Addiction takes a massive toll, not only on the person struggling with it but on their friends, family and community. Often this wider toll is not spoken of and can even carry a sense of shame. In this article we will explore how A Loved One’s Addiction can feel and ways for the support network to cope.
Addiction comes in many forms, it can be alcohol, prescription drugs, gambling, illicit drugs, sex, or porn among others. Each carries its own difficulties and can have a tremendous cost on the person’s life, health, and relationships.
Why is it so difficult when a loved one is struggling with addiction?
It is often a hugely painful experience for family and friends for many reasons. For some, the addiction is hidden for an extended period of time which can mean loved ones are facing the consequences of the person’s addiction (such as mood changes, irritability, changes in routine, financial loss) without an honest explanation. There can be lying, disappearances or gaslighting techniques used to hide the addiction. This can lead a loved one to feel confused, hurt, and unsure of what is truly going on and how to help.
Once the addiction is out in the open, it doesn’t necessarily mean the person is ready to fight it. Sometimes loved ones must deal with the frustration of watching a person they care for go deeper and deeper into addiction because they are not in a place to seek help yet. This can lead friends and family to feel angry, betrayed, and afraid of what is to come.
If the person is in recovery or actively seeking help (such as from a treatment centre, addiction therapy or support groups) this can feel like a huge relief to friends and family. But recovery is an evolving journey so even this can bring unexpected emotions for the support network. While there can be relief and optimism, friends and family may fear relapse and they may have lingering feelings of hurt. The mixed emotions that recovery can bring for the support network can feel confusing and can bring about a sense of guilt.
All of these feelings (among others) are entirely normal. Just as no addiction experience is the same, neither is the experience for the friends, family, and support network. Normal life doesn’t stop so this can create additional strain. It may feel like an overwhelming task to support someone struggling with addiction while continuing to also go to school or work as normal, raise children, or keep a house. Of course the loved ones recovery and health makes these challenges worthwhile but it is normal to need support and guidance when you’re faced with such a task.
How do we support ourselves while supporting someone in addiction?
- Reach out to resources in your area (links at the end of the article). It is important to seek support from organisations that have the knowledge and resources to assist and get you through this time. When facing a loved one’s addiction, it is common to feel very alone, but remember reaching out to the right people makes a world of difference.
- Education on the specific addiction and addiction in general will help guide you. It is common to feel anxiety or fear over something that we don’t understand, so learning about it can create a sense of understanding, empathy, and empowerment.
- Support for the supporters is vital, whether it is through counselling, support groups or your friends and family. Having a safe space to vent, cry or simply explore your feelings with people that you can trust is a necessity.
- Self-care is the act of treating your mind, body and spirit with kindness and consideration. It is extremely necessary when supporting someone through addiction or recovery. Making sure you are nourished, rested, and doing things that make you feel fulfilled or happy is a must. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
- Know your limits. Your role can be to encourage, support and love them but you cannot control their recovery journey for them. Trying to do so will leave you exhausted and frustrated. Recovery is often called a lifelong process and therefore there may be ups and downs and things that you cannot control; check in with yourself constantly to make sure you are coping and reach out when you need help.
Addiction is a complex and often painful experience but there is a huge deal of hope given the sheer amount of treatment techniques and help now available. If you are supporting someone currently dealing with addiction or in recovery, take time to make sure that you are taken care of and get the support that you need.
HSE helpline: Call 1800 459 459
Drugs.ie: friends/family support: https://www.drugs.ie/resources/covid/family_support/
Gamblers anonymous: https://www.gamblersanonymous.ie/gam-anon
S-Anon: support for family/friends of sex addicts – https://sanon.org/
Al-Anon: support for family/friends of alcoholics – www.al-anon-ireland.org/
This article was written by Lauren Hall, pre-accredited and newly qualified Psychotherapist at The DMC Clinic. If you are affected by the issues mentioned above, you can book an appointment. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.