Oftentimes discussions of addiction focus on the person suffering from the disease. However, addiction also has profound effects on family members, friends, and other loved ones of the addicted individual. The support of loved ones is frequently critical to helping a person get the professional help he needs.
Sometimes, though, they feel left out of the treatment process or unsure of their role. Learning how to be supportive and how to stay involved in your loved one's treatment is an important part of sustaining your relationship and creating the best possible chance for success.
- Be an advocate for your loved one. Unfortunately, people struggling with substance abuse sometimes feel like everyone is ganging up on them. Perhaps your loved one did not want to seek treatment, or maybe you had to convince him that his drug use was a problem. Continue to be an advocate for your loved one by expressing concern, offering to be his cheerleader, and telling him how proud you are that he sought help for his problems.
- Consider family therapy. Addiction can have reverberating effects on parents, children, and siblings of the person in treatment. While it is important for the addicted person to receive individual therapy to help with certain issues, family therapy may also be helpful. A family therapist can help families identify their strengths and areas where they can continue to grow. This can be helpful as your loved one transitions into recovery and needs the support of family members to maintain sobriety.
- Follow your loved one’s lead. Everyone reacts differently to the treatment process. As much as possible, try to follow your loved one’s lead during the early phases of recovery. Your loved one might be feeling frustration, sadness, guilt, pride, anger, disappointment, loneliness, or fear. Treatment can bring up a person’s darkest moments and biggest fears. If you feel like your loved one is pushing you away, try to give him space for a while. Try not to force the process of rebuilding your relationship, which can sometimes backfire.
- Recognize negative behavior patterns. A large focus of treatment is recognizing the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and drug-seeking behaviors. You might notice behavior patterns on your own. Perhaps your loved one is more likely to use when he’s had a tough day at the office or you’ve gotten in an argument. Discuss these negative behavior patterns and alternative coping strategies to help him get back on track when falling into old patterns.
- Provide accountability, the supportive way. Maintaining sobriety is tough in the early days, and each person must find his own ways to stay accountable. Constantly checking in or monitoring your loved one’s behavior might make him feel defensive. Instead, talk to him and his treatment professionals about how to maintain accountability without making him feel like he has a nanny. This might include check-ins at a specified interval, a “no more talking about sobriety” rule at certain times of the day, or other strategies to provide supportive accountability.
- Practice self-care. It is challenging to provide love and support to someone whose behavior may be damaging or self-destructive. The best caregivers are those who maintain their own physical and mental health. If you feel like you’ve been thinking about addiction recovery all of the time, take a break. Go for a walk, play a game, meet up with friends, or see a movie. These self-care activities will pay enormous dividends, allowing you to stay mentally balanced and provide strong support to your loved one.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Substance abuse treatment and family therapy, Treatment Improvement Protocols, 2004, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64269/
- Sullivan et al., Families as a resource in recovery from drug abuse: an evaluation of La Bodega de la Familia, National Criminal Justice Reference Services, 2002, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/195087.pdf