Tips to Help the Family Unit Cope

Family members can face significant stress when watching a loved one going through the turmoil of substance abuse and the mental health problems that can result from it. It’s very tempting for close family members to start prioritizing the person abusing substances over themselves, which can lead to resentment or even illness down the line.

Here are some tips to help you cope with the feelings brought up by having a family member with a substance abuse problem.

Learn About What the Addicted Person Is Going Through

Addiction is a mental illness that results from a disordered reward system rather than a failure to make the right choices. The more you learn about addiction and addiction treatment, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one. There are a lot of misconceptions and half-truths out there about substance use, and letting go of judgment and blame and embracing curiosity can go a long way toward helping you and your loved one heal.

What’s more, you’ll notice that new research into addiction is emerging faster than ever, and new treatments and protocols are being developed by passionate scientists and mental health professionals. Try to pay attention to the things you can do to help yourself and your addicted family member instead of getting caught up in the blame game or the ways they may have hurt you in the past.

Manage Your Expectations

As the old saying goes, expectations are the mother of disappointment, and this couldn’t be truer than it is with substance problems. The recovery process is rarely linear, and accepting that things might go backwards at times will help you manage disappointment. Try to frame setbacks as learning opportunities, not disasters, and look for the positives in every situation.

Keep your feet firmly in the ground and avoid denial, but understand that healing from a chronic disease is challenging and rarely straightforward.

Practice Self-Care

One of the biggest mistakes parents and spouses are prone to make in particular is forgetting to care for themselves. In a rush to try to help the person you love, your own routine well-being can take second place. Keep in mind at all times that to be your most supportive and helpful self, you need to put your needs before anyone else’s.

What’s more, when a loved one is suffering, some family members feel guilty or ashamed for feeling joy themselves. It’s important that you clearly separate your needs from the addicted person’s and make time for joy, self-care and a healthy routine. Important elements of practicing self-care include:

  • Talking walks or more intensive exercise out in nature. Study after study shows that being outdoors has an array of health benefits, from elevated vitamin D levels to lowering blood pressure and improving mood.
  • Taking up a hobby such as learning an instrument, volunteering in a field you’re passionate about or crafting are great ways to soothe the mind, relieve stress and promote self-esteem.
  • Find a form of movement you enjoy and practice it every day you’re able to. You don’t need to become a long-distance runner or master yogi — just seek out a form of exercise that feels good and do it as gently or intensively as you like.
  • Establish a routine you can maintain as consistently as possible when it comes to sleeping, eating and exercising. Changing your habits can take a lot of time, but baby steps in the right direction will eventually take you all the way.

Seek Counseling Yourself

We’d recommend that anyone who’s been close to someone with a substance use disorder attend group therapy sessions such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Listening to other people’s experiences can be transformative and eye-opening and provides relief to many people because it stops them from feeling so alone. When you don’t feel like your experiences are so out of the ordinary because other people share similar ones, you’re less likely to catastrophize.

If possible, consider attending individual counseling as well. The more you speak about your experiences and hear feedback from a qualified professional, the less likely you are to harbor resentment or anger.

Be Careful With the Language You Use

It might seem subtle, but language can play a key role in how we perceive an addicted family member, and particularly how they perceive themselves. Feelings of shame, guilt and unworthiness underpin substance use disorders, and words can be extremely powerful.

Take the difference between saying “substance abusers” and saying “people with substance abuse problems.” The first one sounds definitive and labels the individual by their disease. The second term puts the person first and the substance abuse second and sounds more like an issue that can be managed and resolved — which it absolutely can.

If you’re ready to break free of addiction, give us a call at 252-715-3905 or visit our admissions page to find out more about alcohol and drug rehab in North Carolina and our Family therapy for addiction program helps families get back the happiness they deserve.