Family conflicts are uncomfortable for all parties. No one wants to tell Aunt Judy that her meat pie is too dry. In many cases, to maintain some semblance of harmony, we would all prefer to eat dry pie. But what happens when the problem is more dangerous than an erroneous entree? What happens when someone is going through something that is negatively impacting every part of their life and the lives of others.

Addiction is often called a family disease. Most people can see how addiction can affect every aspect of an addict’s life. It can have detrimental consequences to their health, career, social life, mental health, and family life. However, addiction also has a tremendous impact on the friends and family of the person who is battling addiction. 

The stress of worrying about a loved one who is slowly deteriorating can have a serious impact on the people around a person in active addiction. Shielding family members from consequences of addiction can also make family members vulnerable to financial and legal problems, which can also jeopardize other parts of their life. Some people, especially mothers, may even suffer physical effects from stress, sleepless nights, and working to cover for their loved one.

Unfortunately, it is a hard truth that you cannot control a loved one’s addiction. Someone who is not ready to make a change will not actively take steps to deal with their addiction. However, as a family member or close friend, there are some things you can do to encourage a person to seek treatment and help prepare them to make a change.

If you have a family member that you believe has a substance use disorder, there are a few things you need to know and consider to get someone into treatment

Spotting the Signs

To properly address the problem of addiction in your family, it’s important to first recognize the signs. Addiction will eventually make itself known no matter how much a person tries to hide it. However, it can sometimes go unnoticed for extended periods of time when the people around the addicted person aren’t paying attention. Different drugs may cause different physical signs and symptoms but drug use, in general, has several common behavioral signs. The earlier the signs are recognized and addressed, the better. Typically, long periods of addiction have greater consequences as the disease takes a firm root in the brain and effects more and more of a person’s life.

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of addiction that you might be able to notice as a family member or close friend:

  • Loss of control. Drug use may start for recreational or medicinal purposes but when dependence sets in, an addicted person will find it difficult to stop using drugs in excess. They may feel the need to use just to feel “normal.”
  • Isolationism. Drug use often causes people to withdraw from normal activities, even hobbies they once enjoyed. This may result from depression, trying to hide drug use, or guilt.
  • Changing social circles. A person’s friends can indicate their habits. A sudden change in friends can indicate drug use or abuse, especially if they appear to be falling in with other people who use drugs or abuse alcohol.
  • Suffering from work or school performance. Many drugs affect cognition and mental ability while they are active, which can cause a person to perform poorly in school or at work. But the need to keep up with an addiction and avoid painful withdrawal can also cause people to shirk obligations.
  • Taking more risks. Drug use is often associated with risky behaviors, especially as the need to get drugs to maintain an addiction becomes more desperate.
  • Legal issues. Drug use and increased risk-taking can lead to legal troubles. This can happen if a person was caught with drugs, trying to steal money, or commit a crime in order to get drugs.
  • Lying and secrecy. Keeping secrets and telling unexplained lies can point to an addiction. If you find a person lies about how much they use, that’s another red flag.
  • Physical changes. Drug use can cause a number of physically noticeable changes like bloodshot eyes and fluctuations in weight. They may also cause a person to forsake personal hygiene.
  • Tolerance. As a person abuses a drug, their tolerance will grow over time. This may be harder to notice from an outside perspective but if they need larger doses to achieve the same effects, it means their tolerance is growing.

What is Enabling?

If you’ve recognized the signs of addiction in a family member, the next thing you should understand is the difference between enabling and non-enabling behavior. There is a fine line between helping and enabling and your instinct might be to do everything you can to protect and help someone you are close to. However, enabling may prolong a person’s active addiction before seeking help, potentially making the disease worse.

In many cases, consequences are what wake a person up to the fact that they have a problem with addiction and that they need to seek help. Enabling involves shielding from the consequences that could wake them up to reality. The consequences of addiction are like pain symptoms in the body. No one wants them and it’s tough to see a person you care about go through it. However, pain tells us that something is wrong. Without it, we may do more damage to ourselves without even realizing there is a problem.

