Guide for Loved Ones

Does Someone You Love Struggle with a Substance Use Disorder? You Need Support Too.

Whether you are a spouse, parent, child, or friend of someone who struggles with substance use or alcoholism, you know how deep the toll their behaviors are on you. Your relationship with your loved one was likely once a place of safety and comfort until addiction took hold and made things take a turn for the worse.

It is essential to give yourself the mental and physical health care you need to care for yourself. We know that there are some common emotions that most families and friends of people who have substance use issues experience. You’ll be relieved to know that there are some things you can do for yourself and continue to your loved one.

Common Emotions Experienced By Family and Friends

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When your loved one struggles with addiction, it is normal to feel like all of your time, mental and physical energy go into their needs. You may feel guilty for even thinking about your own needs when you know how badly your loved one is hurting. It is not uncommon to experience a wide range of emotions, including:

  • Frustration – This is common when a loved one seems to make strides toward recovery, then experiences a setback. While your loved one may be working hard to get to recovery, it is normal for you to feel frustrated when things do not continue to progress along a positive path.
  • Bitterness – Day in and day out, you do the best that you can to encourage your loved one, no matter how many times you have felt disappointed or let down. Over time, this can result in bitterness. Even when you work hard to be positive, bitterness creeps in from time to time. This emotion often comes after neglecting your own needs to take care of your loved one struggling with addiction.
  • Anger – Anger can creep up when you least expect it – it can be acute and in response to a specific situation, such as your loved one forgetting to pick up your kids from an activity due to their addiction. Anger can also be chronic and long-lasting, resulting from a long-standing buildup of emotions without an outlet to release them.
  • Guilt – Many people who provide care and support to someone struggling with alcohol or other substances deal with guilt. It is normal to wonder what you could do or say differently to make them stop using, even while understanding they suffer from a chronic disease.
  • Jealousy – Surprisingly, some people may feel jealousy toward the person in their life who has a substance use disorder. As a caretaker, you rarely get a break from worrying about and/or taking care of your loved one, and it may seem like they live a carefree life while immersed in their addiction, free from responsibility. While you see the damage to their lives, it is normal for you to feel jealous as it may seem they are getting a respite from the trials of everyday life.

Enabling vs. Support

Supporting is helpful; enabling is not. It can be hard to know the difference between the two, especially when you are faced with a game-time decision on how to support your loved one. Enabling is when a friend or family member participates in behavior that makes it easier for the person struggling to continue using their substance of choice without facing the consequences. Most people who enable do not do so intentionally.

Enabling behaviors may include:

  • Vouching for a loved one when they skip out on responsibilities due to drug or alcohol use, or the ramifications thereof
  • Providing them with money after they have spent their money on drugs or alcohol
  • Allowing a loved one to be abusive to you or someone else and blaming the abuse on the drugs or alcohol
  • Neglecting your own needs (including sleep, exercise, and relaxation) to be on call for their needs

Resources for an Addict’s Loved Ones

If you are enabling your loved one or need support dealing with your emotions that go with caring for someone with substance use or alcohol disorder, you are not alone. Finding a community of people going through the same issues is the first step in getting your life back while supporting the person you love.

There is help available to you, including some free options:

  • Family Therapy – Family therapy creates the space necessary for you and your loved ones to talk so that everyone feels heard and safe. This is not about ganging up on anyone in your family – it is about understanding the role everyone can play in helping them toward recovery while still maintaining individual identities.
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics – Even as an adult, your relationship with your parent(s) has a considerable effect on your life. Attending meetings with Adult Children of Alcoholics can give you the coping strategies you need to move forward after having to parent your parent(s).
  • Al-Anon and Nar-Anon – These options support people who love alcoholics and people who are addicted to narcotics. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are anonymous and free and can be a great way to understand that you have support from others in your position.

You deserve support too. It is easy to get lost in focusing all of your efforts on getting your loved one sober; however, neglecting yourself can have a long-lasting impact.

Please reach out to us when you are ready to talk. An addiction support specialist is waiting for your call at (844) 978-1524