The crisis of addiction should be met with compassion. But if you see it up close—in a parent, child, spouse, friend or other loved one—your feelings are probably a little more complicated. You may be hurt, frustrated, fed up and agonized, but you probably want one thing above all: for your loved one to get better.
Being in the orbit of addiction feels lonely, but 159 million Americans either suffer from addiction issues or have a close relationship with someone who does. That's 59% of the country's population. It is vital for families to understand how to cope with a loved one's addiction and, if they choose, support them through recovery.
It's no secret that when someone struggles with alcohol or other substances, their thoughts, feelings and behaviors can change during active use or dependence. Loved ones will notice, and these changes can have a direct impact on them too.
Fortunately, there are programs and resources dedicated to healing both the person grappling with the addiction and their loved ones. Even if you may have experienced some challenges together, you can learn some tools and dynamics to watch for as you grow toward a brighter future together in recovery.
Family Dynamics: Which Ones Help Recovery and Which Can Hinder It
Recovery feels like a gift to the whole family, and it is—but it may come after years of hurt, and the process can be difficult at times. Still, families often face their unique challenges and achievements together. So if you're seeking to support a loved one through their recovery, it's worthwhile to learn how to forge and maintain healthy relationship dynamics.
Healthy family and relationship dynamics surrounding someone in recovery usually include:
- Trust and honesty
- Mutual respect and understanding
- Making room for individuality and supporting confidence
- Healthy communication; ability to repair after conflict
- Approaching conflict with respect and compassion; ability to control temper
- Problem solving
Relationships that generally have unhealthier dynamics may show signs of:
- Exhibiting violence of any kind (emotional, physical, verbal and sexual)
Clearly, although family can look different for each person, some key factors determine what healthy relationships look like versus unhealthy ones. By taking time to thoughtfully and thoroughly consider how your family interacts, you can get a better sense of the environment you've helped create and how to improve it.
No family is perfect, but getting the right support and actively working to do better individually and as a team can only enhance your life, no matter where you fit into the family dynamic. There are many avenues of support for families that are overcoming addiction. You can find the right course of action that fits your family's unique needs.
We should add that if anyone in the family feels unsafe, they should remove themselves from situations where violence and other harmful behaviors are present.
How Can Your Family Support a Loved One in Recovery?
Learning how to create healthy family dynamics takes patience, support and compassion. Changing long-standing patterns and behaviors can take time and great courage—from everyone. As the family works together to heal, remember that you are a team with a goal: to move forward and thrive as a happy, healthy family.
There are different ways to achieve a healthy family dynamic that supports addiction recovery. You may find it's worth trying individual, relationship and group therapy sessions, which can offer varying levels of support and guidance to each family member or the whole unit. When everyone has at least one safe place to process and come to terms with their thoughts and feelings, it can be easier to come together as a family without as much tension or stress.
What Might Support Look Like?
What, specifically, does supporting a loved one in recovery look like?
- Holding an intervention for a person in active addiction
- Attending appointments together; getting the person in recovery to and from their obligations
- Avoiding having substances around or readily available to your loved one in recovery
- Making sure that your own needs are met to avoid burnout while you support your loved one in recovery
- Communicating with compassion, understanding and honesty
As long as you lead with patience and love, then you and your family can overcome any of the challenges you may face.
What Resources Are Out There To Help Families Get Through This?
All of the above may sound like a lot for a family to handle. Addiction and recovery are bewildering for everyone, and nobody in the family dynamic can be expected to "get it right" about everything all the time.
Fortunately, there are resources, counseling options and support services available to the family members of a person experiencing addiction. As you support a loved one through addiction and recovery, it is important to ensure that your own needs are met. You can't give strength if you don't have it in reserve.
If your loved one is overcoming addiction, don't forget to take care of yourself. That could include …
- Attending group or individual therapy sessions
- Maintaining a healthy routine
- Taking care of your mind, body and spirit
- Setting and maintaining boundaries to protect your mental health
There's also a variety of programs and resources available to the loved ones of a person who is undertaking recovery (or still using, for that matter). By weighing your options together, you can figure out which might make sense for you.
Many addiction treatment centers have incorporated different approaches to family therapy, including ones that are fairly specific to the relationship dynamics: adult children and parents, parents and adolescents, spouses, therapies for addressing significant traumas or co-occurring mental health disorders, and more. As with any clinical treatment, you may have to factor in costs.
But there are also affordable or free options available to family members, such as community group meetings. Perhaps the best known are the 12-step companions to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous designed for family members: Al-Anon, Alateen and Nar-Anon.
Finally, don't forget to simply stay on top of your well-being. This whole process can be emotionally trying and stressful, sometimes extremely so, and anything that helps you keep sight of your goals and progress helps, period.
The same practices that can be helpful to your loved one in recovery can likely help you: journaling, meditation, getting good sleep, eating well and other self-care staples. If necessary, set your boundaries around substances, behaviors that you will not tolerate and other important factors that could affect your sense of safety and your mental health.
By managing your own stress and honoring your experience alongside your loved one's, you will be able to show up for them as a supportive and compassionate presence.
It's not a contest, but addiction can be as tough to witness or live near as it is to live with. You undergo the pain together, so it's worth trying to heal together too. Recovery can be a new chapter for everyone.