortable with a one-on-one discussion, or if you’ve already tried without success, talk to a trusted professional who has experience in substance abuse treatment. A substance abuse therapist, marriage counselor, health care provider, 12-step sponsor, or spiritual advisor can give you valuable advice on the best approach.

You might also want to consider holding an intervention with the rest of your family. An intervention is a rehearsed, formal meeting involving close family or friends of the person who’s addicted. The goal is for these loved ones to express their concerns and personal feelings, or even ultimatums, as a group to persuade their loved one to get help. In many cases, these meetings are enough to convince addicted individuals to enroll in treatment.

Staging an intervention is a sensitive process. To maximize the effectiveness of the meeting, participants should rehearse the confrontation and be prepared for anything. Your loved might react with anger when confronted about their substance abuse, or break down in tears. A substance abuse therapist who specializes in interventions can help you and your family develop a plan to get your loved one into treatment. You should already have a treatment center selected for ahead of time. It’s also important to be prepared to provide transportation to the center as soon as possible. The sooner you can get your friend or relative into treatment, the faster they can begin to heal.

Supporting Vs. Enabling

It’s one thing to be supportive through your loved one’s journey to recovery, but it’s another to enable them. For many families, codependency is one of the underlying factors in addiction. Codependency is a behavioral pattern in which a person allows another’s addiction in order to gain approval or love from (or power over) them. This enabling often occurs in such subtle ways that it can be difficult to differentiate between genuine support and codependency. In many cases, the codependent partner isn’t even aware that they’re contributing to their loved one’s destructive behavior.

How can you tell if you’re being supportive or enabling? Here are a few key differences between the two:

  • Underlying motives. The goal of a truly supportive family member is to help their loved one recover from addiction. A codependent person may subconsciously want to keep their loved one addicted and vulnerable so that they’ll always seek help from the codependent. Supportive friends attend meetings and counseling sessions with their loved one, and refuse to accept or participate in the addictive behavior. But codependents are often dishonest about their loved one’s addiction, or they nurture it by helping them financially or even using the substance(s) with them.
  • Level of attachment. A supportive person is often deeply concerned about their friend’s or relative’s destructive behavior, but not to the point of sacrificing their own self-respect. Codependents are often excessively self-sacrificial toward their addicted loved ones, giving of their time, money and energy to “help” with the addiction. Their sense of self-worth may be so deeply entangled with the person who’s addicted that breaking the connection causes emotional trauma.
  • Strength of boundaries. Many supportive friends or relatives commit to help their addicted loved one, but they also set boundaries against inappropriate or dangerous behavior. A codependent typically has weak boundaries — or no boundaries at all. This means they may often accept verbal or physical abuse at the expense of their health, and even go as far as committing crimes on their loved one’s behalf.

Codependency itself is a form of addiction, but it can be treated with intensive therapy and behavioral modification. In addition to attending support groups like Al-Anon, codependent family members can seek individual counseling and read literature on this condition. They can also attend family therapy sessions at a treatment facility like The Recovery Village Palmer Lake.

Resources for Family and Friends

As someone who cares deeply about an addicted individual, you’ve experienced a great deal of conflicting emotions like anger, fear, confusion, resentment, frustration, hope, grief, anxiety and guilt. You can process these emotions effectively and get support from others who know what you’re going through. Here are a few resources to help you get started:

  • Al-Anon: Support group offered at venues throughout the country for friends and family of people struggling with alcoholism
  • Al-Ateen: Support group offered at venues throughout the country for teen and young adult friends and family of people struggling with alcoholism
  • Codependents Anonymous: Fellowship of men and women whose goal is to develop healthy relationships
  • Families Anonymous: A 12-step fellowship for the family and friends of individuals with drug- or alcohol-related issues
  • National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA): Non-profit organization that provides educational materials and advocacy services to help the children of alcohol-dependent parents

In addition to these nationwide resources, you can find many sources of support at the local level. Community mental health centers, church groups, and volunteer organizations are just a few of the places where you can connect with others who share your experiences, fears and hopes.

At The Recovery Village Palmer Lake, we strongly believe that family involvement is critical to each client’s healing. Our team of experienced, compassionate professionals is available to give you the support you need to complete your own recovery. If someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us today for information about our comprehensive treatment programs.

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