Having a loved one with a substance use disorder is incredibly difficult. Whether it’s a child, parent, sibling, or partner, that person’s addictive behavior inevitably affects you as well as other family and friends. It’s painful to see someone you care about behave in self-destructive ways and it can be even harder to see that person change into someone who only cares about drugs or alcohol, who is perhaps volatile or depressed, or who is deceptive or dishonest. Your loved one’s behavior might disrupt your life in many different ways. You may worry about them all the time, they may cause you financial problems, or they might try to make you complicit in their substance use. All of this can be stressful and take a toll on your physical and mental health. If you have a loved one who struggles with addiction, here are some tips for taking care of yourself.
Healthy boundaries are important for any relationship. Setting boundaries simply means you respect the other person’s values while protecting your own. So for example, if your loved one asks you to lie and say she’s sick when she’s really hungover, enforcing your boundaries would mean that you refuse to lie because it violates your value of honesty and enables your loved one’s addictive behavior. On the other hand, respecting someone else’s boundaries might mean you refrain from manipulating or coercing someone else, even if you think you’re helping that person. Boundaries are based on respect for yourself and other people. Setting boundaries can be very difficult, especially in codependent relationships or other kinds of relationships in which one person is used to getting her way. Enforcing and respecting boundaries is typically a major theme in family therapy but individuals can work on it too.
Self-care is crucial for keeping yourself healthy mentally and physically, especially if you have to deal with a loved one’s addiction. Self-care includes basic things like eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and getting regular exercise. All of these are strongly linked to better mood and better health. Sleep is especially important, since lack of sleep has been linked to a number of problems including a greater risk of depression and anxiety [https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health] and a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and frequent illnesses. [https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency] Self-care also means setting aside regular time for fun and relaxing activities. That could be engaging with a hobby, spending time with friends, or relaxing in a hot bath before bed. It’s important to remember that you can’t help others if you are sick, anxious, or depressed. Self-care is not self-indulgence; it’s more like securing your own oxygen mask in an emergency before helping someone else.
Managing stress is a good idea in general but it’s especially important when you also have to deal with a loved one with a substance use disorder. Stress tends to accumulate, so if you’re already dealing with problems at home caused by a loved one’s substance use, your other problems will feel even more stressful. There are many ways to deal with stress, starting with good self-care. Exercise is especially good because it actually modifies the way the brain processes stress. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/] Beyond that, it’s important to learn to manage your schedule and your commitments. Have a clear idea of your priorities and do the most important things first. Also, learn to say no to things you don’t have time for or just aren’t very important. Take short breaks throughout the day, even if you only take a few deep breaths or a short walk. Finally, work on your communication skills. Most of our stress comes from interpersonal conflict and much of that can be resolved with better communication.
When you have a loved one with a substance use disorder, talking to a therapist may help. You may wonder why you should see a therapist when someone else has the problem. There are actually many ways a therapist can help. First, family members often have many conflicting emotions as a result of their loved one’s addiction. These may include fear, anger, guilt, or frustration. A therapist can help you sort out these emotions. A therapist can also help you manage stress or insomnia and help you maintain boundaries, all of which are important for reasons already covered. Finally, family therapy can help someone with addiction even if that person doesn’t participate. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64269/] Every family has its own problems, which may include dysfunctional dynamics, poor communications, or unclear boundaries. Improving these issues not only makes the family happier but may increase the likelihood of the addicted person getting help.
Coping with a loved one’s addiction can make you feel isolated, but there are others dealing with the same issues. Consider joining a support group for families of people with addiction. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are 12-step programs for families of addicted loved ones. You can share what you’ve been going through, enjoy the support of others who have been through the same thing, and get advice from people who have been there before. The people in these groups will understand your problems in a way most people won’t, so you will no longer feel isolated dealing with your loved one’s addiction.
Most importantly, realize that you can’t control your loved one’s behavior. You can only control your own. You can encourage her to get help and you can do what you can to keep her safe without enabling her but in the end she has to make her own decisions.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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