Rehab 4 Addiction

6 Skills for Coping as a Family with Early Stages of Addiction

There are few things that can put a strain on a family quite as much as one of its members struggling with addiction. The continual uncertainties and challenging behaviours can cause produce enormous amounts of pressure on the whole family.

It has been shown that dealing with addictive behaviours in the early stages vastly increases the effectiveness of treatment.[1] In this article, we are going to look at a few things that are useful to work on, in order to give the person struggling with substance misuse, and the whole family, the best chance of recovery.

1. Learn about addiction

Substance misuse disorders are extremely complex things and this makes it very difficult to diagnose as well as to treat. Unfortunately, because of its complexity, there is a lot of misinformation around substance misuse; and some people have theories about the conditions that are far from helpful and far from the truth.

So, if you think you see signs of addiction in one of the members of your family, take the time to seek reliable information. You can, of course, find lots of useful info on the websites of well-established, professional organisations such as this one. You can also find information online about how to access support groups that can offer advice, or you could get in contact with your GP.

Substance use disorders are medically recognised conditions and therefore it is important to follow professional advice when trying to respond to the signs and symptoms.

2. Be patient

When we discover a family member is struggling with substance misuse it can be very easy (and natural) to react with panic or even anger. We might immediately start to think about what may lay ahead if the behaviour continues or worsens, or we might want to try and tell the person how hurt or disappointed we are and even begin to blame them for their actions.

It is quite normal to begin trying to work out why our loved one has reached this stage, and even to start looking at how we could or should have done things differently. Although this is normal, it is probably not helpful for you or them.

Substance use disorders are medical conditions and therefore we need to try and view our loved one, not as someone to be blamed but as someone who is suffering from a condition that can lead to unhealthy behaviours and decisions.

This means that getting angry with them when they misuse a substance or trying to reason with them by using threats or blame is not going to produce lasting results. They need to know that they are supported and that you will help them in the way they need.

3. Be (genuinely) helpful

How can you help your family member with addiction? The answer to this question can be very hard to accept when dealing with people we love.

When our child or parent is going through an ordeal as difficult as substance misuse, it can be natural that we want to try and protect them from some of the bad consequences. When they are late for work, we provide an alibi for their fake excuses; when they cannot pay their bills, we provide some financial support, so their phone or energy is not cut off.

It can feel selfish not to do these things if we are able but unfortunately, this provides a buffer for the person from the realities of what they are doing. When we protect our loved ones from the real consequences of their actions, we remove the incentive to change and get well.

What can be genuinely helpful for someone battling substance misuse is to make professional help easily accessible. The situation can feel very hopeless for the person in the midst of addiction and so offering to take them to see their doctor, attend a support group, or even look at rehab possibilities can provide them with ways of reaching out for the necessary help.

4. Be supportive

All the points we have covered so far are ways of being supportive, but we have not looked at how to react to continued substance misuse or relapse.

Relapse, for many sufferers of addiction, be a necessary part of the process of reaching long-term recovery. We would all like for our family members to receive help and find that way which means they will never return to their substance, but although this point can be reached, the steps to that point are rarely straightforward.

Particularly when we have begun to feel that progress has been made and our family member has been staying clear of their addictive behaviours, when relapse happens it can feel unbearable.

Addictive behaviours become a part of what the brain considers necessary in a person’s life, and therefore recovery from addiction takes a lot of rewiring. This means that in the beginning, relapses are very possible and in fact can actually be useful ways for someone to learn more about what they need to do differently in order to stay in recovery.

So, when a relapse comes along, try not to become angry or in any way seek to punish. The most important thing is to offer the necessary support to get your loved one back on the recovery path, knowing that each knock can be part of the learning curve to lifelong recovery.

5. Don’t be co-dependent.

Co-dependency can come in many forms and can be difficult to understand and notice. It can be really helpful to take some time to ready about or ask a professional for information about what co-dependency is and how it can start to show in situations where there is substance misuse.

Co-dependency in relationships occurs when one of the parties feels the relationship is under threat. When a loved one is struggling with substance misuse it can be easy to start building our own lives around trying to look after or protect them.

As co-dependency grows it can take a huge toll on someone’s mental health as they try to manage all the different areas of life that are being affected by their struggling loved one. It is important to ask for help if you feel this is starting to happen to you so that you can keep yourself well.

6. Look after the rest of the family

This includes looking after yourself as well. Someone struggling with a substance use disorder can very easily start to consume the physical and emotional energy of everyone else in the family and this is not fair.

People within a family unit can respond to having a loved one struggling with addiction in many ways, and unfortunately, some of these ways are not what is best for anyone.[2]

Take time to do the things that we all need to do to be well: take opportunities for relaxation, exercise, and fun. Dealing with substance misuse in a family can be a very intense experience but maintaining our own health is not selfish but instead ensures we are able to be of genuine help to our sick loved one and that everyone else in the family still has a chance to thrive.

As with many of the other points, if you feel that your family is not coping well with dealing with the substance use struggles of one of its members, don’t be afraid to talk to a professional.





Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.