Substance use disorder (SUD) is a condition that develops when someone develops a dependency on substances like drugs (prescribed or otherwise) or alcohol. This condition is typically referred to as addiction, and many believe that it is a choice. The real answer is more complicated. See, when one develops a substance use disorder, their brains are forever transformed by the substance. They have the ability to make the first step, but it is much more difficult than just putting the substance away. This issue is exacerbated by co-occurring mental afflictions like anxiety or depression.
One effective way for people suffering from substance use disorder to get the help they need is through a powerful support group. This group can be made up of friends or people who have recovered from SUDs to share their experiences. One of the best support groups for anyone trying to combat their SUD is family.
Family: a group that you are born into. A group that you’ve known all your life. A group that’ll know you better than arguably anyone else you’ll ever know.
We form special bonds with family members, such as the relationship between children and their parents, siblings, and even your extended family. Some people have strained relationships with their families, making it hard to utilize those members for support. Some have families who have rejected them because of their SUD, and these are especially difficult.
This blog will talk about why family is important and three ways to help a family member suffering from a SUD.
Support - Supporting your loved one during this tough time:
One thing that every human needs are support. Whether that is financial, physical, or just showing someone that you believe in them and their efforts. People seeking recovery are already going through a lot. Some treatment options can be more than they can afford, or they may begin to get lonely and isolated on their journey to recovery. Always be willing to reach out to a family member or family members who are struggling and ask how they are doing. Do they need help? Are they hanging out with friends or people who are encouraging them? Communicate frequently with your loved ones who are struggling with SUD and ask about their needs. Don't let them self-isolate out of shame or fear, as this can make their conditions worse.
Try to find a home for family members who are struggling with SUDs if they’ve lost theirs. If you don’t have space or resources or are a little apprehensive, reach out to other family members or friends or try a shelter. Some organizations, like ours, will house patients while they seek recovery. Try to have conversations about treatment options and housing and be honest about why you think someone in your family needs help. Being supportive will go a long way to show that you care and want them to get better.
Try to show family members with SUDs treatment options and address their concerns or find someone who can. Again, be honest. Tell someone why you think they should get treatment, but let them tell you why they haven’t. They may make revelations about themselves or you that you haven’t known or considered before.
Conscientiousness - Understanding the hardship:
For someone to fix a problem, they have to acknowledge it. That can’t always happen unless they are comfortable. Many assume negative things about their loved ones because they’ve developed a SUD or some substance dependency. Someone might assume family members with SUD are willing to steal items to pay for substances, or they will avoid getting treatment. This might be true for a select group of people, but not all. Many people with SUD want to get recovery, but they are afraid to admit they have a problem because of the shame they think it’ll bring.
This is where being conscientious of someone’s problem comes in. Practice active listening and avoid judging people. Don’t aggresively force someone to tell the truth, or make them uncomfortable, but ask them questions about their mental state if they seem stressed or show other signs of using SUDs. Don’t be overbearing or mocking because this is why many people turn to substance use and alcohol in the first place.
Also, remember to use the proper language. Drugfree.org has an excellent list for this.
Many people have complained about being politically correct about things. Still, it is genuinely helpful for people with SUDs to hear positive language instead of negative or hate-filled language. Terms like “drug addict,” “crack head,” or “drunk” should be avoided as they perpetuate stereotypes. The use of these terms can make people so afraid to associate with them that they never admit to their problem in fear of being seen as those stereotypes by their family.
Also, remember to be conscious of your own health. That’s right, your health. As Vervvatahealth points out, "Your loved one isn’t the only one who needs to recover from the addiction – you do, too." Try to build a support group for your family members and get other family members to help out so that you are not carrying effort by yourself.
Too much stress can make you agitated, and you might give up on someone, or worse, wrongly feel personally responsible for their situation. Your good mental health will keep you actively engaged in someone’s recovery, and it’ll make the other person’s recovery even easier, which is the ultimate goal.
Encouragement - Motivating people to get help:
The final thing to consider that will help family members struggling to recover from SUDs is encouragement. This requires both support and conscientiousness. Show your encouragement by providing family members with the resources they need and check-in with them. Be sure to give them positive messages about their recovery and tell them that you are proud of them. This will let them know that you believe in them and that you believe their recovery is possible. Make sure that you are encouraging them to get help and not just letting them perpetuate their condition. Basically, don't be an enabler. This link to Goodtherapy.org can tell you more about how to avoid being an enabler.
Also, be patient with your family members as they go through the recovery process. They may relapse or make slow progress, but as mentioned earlier, recovery is not an easy process, and it requires a lot of time and effort on behalf of the patient and a lot of support from their loved ones. Be there during the tough times. Visit a family member’s therapy session or their room at a treatment facility.
Please take part in family therapy or treatment options like the one we offer. Showing your family member that you are willing to watch over them in their journey will embolden them. Show your faith in treatment options and try to address their fears about treatment. Explain why these fears might be wrong or misplaced, and always promote positive options, and show optimism about recovery.
What can you do today?
Before you go, we have a few questions for you. Do you have a loved one who is struggling with a substance use disorder? Do you know anyone in the community who might have one? What do you personally want to do about it?