When someone you love is battling a substance use disorder, you often focus on the damage addiction is inflicting on their life. For example, many addicts and alcoholics experience severe mental health symptoms, worsening physical health, financial troubles, strained relationships, and even legal issues. On the other hand, it is common for loved ones of people struggling with addiction to unconsciously neglect their own needs. However, the stress and fear associated with watching your addicted loved one battle their substance abuse will eventually begin to take its toll.
Caring for a loved one who struggles with abusing substances can be mentally, physically, and financially taxing. This is due to the friend’s and family’s tendency to focus all of their time and resources on helping their loved one. While it is vital to provide your loved one with support throughout hard times, it is equally as important to take care of your own needs. Therefore, there are several steps you need to take in order to retain your physical and mental health.
Addiction is a Family Disease
Addiction is widely referred to as a family disease due to severe emotional ups and downs, turmoil, and suffering that is not only felt by the individual but also everyone close to them. Parents and partners of individuals suffering from addiction are often witnessing the worst of their loved one’s addiction. As a result, they often suffer immensely from the feelings of guilt, worry, and confusion that addiction can cause.
Addiction can affect the loved ones of the addict in several ways, including, but not limited to:
- Sleepless nights worried about their loved one
- Strained or inconsistent relationships with family members or friends, including the addicted person.
- Feelings of depression, sadness, and hopelessness.
- Feelings of anger and rage.
- More frequent physical health complaints.
- Reduced concentration and attention.
- Changes in weight from overeating or eating too little.
As the loved one of an addict or alcoholic, you may try to save them, clean up their messes, take on the stress of their addiction, or try to solve problems (financial, legal, social) related to their substance use. While it may be tempting to try to share or carry the burden of their addiction, only the addict or alcoholic themselves can create a change. Additionally, if you are not taking decent care of yourself, mentally and physically, you probably will not be able to help your loved one either. However, if you practice self-care and prioritize your own needs, you will be able to help your addicted loved one when they are ready.
Taking Care of Yourself While Helping an Addicted Loved One
There are many ways to practice self-care and boost your emotional health while experiencing high levels of stress commonly associated with loving someone suffering from addiction. For example, setting healthy boundaries, practicing self-compassion, and letting go of the past are great ways to prioritize your own health.
Many loved ones of addicts and alcoholics suffer from feelings of personal guilt in regards to their family member’s addiction. While addiction is never anyone’s fault, it is easy to start to blame yourself. Watching your loved one going through the throes of drug or alcohol abuse can be difficult. However, practicing self-compassion can soothe, or even eliminate, feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. To explain, self-compassion is accepting that we are all flawed and imperfect individuals. Experiencing hardships is just a part of life and it is okay to admit that you are suffering.
Here are a few simple ways to practice self-compassion:
- Forgive yourself and let go of the past
- Write a letter to yourself
- Think kind thoughts to yourself
- Spend time doing things you enjoy
- Utilize prayer or meditation exercises
- Treat yourself to a relaxing spa day
Stop Enabling your Addicted Loved One
Enabling is a word that many loved ones of addicts and alcoholics have heard before. To explain, enabling is defined as adverse consequences of another person’s negative behavior being removed, or softened, encouraging the behavior to continue. So, for example, let’s say your adult-aged child spends their entire paycheck on drinking and partying. Then, this leads them to neglect their bills for the month. Instead of allowing them to feel the consequences of their actions, you pay the bills for them even if you don’t necessarily have the money to do so. This is a prime example of enabling behavior that negatively impacts both individuals.
On the other hand, if you allow your addicted loved one to feel the consequences of their substance abuse, they may recognize that they need help. Additionally, this can save you from depleting your personal financial, emotional, and physical resources. Ending enabling behavior is a solid way to build a foundation of healthy boundaries and personal respect between two individuals. Therefore, allowing you to stay healthy and hopefully, pushing your loved one to seek out professional addiction help.
Reach Out for Help
If you begin to feel hopeless and consumed by your loved one’s addiction, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Sometimes, something as simple as venting to a trusted friend or family member can alleviate your anxiety. However, if you feel that you need professional help, there are plenty of resources available. Many loved ones of addicts and alcoholics attend support meetings for friends and family members of loved ones. In doing so, they can gain support and advice from other individuals going through similar issues as them. Another option would be to seek out a therapist who is knowledgable on recovering from the effects of a loved one’s addiction. Recognizing that you need help and taking action is one of the strongest things a person can do. Most importantly, always remember that taking care of your mental health should be your top priority.