When a person suffers from addiction, it can affect their entire family.
Often, family members and friends take on the role of a rescuer and feel responsible for managing their loved one's disease and facilitating their recovery. Other family members assume the role of a victim or persecutor in an effort to control their loved one's disease.
Every family and family member is impacted by the disease of addiction differently. "In order for your loved one to properly heal, the entire family system needs to heal," says Mary Cosgrove, a family support services coordinator with Mirmont Treatment Center, part of Main Line Health.
According to Cosgrove, there are three pillars that can support family members of someone suffering from addiction: education about the disease; connection with others who have had similar experiences; and support throughout the entire process.
Navigating a loved one's battle with addiction and their recovery
Cosgrove coaches patients and their families and friends about the emotional and mental impact the disease of addiction can have on the entire family system. "When a person is actively battling addiction, it can take a heavy emotional toll on their loved ones. Everyone is essentially in survival mode and doing what they can to survive," says Cosgrove. This is why support for family members of someone suffering from addiction is so essential.
Some family members may feel as though they are walking on eggshells, afraid they'll upset or hurt the person who is actively battling addiction or in recovery. Other friends or family members may hyperfocus on a person's addiction or recovery, questioning if their loved one is going to their meetings or taking all of the necessary steps to help themselves.
In order for someone struggling with addiction to have a successful recovery, family members also need to be helped and supported. "Every family member is emotionally impacted by addiction in their own ways," Cosgrove says, adding that the family system as a whole needs to heal to best support their loved one's recovery.
How can family members of someone suffering from addiction provide support and be supported?
To help families heal, Cosgrove focuses on providing support, connection, and education to family members of people struggling from addiction. For the family system to heal, everyone first needs to understand addiction as a disease and the ways it can affect individuals and the people they love.
When it comes to recovery, it's crucial for family members and loved ones to understand that they cannot control anyone else's behaviors other than their own, says Cosgrove. Letting go of control is a huge theme among the conversations she has with family members of people suffering from addiction. "Let go of some of that control," advises Cosgrove. "Learn how to love and support your loved one without trying to control."
To effectively support someone battling addiction, family members and loved ones need to support themselves. Cosgrove recommends family members participate in individual therapy and support groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). Support groups provide the opportunity to connect with other families who have had similar experiences with addiction. Mirmont Treatment Center offers a weekly virtual support group for families on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 – 8:00 pm. "That connection helps people see they are not the only family experiencing this type of pain and struggle," says Cosgrove. Individual talk and group therapy can help people heal individually so they can eventually heal together as a family.
Taking care of your own needs
Family members and friends tend to feel responsibility for their loved one's disease along with their progress during recovery. They spend a lot of time setting up aftercare, group meetings, and doctor's appointments.
When people take on these roles, their own needs often fall to the wayside. A big part of healing is accepting the reality of addiction and recovery and letting go of responsibility and control, according to Cosgrove.
Cosgrove says that family members need to recognize that they don't have power over what their loved one does or doesn't do during their recovery. Family members should not put more work into their loved one's recovery than the person recovering.
No matter what stage your loved one is in, it's important for family members of someone suffering from addiction to find support, too. Making sure you feel supported and loved and that you are worthy of recovery just as much as your loved one will ultimately enhance the healing process for everyone involved.
Recognize that your journey will look differently from your loved one's — you don't have to mirror where they are in recovery. "You can be okay despite where your loved one will be at in their journey," says Cosgrove.
How to convince someone suffering from addiction that they need help
It takes a certain level of personal willingness and motivation for a person to accept they are battling addiction and need help. "There is a reason the first step in recovery is surrendering to the disease," says Cosgrove. "We can't make someone else surrender."
A common approach is to schedule an intervention to express concern about your loved one's health and safety. Interventions can be incredibly helpful, and it's important to go into them with realistic expectations about what comes next. While some may be ready to surrender and seek treatment, others may not yet realize they are struggling or need help.
Ultimately, it comes down to the individual's willingness to surrender to the disease. If they have not yet reached that point, friends and family members should figure out how to love and support their loved one until they are ready to surrender and get help.
Be supportive, set realistic expectations, and focus on your own healing. "Getting engaged in some level of support as a family member is ultimately going to help your ability to recover and your ability to understand and empathize with what your loved one may be going through," Cosgrove says.
Mental and emotional well-being are integral to a healthy life. When people suffer with mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse, it significantly impacts all aspects of their lives and their loved ones. Main Line Health offers behavioral health services, from group therapy and individual therapy to 12-step meetings for drug and alcohol addiction. It all begins with a phone call.