For a Loved One

For a Spouse/Partner

Marriage and long-term relationships are tough enough to manage without the havoc that addiction can cause. Spouses and partners, in fact, may be the ones hardest hit by substance use or a problematic behavior, because while addicts can often hide using from friends, co-workers and even their children, it’s much harder to keep an addiction secret from the person who’s closest to you.

Getting your loved one to enter treatment is one of the best things you can do for him/her – and for your relationship. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment, start by reaching out to an addiction specialist who can help you identify the type of program likely to best suit your loved one. This can be based on his/her addiction type(s), any mental illness, gender, age, interests, beliefs and more. As a loved one you’ll also need to consider the setting of the treatment, the types of programs available and the kinds of therapy that will be used to help your loved one heal. It can be overwhelming; you’ll find an overview of various treatment options in the Get Help for a Loved One section to make this process a little easier.

As a partner or spouse, it’s likely that you’ll be involved in your partner’s treatment in some way through learning more about addiction and couples counseling or family therapy. Consider getting or therapy together as a couple and separately; in many cases both spouses benefit greatly from individual sessions to work on individual issues. This may be especially true if your loved one suffers from sex, porn and/or love addiction. Experts in treating sexual addiction note that the partner of a sexual addict often internalizes a tremendous amount of guilt, shame, anger and other very intense feelings. Without psychotherapy to understand what’s behind their partner’s compulsive behavior and how to cope with the difficult feelings his/her actions bring up, the relationship – already under severe strain – is even further jeopardized. Similarly, it’s important to address any underlying issues that existed prior to the addiction. If the problems in your relationship or marriage aren’t treated, the stage is set for both ongoing conflict and possibly relapse.

Attending self-help meetings and support groups with your loved one or on your own can be very helpful, too. Some groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, have “open meetings” in which loved ones can attend and there are also groups specifically designed for family members or friends of addicts, like Al-Anon or S-Anon, that can give you added support and a greater understanding of your loved one’s addiction. Even if you only listen to the experiences of others, it can be very comforting.

Also essential to helping your loved one is taking care of yourself. This isn’t selfish. When you’re physically, psychologically and emotionally healthy you’re better able to assist your partner during his/her addiction treatment and recovery. Make sure you eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise regularly; all will help mitigate the effects of stress during this very difficult time. It’s also crucial to maintain your social support network, the people who are there to take care of you.  Simply put, you need to have outlets for your own sanity, whether that’s a hobby, workout, class or just going to movies or concerts or taking a walk in the neighborhood. Self-care also means considering your own long-term needs; and that may mean ending your relationship if your loved one continues to relapse or mistreat you or you’re simply unable to repair the damage caused by addiction.

For a Teen/Young Adult

 There’s simply nothing more devastating to a parent than seeing his/her child hurting. Watching your teenager or young adult succumb to addiction — often feeling like there’s almost nothing you can do — is a pain beyond measure. It takes a lot of courage to seek help for your child; it’s the start of a long road of hard work for both of you.

A good starting point is to reach out to a doctor or counselor for proper screening for addiction and any mental health issues. Once a health care provide confirms your suspicions of a drug or behavioral (also called “process”) addiction(s) and/or mental health problem(s) the next step is deciding on the best for your child. It’s also possible that if you know your teenager or young adult has an addiction because of a drug test, health crisis (such as an overdose) or other overwhelming evidence, that you’ll need to enlist a professional interventionist who can help guide you through the process of confronting your loved one about his/her problem, rather than going it alone.

There are inpatient, outpatient and day treatment programs tailored just for adolescents (which is defined as ages 13 to 17). These programs provide a safe environment for your child; he/she will be surrounded by other teenagers or young adults batting addiction, with males and females housed and treated separately. There’s even a focus on academics; some inpatient programs offer on-site education in core courses for several hours a day, so your child can continue working toward recovery and his/her diploma.

Your child’s treatment will likely include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or another type of psychotherapy. Family involvement is a core part of your child’s treatment, so make it a top priority to attend all family therapy sessions, even if you need to set aside other commitments to do so. During therapy, you’ll learn how to work with – rather than against — your teen to ensure his/her best chance at long-term recovery. While it can be hard for some parents to reconcile, addiction can never be cured and therefore recovery is a lifelong process. This is why follow-up care and recovery support through mutual-help groups like 12-step programs are also crucial for helping your child continue to stay sober.

While it’s natural to put your recovering child at the center of your world, it’s not healthy to ignore your own needs. Consider joining a support group for families of people with addiction, like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Many offer in-person, online and call-in meetings, so there’s always help and support. Even if you’re not ready to participate, you’ll undoubtedly benefit from hearing what other parents are going through, too.

