Tips for Families Coping With Substance Use Disorder
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Tips for Families Coping With Substance Use Disorder

Tips for Families Coping With Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is called a family disease for good reason. Because families are in pain. 

Family members usually don’t reach out for help during the first signs of a loved one’s addiction, they wait until things elevate into crisis. Addiction also is often kept a secret to protect the family’s reputation. But try to hide it long enough, and things escalate. Once the addict is in crisis, serious trouble can follow.

Families and friends struggle to deal with the resulting behavior and bear the burden of the resulting financial and legal problems. These tips help families dealing with addiction.

1 Educate yourself. 

There’s no shortage of information and resources, so seek them out. From books to podcasts to websites, it’s easier than ever to connect.

I recommend the various books in the “It Takes a Family” series plus “Addict In The Family,” as well as Brené Brown’s HBO series “Atlas of the Heart.” 

One of the most valuable resources is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website, Knowledge is power, so the first step is understanding more about you and your loved ones, the addict's disease process and how it impacts family and friends.

2 Get support. 

Groups like Al-Anon and Narcotics Anonymous can help you learn to cope and provide resources for the family member who is struggling. Attendees at these 12-step groups have been through what you are facing and can offer resources that have helped them.

3 Get individual counseling for yourself.

Counseling can help the family learn to set realistic boundaries and navigate a process they’ve been hiding from. Substance use disorder impacts everyone in the family, so everyone has to get well. This also extends to one’s work family and friends.

Remember to check with your employee assistance programs to see what is covered. Clergy also can help connect you with local resources.

4 Seek specialty help.

You may be in need of assistance financially or with legal issues. Some community organizations like Women’s Sharing Center, United Way or places of worship may be able to assist.

5 Don’t enable. 

Family members want to help, but sometimes it’s considered enabling. Use caution when offering financial support without having strong boundaries. Examples include paying court fines and attorney fees or buying them groceries.

6 Have realistic expectations.

Realize that preaching or lecturing your loved one is not effective, and don’t expect them to keep promises early in their disease. Hold them accountable and offer help in the form of directing them to treatment.

7 Take care of yourself. 

Focusing on your own life is the most important thing you can do to assist your family member. It’s like airplane safety instructions — you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. If you can’t breathe, you can’t help anyone else.

If you’re stressed out due to inappropriate behaviors, it creates resentment and strain. So eat, sleep, exercise, socialize, get support and counseling — take care of your spiritual self so you’re better able to help your loved ones.

Remember, you’re not alone. It’s unfortunate that many millions of families have been affected by addiction. If you’re taking these steps to help yourself, you’re also protecting yourself against your own addictive behaviors. 


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