Family Support for Substance Use Disorder

Around 13% of people worldwide struggle with some form of alcohol or drug dependence during their lifetime. These statistics equate to nearly 35 million people struggling with a substance use disorder. [1]

One of the most beneficial and necessary factors in drug or alcohol abuse recovery is the degree of support the person in need of help is receiving. The strength of a person’s support system is incredibly important and influential for their recovery; if you’re a friend or a family member of someone currently in treatment for drug or alcohol misuse, your interactions with them can have a huge influence on their progress. Show them you are available to support them in any way you can.

However, giving this degree of support can take its toll. Because a loved one’s substance use can be very draining at times, you may not always have the emotional or mental energy, or even the resources needed to provide this fundamental support. When this happens, it’s important that you also get the help you need. Make sure that you value your own wellbeing in addition to your struggling loved ones. There are several types of support that friends and families of addicts can take advantage of in this situation.

 

Support Groups

Helping a loved one struggling with addiction is not easy. That’s why it’s so beneficial to seek support from peers who are in similar situations. The goal of these support groups is to provide a mechanism for discussing, coping with, and learning more about addiction in an unbiased environment with others going through the same thing [2-4]. These groups can be helpful for:

Lowering your stress levels
Finding a safe non-judgmental space
Improving your mental health
Reducing feelings of isolation
Learning how other families are dealing with a loved one’s addiction, and how you may be able to apply these techniques to your own situation
Improving your overall quality of life

Family and Individual Therapy

Therapy is a healthy way to deal with stress, especially the kind of stress brought on by helping a loved one with their substance use disorder. Many people who find themselves in this situation tend to be directly affected or harmed by their loved one’s substance use in ways they may not even notice. They may be experiencing feelings of blame, guilt, worthlessness, frustration, anger, or overall unhappiness. Families and individuals may not have the tools they need to help themselves in addition to their loved ones.

Family and individual therapy programmes are designed to help you acknowledge these feelings, understand them, and work through conflict. These sessions take time and effort, but they are worth it and can be vital for improving your mental health.

 

Make Self-Care a Priority

Detaching yourself from the issue and prioritising your well-being is vital if you want to be able to provide support [5]. There are several ways to check-in with yourself and make sure you are prioritising self-care:

Focus on what makes you happy: Finding activities that bring you joy and making time for them in your everyday life can be extremely beneficial. This can include cooking, volunteering, playing sports, doing crafts, yoga, or meditation. Participating in activities that bring you happiness and comfort can give you a mental health boost and put you in a place where you’re able to be a good support to others
Get a good amount of sleep every night: The stress of being a major support for a loved one with a substance use disorder can activate your fight or flight response [6], leading to your body being constantly on in a physiological sense. This can greatly impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep. However, regular sleep loss can lead to mental and physical exhaustion, making the entire situation more difficult to deal with. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and getting between 7-8 hours of sleep per night puts you in a better state of being [7].
Exercise regularly: Getting regular exercise in your daily or weekly schedule is known to have several health benefits*, like reduced stress and reduced symptoms of mental health disorders (feelings of depression or anxiety*). Exercise is a healthy way to regulate yourself and the worries that come along with being part of a major support system. Through exercise, you can also release the feel-good chemicals and hormones norepinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin [8], further improving your mood and well-being.

Manage Your Expectations

One of the most important things for maintaining good mental health while providing support for a loved one is to manage your expectations regarding their recovery process. It’s natural to feel a sense of hope and relief when they seek out and begin treatment, and it can be especially frustrating when recovery takes longer than desired, or when a relapse occurs.  However, it’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease and recovery is a lifelong process that takes a lot of effort from both sides. Managing your expectations will prevent you from feeling too disheartened and losing all hope in the process. It’s important to remember to be patient with both your loved ones and with yourself. Healing takes time, and there may be some knock backs that you don’t expect. However, being present and supportive can be transformational in nature.  

One particularly difficult moment in supporting someone in recovery, or those seeking to achieve sobriety, is deciding when to take a step back.  This is a thorny, emotionally hard issue to address as there never seems to be a good or opportune moment that doesn’t come with some degree of regret.  The organisations below will help you with this process, but do know that there is no shame in taking some time out of a situation that you feel is impacting your own mental health to a degree that you feel is unmanageable.  There is no shame in doing so, and it takes great courage. One can only do as much as one can to help another, and if you feel you need take a break then that’s also fine.  You can continue to show compassion to a loved one, even from a distance, but use your own wisdom to know when you can help, and when you need to take care of yourself as well.    

 

Organisations that can help

There are several organisations that may be beneficial for you [9-11]. These include:

Al-Anon: A worldwide fellowship programme providing recovery information for families of people with alcohol addiction
Alateen: Part of Al-Anon, geared towards adolescents
Nar-Anon: A 12-step programme for those with drug addiction
Families Anonymous: A 12-step programme for family members of people with drug or alcohol dependence that also have behavioral health conditions
Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART): A science-based programmefor family members of people living with addiction
Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP): A support group for those who have lost someone to substance use disorder

References

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