Try to schedule in time for activities that nurture your own health and soul. It’s also important to make time for your spouse or partner and for your other children, if you have them, taking time away from the stress and strain of dealing with an addicted teen or young adult. It’s easy for a family to get so wrapped up in one child’s troubles that other relationships in the home suffer greatly.

For a Parent

 No one wants to admit that their mother or father may have an addiction problem and need treatment. It may be that your parent’s use has been building up over the years, or it may be a more recent change, perhaps in combination with depression, anxiety or another mental health issue. When we see our mom or dad drinking too much, using medication or drugs recreationally or otherwise indulging in a problematic behavior, it’s natural to feel perhaps more inclined to ignore the behavior.Substance use disorders are on the rise among Baby Boomers: 6.2% of those 50 and over had a substance use disorder in 2009, as compared to 2.7% of Boomers in 2002, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Either way, getting your parent to admit to a problem and seek treatment is unlikely to be easy. For one, it may be hard for them to accept advice from their kids and your mom or dad may become very defensive and angry even when you express concern. Your parent may also genuinely be unaware of the problem and/or the health risks of an addiction. For example, many Boomers are simply used to taking a variety of medications for various heath conditions and may not realize that taking this pharmacopeia of pills, when combined with a daily glass of wine (or more), could easily increase their risk for addiction and even an overdose. Also, the effects of drinking may affect an older person more rapidly because the body and brain aren’t able to metabolize alcohol as well or regenerate brain cells as quickly.

Given all of these challenges, your best bet may be best to consult an addiction specialist, social worker, clergy member (if your mother or father belongs to a religious community) or their physician before addressing your parent directly about his/her addiction. Before you do sit down to talk to a professional, make sure to get  a list of all your parent’s medications as well as details about how the drug, behavior and/or mental health issues have affected his/her quality of life and behavior. Visit Get Help for a Loved One to learn the signs of addiction.

Once your parent agrees to get help, an addiction specialist can help you find a treatment program tailored to your mom or dad’s needs; it’s increasingly easy to find ones catered to those over 50. With most treatment programs your parent will receive addiction education (in which they’ll learn how to identify triggers that increase their risk of relapse), one-on-one therapy, group counseling and possibly medication to help with withdrawal symptoms and cravings. To prevent relapses, your loved one will learn coping skills for sustained recovery.

Caring for a parent who is struggling with addiction can be very draining, both emotionally and physically. If possible, seek counseling on your own to help you talk through tough feelings like sadness, anger, frustration and disappointment; talking to a mental health professional will also help you identify any tendencies toward addictive behaviors yourself. If your parent and another close family member both have a substance use problem, your own risk will be higher, too. It’s also important to attend a support group for families of people with addiction, like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, or to talk to a friend, clergy member, or another trusted advisor. And while it can be easy to ignore your own needs now, one of the best ways you can help your parent is to safeguard your own health by exercising regularly, eating healthfully and getting enough sleep.

For a Friend or Relative

It’s probably been very hard to face the fact that a dear friend, or perhaps a relative you’re very close to is struggling with addiction. And a big part of you likely hopes that the problem is one that will resolve itself,, that this person you care so much about will “get it together” and your  and friendship will return to normal. You may even have enabled your relative or friend without realizing it; for example, lent him/her money, set him/her up on your couch after a binge or covered up or made excuses for his/her behavior. While cleaning up various messes arose from your friend’s using may seem like genuine acts of friendship, this kind of help will only keep him/her from facing reality. While it isn’t your role to diagnose your relative or friend, if you suspect there is a problem, it’s very likely you’re right. Visit Get Help for a Loved One to learn the signs of addiction.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore your friend’s addiction for the sake of maintaining camaraderie and memories of good times. You may want to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with your friend/relative. Without accusation, compassionately express your concern, what you have observed and your wishes for your friend’s health and well-being. Or, you may want to first share your observations with family members or another friend to determine how they see the situation. If you all agree there’s a problem, contact an addiction specialist, mental health professional, guidance counselor, clergy member or another health care professional. Be ready to provide details, including:

  • The type of substance(s) of abuse
  • How much you think the person is using
  • How often and for how long you believe they’re using
  • Any negative incidents or behaviors surrounding their possible addiction
  • The person’s reaction when confronted about the possible addiction

If your relative or friend agrees to get help, offer to accompany him/her to an informational appointment with a rehab facility or to an open meeting at a self-help meeting or support group. You might even seek out support for yourself. Al-Anon, for example, is not just for immediate family members; friends and other loved ones of the addict are welcome as well. Attending a few meetings can give you some helpful perspective on how to deal with his/her disease; you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, how to set boundaries and how to avoid enabling your friend/relative. You may also well find a sense of relief in being among a group of people who have struggled with relationships affected by addiction, too.

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