When there’s a loved one in the family struggling with addiction, it isn’t just that person who’s in need of support but everyone concerned. Addiction affects the entire family — sometimes devastatingly so.
Not only does the loved one with the addiction need treatment in order to overcome the disease, but family members need corresponding support in order to best help their struggling loved one. The question is what are the supports available to families in helping an addicted loved one and where are they?
12-Step Family Groups
While a loved one is going through rehab or going to 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (whether or not he or she is in formal treatment to overcome addiction), the family members of the loved one can find invaluable support through the family component groups such as Al-Anon and Alateen (for Alcoholics Anonymous) and other 12-step groups. The website for Al-Anon states on its homepage that, “Friends and families of problem drinkers find understanding and support at Al-Anon and Alateen meetings.”
What can 12-step family groups do for you? If you are troubled by someone’s drinking, grew up with a problem drinker, or your life has been affected by someone else’s drinking (Alateen), you have a place to go where other group members know what you’re going through. They can offer understanding, support and encouragement by sharing their experiences, strength and hope as you try to cope with your loved one’s addiction. By attending addiction support groups for families, you’ll begin to understand how much in common you have with other group members, regardless of the specifics of each personal situation involving problem drinking by a loved one.
Participation in 12-step family groups is free. There are no dues or fees and participation is anonymous. Anyone can join who has a loved one, family member or friend who is addicted and has a sincere desire to learn how to best support that person and themselves in recovery.
In Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only offers the LDS Addiction Recovery 12-step program, but also a support group for spouses and families. The spouse and family guide, used in support group meetings and individual study, includes gospel principles, practical suggestions in applying those principles, and resources for further gospel study.
Peer Support Groups
In communities across the country, peer support groups for the families of addicts are springing up. This is in recognition of the huge destructive toll that addiction takes on everyone, the addict and his or her loved ones, family members and friends. Turning somewhere for much-needed support is a proactive step you can take to help you deal with the stresses and uncertainties you face as your loved one struggles with addiction, enters or completes rehab, and begins his or her recovery journey.
These are confidential, free peer-support programs for families affected by alcohol and drug addiction. Generally these programs have weekly meetings, offer resources, have guest speakers who are themselves in long-term recovery, education on overdose, and enrollment in Narcan, the life-saving heroin and opiate overdose medication (as appropriate).
Education About the Disease of Addiction Through Trusted Websites
There’s no question that the experience of dealing with the effects and aftermath of a loved one in the throes of addiction is gut-wrenching, confusing, frightening and often overwhelming. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is not knowing what to expect, what addiction is all about, and what can be done about it. This is where education comes in. Immerse yourself in the facts and dive into the resources that are readily available to you through trusted websites.
These include the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Drug Abuse.org, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), to name a few. These websites have extensive information about the disease of addiction, prevention, treatment and recovery, articles and topics, helplines and more.
Bookmark these sites so you can refer to them when you have a question or want to see the latest developments in addiction treatment and recovery, need to find a treatment provider for your loved one, or just want to stay as informed as possible about the disease of addiction so you’re better able to support your loved one.
The emotional upheaval of addiction in the family may wreak havoc on your own life and that of other family members. It may get to the point where you start feeling out of control, like you don’t have the strength to carry on. In addition to considering participation in 12-step and/or peer support groups and gaining as much education as you can about the disease of addiction, you may be able to benefit from counseling on your own. Check with your doctor to obtain a referral or one of the trusted websites like the NIDA, NIAAA and SAMHSA to find a therapist who can help you learn how to cope.
Meditation, Yoga, Therapeutic Massage and More
Learning how to uncouple from the anxiety and depression you may experience while your loved one is wrestling with addiction is more than just a one-time or one-source process. You may find that meditation or yoga, spiritual practices that have gained popularity across the country for their ability to reduce stress, increase a sense of calm and well-being and centeredness, will prove beneficial to you. Therapeutic massage can also ease some of the tension and pain you’ve built up trying to deal you’re your loved one’s addiction.
These are also healthy, fun ways to get out and interact with others, do something positive for yourself, and feel good while doing so. There are books on how to meditate and do various forms and poses of yoga and much information available on the Internet.
Remember that the healing journey your loved one is either embarking upon (or who hasn’t yet embraced and is still in active addiction) has a twin pathway: your own healing journey. There is no shame in seeking help to deal with these powerful stressors and sometimes overwhelming consequences of a loved one’s addiction. Reach out and accept the help that is readily available. While you cannot control what an addict does or does not do, you can control what you do. Get the help and support you need — wherever and whenever you need it.
Sources: Addiction Recovery, LDS Spouses and Family; Al-Anon Family Groups; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Drug Abuse.org; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration