How To Cope When a Family Member Has a Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholic in a family. Brutal bearded sad man sitting in front of the vodka bottle and thinking about his problems while drinking at home

In 2020, 40.3 million people aged 12 or older met DSMIV qualifications for a drug or alcohol use disorder – also known as an addiction. That means that almost half of all Americans have a spouse, sibling, parent, or child with a drug or alcohol use disorder. Millions of us struggle with drugs and alcohol and that’s only gotten worse throughout the pandemic. Living with that can be extremely difficult. But, dealing with a family member struggling is also both difficult and traumatic.

In fact, for many of us, living with a drug or alcohol addict means living with someone who is temperamental, emotionally unavailable, manipulative, and possibly even abusive. They take risks, they show antisocial behavior, they stop offering support, they leave responsibilities unattended. And, that trauma is without considering the increased risks they take, run-ins with law enforcement, and possible brushes with disease, overdose, and violence. All of that can combine to be incredibly traumatic. Many people need therapy and family therapy to manage their loved one’s substance use disorders.

While you cannot solve your loved one’s addiction for them, it’s important that you take care of yourself in the meantime. Hopefully these tips help you cope.

Discuss Things with the (Whole) Family

Ensuring you have support and understanding is important to coping with anything. Sharing your feelings with your family can help to ensure you have that support. That might mean sitting down with your loved one and discussing how their addiction impacts you. In this case, you likely want to keep the discussion centered around worry, difficulty coping with mood swings, or difficulty coping with how they’ve changed or withdrawn as a person. You want to avoid bringing up stress about how other people perceive them or any stigma (what will people think), as this is normally alienating and can reduce desire to go to treatment.

You also want to talk to your friends and family. Addiction is a disorder. It’s not shameful and it’s not something to hide. “X person is struggling a lot with drinking; I think they are addicted, and I need support” is a thing you should be able to say to friends and family.

Sitting down to discuss how you feel, next steps, and hopefully how you will also get support is important.

Learn About Addiction

Understanding how addiction works won’t help you to fix the issue. However, it will help you to respond in a more healthy and measured fashion. It will allow you to make logic-based decisions. Getting books can be a good start. However, many people prefer going to groups and self-help groups like Al-Anon. IN this case, Al-Anon is a support group designed specifically for the family members of persons with a substance use disorder. This allows you to get insight, support, and perspectives from people in very similar positions to yourself.

Many Al-Anon groups also work to help each other improve their situations. Whether that means helping you to move out if necessary or helping you to step away from addiction and learn how to cope with it depends on your situation.

Getting that sort of help is a big step. However, most areas do have Al-Anon groups, where you can go, check reading material, listen in on guest groups, and decide if it’s for you.

Make Time for Yourself

If your loved one is struggling with drugs or alcohol, it can mean more work for you. That’s especially true if your parents or are both working. Suddenly having a partner not doing their fair share of the work can be significant. Adding on having to care for them if they are too intoxicated to care for themselves can be significant. And, if they add on stress by having run-ins with law enforcement, overdoses, or overspending and cutting into rent or grocery money and you are likely to be extremely stressed.

It’s important not to do everything. It’s also important to set boundaries. Make sure you have time and space to be yourself, to do your own things, and to relax. That’s important, even if you have to move out to achieve it.

Accept That You Aren’t Getting Them Back

If you knew someone and then they become addicted to drugs and alcohol, that person is not coming back. Addiction changes people. And, when they do get help, they don’t want to be the person they were before. In fact, they don’t want to be. That person was in such a bad place that they were able to rely on drugs or alcohol to the extent where they became addicted. Letting go of the person you used to know can be difficult. But it will help you to set better expectations, to cope better, and to move forward. That may mean cutting them out of your life. It may mean working to help get them into rehab. However, it will mean letting go of expectations for who they are and why.

Consider Going to Therapy

Living with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can be intensely traumatic. It’s important that you take care of yourself. Getting help through seeing a therapist or a psychologist can be an important part of that. For example, many people start getting help when attending family therapy with their loved one in addiction treatment. However, you might also need behavioral therapy to help you with self-esteem, with confidence, with codependency, with trauma, or with any of a host of other issues that can spring up around addiction. That’s even more true if you’re dealing with manipulative or abuse behavior in any context, because that sort of trauma can be difficult to overcome on your own.

If your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol, you probably want to invest in getting them help. Many of us stick around and try to help our loved ones long after it becomes obvious, we need to start taking care of ourselves. Still, it’s important to offer to help your loved one get into detox, inpatient treatment, or outpatient treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. You won’t ever get the person back and the relationship you used to have back, but you can build a new relationship with someone you care about. Most importantly, it’s also important to ensure that you are taking care of your own health, that you are setting good boundaries, and that you aren’t leaning on taking care of them, and that you have time and space for self-care. Good luck with your loved one and hopefully they get help and move into recovery.

Contact Us at Sheer Recovery at 1-888-979-7703 and speak with one of our experienced treatment team today in complete confidence about any questions you have on rehab, or about our Top-Rated Southern California Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center.

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