It’s a common belief that overcoming substance use disorder is a personal journey. In many ways, that’s exactly what it is. For countless people, though, loved ones are an integral part of the process. If you’re wondering how to help a family member with addiction, it’s important to know your role in this process. By recognizing your place, you can help a loved one reach sobriety.

It’s important to realize, though, that no two people are the same. For instance, one person battling addiction may benefit from extensive family therapy. Another might just need support from loved ones during recovery. Cardinal Recovery can help you discover the role you should play. If someone in your family needs help, reach out to us today.

Understand that Addiction Is a Family Disease

Family plays a very complex role in addiction. For instance, did you know that half a person’s risk for substance use disorder comes from genetics1 This means being born into a family where addiction is present significantly increases your chances of drug use. This is far from the only risk factor, though, as anyone can develop an addiction regardless of their background.

But when you’re learning how to help a family member with addiction, genetics don’t matter as much. Addiction is a family disease, but it’s not because of our DNA. The simple fact is that drug use by a person affects all their loved ones. Just consider some of the most common effects experienced by family members of drug users:

  • High levels of stress and anxiety
  • Anger and resentment — which could lead to aggressive behavior
  • Isolation and shame
  • Physical health problems stemming from focusing on an addicted loved one’s health
  • Financial issues caused by a family member’s habit (e.g., stolen money, legal costs)

If you’ve spent a long time wondering how to help a family member with addiction, it may be time to take action. This is because drug use will continue to eat away at your family unit. Sadly, it can even have permanent negative effects. For instance, children who grow up in these environments have higher adult rates2 of depression and drug use.

Additionally, being raised around drug use can diminish the learning capacity in youth. Homes where substance use occurs also have heightened rates3 of domestic violence. Unfortunately, even distant family members may feel the effects of a loved one’s addiction. It’s not just the person using drugs whose hurting — it’s everyone around them. This is why seeking help now is vital.

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Am I Enabling a Family Member’s Substance Use?

Watching a loved one spiral out of control is a heartbreaking process. You obviously want to do everything you can to help. Unfortunately, many people cannot differentiate between being helpful and enabling. Understanding whether your actions create an environment that encourages continued alcoholism or drug use is imperative.

It’s hard to accept, but sometimes our loved ones need to deal with the consequences of their actions. This makes learning how to help a family member with addiction a tough process. Letting them face the reality they’ve created is a necessary part of the process. If you recognize any of the following behaviors from yourself, though, you may be enabling your loved one:

  • Covering for someone if they fail to meet responsibilities (e.g., calling in sick for them, paying their rent).
  • Facilitating the purchase of drugs or alcohol. This can occur logistically (e.g., giving them a ride to the store) or via financial assistance.
  • Failure to follow through on ultimatums meant to discourage substance use (e.g., “Quit or you have to move out.”).
  • Excusing, minimizing, or explaining away unacceptable behaviors.
  • Neglecting your own needs in favor of a loved one with substance use disorder.
  • Constantly getting a family member out of trouble (e.g., paying for their attorney, paying for property damage).

Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between helping and enabling. Learning how to help a family member with addiction means letting them deal with the problems they create. Luckily, there’s plenty of help available for you in this process. Programs like Al-Anon and Alateen — along with groups focused on narcotic use — can help you navigate these difficult times.

By reaching out for help yourself, you can learn how to assist loved ones without enabling them. You’ll also see just how much a peer-support group can help those who have addicted loved ones. If you have questions on how to access any of these resources — or what you can do right now to help — contact Cardinal Recovery today.

The Impact of Family on Addiction Recovery

When you learn a few methods of how to help a family member with an addiction, it becomes clear just how big of an impact you can have. For instance, eliminating the natural consequences of substance use by enabling can make it more difficult for a loved one to seek treatment. If you help them avoid consequences, they may not realize how big of a problem they have.

Of course, a family’s impact doesn’t have to be negative. You’ll also typically play a major role in a loved one’s recovery. Sometimes, it might even be possible to force someone to get help with addiction. You may also take part in family therapy during treatment. And even when a person leaves the treatment center, you’ll have a significant impact on their ability to adjust.

Knowing how to help a family member with addiction is vital once they get help. They’ll often lose various aspects of their former lives (e.g., harmful relationships, triggering activities). This means they’ll need to create a new way of life. Addiction treatment centers can provide resources to help, but as a loved one, your support will have an even larger impact.

