By Lynette Dixon, PhD, LPC, NCC, CRAADC
Addiction is a disease that affects not only the person who is addicted; it has an impact on all who love that individual. Dysfunction within families, low levels of attachment between parent and child, genetics, and observing the behavior of a parent who is addicted are all factors that influence one’s likelihood of becoming addicted to substances. Unless families seek help and learn more healthy ways of setting boundaries and interacting with one another, it can be very difficult for an addicted person and the family unit to recover. For these reasons, addiction is often referred to as a “family disease.”
Addiction respects no one. It creeps into the lives of people from every socioeconomic status, race, and gender. Once it has hold of a person, it touches every aspect of their lives, and living with a person who is actively addicted can be traumatic. Addiction can bring with it job loss, financial instability, medical issues, arrest, and sleepless nights wondering where one’s loved one is. People who are in active addiction are fighting a disease, and just like those who are fighting other diseases, they are fighting for their lives.
Once addiction creeps in, it often becomes the most important thing to a person. Addicted people may live with the sole focus to obtain their substance of choice, which can cause them to act in ways that hurt those who are closest to them. Individuals in active addiction often make poor parenting choices, may even steal from those that they love, or do things that cause significant damage to the trust that may have previously existed within the relationship.
It can be confusing knowing how to help a loved one who is experiencing addiction. Each situation will be different, and it is important for families affected by addiction to seek help from therapists and support groups, like Al-Anon/Alateen or Families Anonymous. Connecting with families that are facing similar challenges can help, by providing a sense of connection and the realization that your family is not the only one facing the struggles that come with addiction.
Here are some other steps that individuals and families can take in order to support themselves and their loved one who is struggling with addiction:
- First, take care of yourself. Self-care is important as you begin this journey toward family healing.
- Maintain your own support network. The decisions that have to be made when helping an addicted loved one are not easy to make. Having loved ones to lean on and help you as you navigate your way through this process is essential. Even if it is simply having a friend to sit with you on a difficult day so that you do not feel alone, it is important. This can include friends and family, but it should also include the support of a therapist and from support groups and 12-step groups.
- Become educated about the disease of addiction. Your loved one is truly battling a disease. Addiction impacts his or her brain and ability to make sound decisions. Understanding what is going on with your loved one mentally and physiologically can help you to see that working toward recovery is difficult. It is not as easy as simply making a choice not to use any longer.
- Set boundaries with your loved one. You can still love them but not support them in ways that enable their addiction. Groups such as Al-Anon help family members as they learn to set boundaries and develop self-care.
- Learn new ways to communicate with your loved one as you slowly begin to rebuild your relationship with them.
- Realize that you did not cause this problem. You cannot control whether your loved one is able to recover from this or not. That is a difficult realization, but it is important to realize what you can and cannot control. The only thing that you can control are your behaviors – whether you engage in behaviors that support addiction or support recovery.
Working toward recovery from addiction is not easy, and it is not a process that the addicted person takes on alone. Families need to put in a lot of work to recover as well. You are not alone in this process. If your family has been impacted by addiction, West County Psychological Associates has therapists that can help you. Please reach out and call today: (314) 275-8599.
Lynette Dixon completed her undergraduate studies in Psychology from the University of Missouri in St. Louis, went on to complete her Masters in Professional Counseling and School Counseling certification from Lindenwood University, and finally completed her doctorate in Counseling Studies from Capella University. Lynette has worked in the field of mental health since 2010 and has experience working with families, couples, and individuals of all ages on a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, grief and loss, marital concerns, addiction, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, PTSD, and other trauma-related disorders.
Lynette is a Certified Reciprocal Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and she enjoys working with individuals to overcome addiction. She has previous experience working with individuals who were going through the Drug Court process to find recovery and work on their treatment goals and has served as a member of the Lincoln-Pike Counties Drug Court Foundation Board.
Lynette relies heavily on person-centered therapy, emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and cognitive therapy. Lynette also has training in Play Therapy techniques and utilizes this approach when working with children.