Drug and Alcohol Addiction: A Guide for Families
One of the best ways I can illustrate how drug and alcohol addiction affects family, friends, and colleagues is to briefly share the experiences of one of my staff members who is in ongoing recovery from a substance abuse disorder. This person had been sober, of his own accord (without the help of ongoing treatment or a 12-step program — essential ingredients for successful recovery), for some time and in that period lived a seemingly well-adjusted life. He had a great career, a beautiful home, and had started a family.
The lack of ongoing treatment for his addiction left him ill-prepared for the stresses of modern-day living. He relapsed and ended up on the street, a slave to his addiction and a stranger to the family, friends and colleagues who loved him and were left wondering what had happened and why. (The good news is that he eventually sought treatment and is now in recovery, having reestablished the bonds with friends and family that are so important in our lives.)
“All they knew was that they cared about him and wanted him to get better, but how? What do I do when he calls and asks for money? What do I say to him of I see him? What resources are available to help people like him in need?”
During the period of his active addiction, the people closest to him were confused and at a complete loss as to what to do. All they knew was that they cared and wanted him to get better, but how? What do I do when he calls and asks for money? What do I say to him if I see him? What resources are available to help people in need like him? Many of these people tried talking to him to get him to see what he was doing to himself and those around him but there is often no reasoning with someone in active addiction. And the stress this put on family and friends is just as real, and just as difficult to deal with, as the stress on the addict or the alcoholic.
Here are some guidelines for family and friends of those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction:
- Educate yourself on addiction and recovery — addiction is a disease that can be successfully treated and recovery is possible with ongoing treatment.
- Learn about the resources available to you and the addict — treatment centers like Wisdom Treatment, 12-step meetings, Al-Anon, etc.
- Try not enable the addict — covering up for them or giving them financial assistance can delay dealing with the issue and often just makes the problem worse, for everyone.
- Do not attempt to protect them from negative consequences — a form of enabling, lack of direct consequences can prevent the addict from seeking help sooner.
- Show the same compassion and caring that you would toward any loved one with a serious illness — addiction is to a large extent a disease of isolation and loneliness. Knowing you haven’t given up can make a huge difference.
Lastly, recognize that the addict is suffering too — none of you asked for this disease to be part of your lives. While their actions and behaviors often make it difficult, empathy for the suffering addict is the first step toward understanding. The addict is often consumed by guilt and shame and probably wants to change but doesn’t know how. With the right information and approach, you can help them begin the journey of recovery, and start the recovery process for yourself as well.
Al-Anon.org (al-anon.org) For family members of alcoholics.
Nar-anon (nar-anon.org) For family members of addicts.
Coda.org (coda.org) For co-dependent individuals.
Adultchildren.org (adultchildren.org) For adult children of alcoholics and addicts
Wisdom Treatment — A California treatment center