How to Help a Family Member with Addiction

Now that you understand the impact family can have on recovery, you must learn concrete steps you can take to help. It’s not enough to tell someone you’ve got their back. Well wishes on social media also are not enough. Taking an active role in your loved one’s battle against addiction is ideal. By doing so, you’ll increase their chances of successfully achieving sobriety.

Understanding and Accepting There’s a Problem

Learning how to help a family member with addiction means nothing without understanding and acceptance. You need to recognize when a problem exists, and you must understand what your loved one is up against. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know when a family member needs help. If you notice any of the following red flags, though, addiction likely already has a hold:

  • Disappearing without contact for long periods
  • Deceptive or secretive behaviors
  • Sudden financial difficulties
  • Visiting multiple doctors
  • Failing to meet responsibilities (e.g., familial, academic, job)
  • Sudden and uncharacteristic changes in behavior
  • Changes in social interactions and activity participation
  • Arrests related to alcohol or drug use

It’s human nature to hope that everything is okay and deny it when it’s not. If you notice these red flags, though, it’s important that you learn how to help a family member with addiction. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away, and there’s a good chance your loved one won’t seek help on their own. Confronting them in a loving and understanding way is key.

Additionally, you should take time to learn about your loved one’s addiction. This will help you better recognize the difficulties they’re going through. That knowledge will put you in a better position to help.

Help Create a Plan of Action

Creating a plan of action is an integral step in how to help a family member with addiction. Of course, they need to first acknowledge they have a problem. You can help them in this process, but that responsibility ultimately falls to them. Once you’ve reached this point, though, speak with your loved one about creating a plan of action.

This plan can have several steps. It can include ceasing contact with unhealthy friends, looking for a job, setting a curfew, and even attending meetings. In most cases, though, this plan of action will also need to include seeking treatment. While peer-support groups can do wonders, they usually can’t identify and treat the underlying causes of addiction.

Don’t Slip Back Into Enabling

Acknowledging addiction and creating a plan of action are both important steps. If you’re enabling your loved one, though, they are unlikely to get the help they need. Ask yourself if your behaviors are helping someone continue their use of drugs or alcohol. Just because someone promises they’ll get help doesn’t mean you should revert to enabling behaviors. Hold yourself and your loved one accountable.

Reinforce Your Continued Support

There are several important lessons when learning how to help a family member with addiction. What may be the most important, though, is keeping your word. This is certainly true when holding your loved one accountable, but it also applies when you offer support. It’s not enough simply to say you’ll be there. Words without action are worse than meaningless — they can be harmful.

When your family member is ready to get help, offer them support in doing so. You can drive them to appointments, provide a place to stay, engage in sober activities, and more. You should also reinforce the fact that you’ll be there for support. Don’t let your loved ones think they’re on their own just because they’ve finished treatment.

Healing as a Family

Even when you know how to help a family member with an addiction, the journey ahead isn’t a simple one. Recovery is a lifelong process. With proper treatment, your loved one may walk away with a renewed focus on life and sobriety. And since professional treatment reduces relapse rates4, there’s a chance they may never use drugs or alcohol again.

Such an amazing outcome, however, doesn’t come without challenges. Alcoholism and drug use do not exist within a vacuum. Just the fact that you sought information on how to help a family member with addiction shows that you’ve witnessed damage occur. Your entire family will need to forgive and heal from the trauma they’ve gone through.

Family therapy and support groups can play a pivotal role in this journey. During this process, you will likely:

  • Confront and work through issues together
  • Set healthy boundaries that are beneficial to everyone
  • Create open lines of communication
  • Identify the building blocks that will serve as the foundation for your new relationships
  • Learn how to hold each person accountable for your actions
  • Develop an understanding of the underlying problems that initially led to the problem

Learning how to help a family member with addiction isn’t a weekend retreat. It’s not something that you’ll get perfect the first time around. It’s a process that involves helping your loved one get healthy and then dealing with the issues you’ll all face. Fortunately, you don’t have to do this alone.

With the right professional help, you can help your loved one get on the road to recovery. And once they’ve taken their health back, you begin the process of helping your family heal.

How Can You Help a Family Member With Addiction? Start Today.

There’s a reason you’ll often hear addiction and alcoholism referred to as family diseases. Some may think this is because genetics can predict addictive behavior. In reality, the term applies because no one in a family goes untouched by substance use disorders.

Heightened stress and anxiety are just a few of the issues family members deal with while a loved one battles addiction. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be a reality you live with. Recovery can be a family journey with mutual support, health, and love.

When people care for each other, they can support one another during the journey to sobriety. Do you still have questions regarding how to help a family member with addiction? Cardinal Recovery is here to help. Contact us today to learn how we can assist during this process.


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