Enabling behaviors can take on several different forms. One of the most common is simply helping to put out fires caused by addiction. This can mean helping an addict out with financial issues caused by funding addiction. It can mean lying or covering for them to protect their reputation, job, or emotions. But it can also mean simply allowing them to use your home as a place to use drugs.

Enabling behaviors can also mean not doing anything at all. Ignoring behavior that is unacceptable, not expressing your emotions and concerns, or not confronting the issue at all can be considered enabling.

Finally, enabling can take the form of self-sacrifice. In many cases, you may be compelled to sacrifice your own needs to help a person who’s addicted. Giving your time, money, health, and emotional well-being to protect a person going through an addiction. This sacrifice can often go unacknowledged by the person you are helping. Unfortunately, this form of enabling hurts two people.

True helping, when it comes to addiction, means setting clear rules and encouraging treatment and recovery. Let the person know that drug and alcohol abuse will not be allowed in your home and stick to that rule. Don’t cover for them when addiction has consequences. Continue to encourage them to seek help and be ready to help in any way possible when they decide to pursue treatment.

Finding the Right Level of Care

When you’ve identified a substance use issue, and you’ve made sure you are not exhibiting enabling behavior, it’s important to learn about effective treatment and levels of care. By educating yourself, you will be ready when your loved one is ready for treatment.

Effective treatment addresses multiple needs, tailors treatment to the person on an individual basis, lasts long enough to effectively address those needs, and involves evidence-based therapy options. The level of care your family member is placed in should be equipped to handle the needs they currently have.

Couple swinging their child in a field

Many people who first seek addiction treatment will need medical detox, which is the highest level of care. 

Medical detox is necessary for people that might experience potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

Alcohol and benzodiazepines are the most common drugs to cause symptoms like delirium and seizures which can be fatal. 

However, other drugs can cause medical complications that require treatment from medical professionals.

Detox can also be necessary for people with other medical conditions and complications, whether they are related to drug use or not.

After detox, treatment includes inpatient services, intensive outpatient, and outpatient services. Each level scales down in intensiveness, which requires less attention from clinicians and less time spent on therapies for the client. This continuum is designed to start with highly intensive services and slowly allow for more independence, easing the client back into normal life. For more information about the levels of care, feel free to call one of our addiction specialists.

Do They Have to Want it?

People typically choose to pursue treatment when the alternatives become less attractive. In some cases, this means that a person recognizes the issues that addiction has caused and that it’s time to make a change. But the person’s presence in a treatment program doesn’t always mean they’ve come to that conclusion. It’s often assumed that you can’t force treatment on anyone, they have to want it. However, studies and statistics show that that’s not actually the case.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary for it to be effective. If you kick a loved one out of the house until they get treatment, this can be seen as coercion, offering serious consequences if a person doesn’t comply. But scenarios like that happen all the time and the treatment works.

In addiction treatment research, this question arose in the context of court-mandated treatment. Drug treatment can be offered as an alternative to jail time or as a condition for release, probation, or parole. According to NIDA, legally mandated treatment can be effective. In fact, people who are sent to treatment by the legal system tend to have higher attendance rates and remain in treatment for longer periods which has been linked to better treatment outcomes.

Taking the First Step

Whether your loved one is ready to start dealing with their addiction treatment, or if they don’t even admit that they have a problem, it is never too late or too early to learn more. Speak to an addiction specialist at Delphi Behavioral Health Group to learn more about addiction treatment and helping family members that need treatment. Addiction is a difficult disease to deal with for everyone involved but it’s important to realize that you are not alone in the fight.

Consulting a specialist might give you insight as to how to approach your next move. Through treatment, there is hope for an addicted person to escape the oppression of active addiction to live a productive life of long-lasting recovery.

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