4 Tools for Families Helping a Loved One Through Addiction

In 2014, it was estimated 21.4 million individuals struggled with substance abuse disorders. Substance use disorders are not the only addiction issues that continue to plague our society although they have the most impact and negative consequences associated with them. We continue to see other areas of concern including internet, shopping, pornography and food addiction. As our country continues to be impacted by the opioid crisis, increased alcohol consumption and other process addictions, more and more families are asking the question, "How do I help my loved one through addiction?"

Unfortunately, with the increase in substance and process addictions, we have seen families hurting from the loss of loved ones to the criminal justice system, overdose, or just to the substance itself. The impact of this loss leaves families struggling to manage feelings of sadness, helplessness, confusion, anger, and in some cases hopelessness.

Perhaps your partner is struggling with alcohol addiction. You find yourself becoming overwhelmingly concerned about how alcohol is impacting your partner's physical health. You may worry about his or her ability to hold down a job if use of alcohol continues or increases. Maybe there is fear about how your children will be impacted by their parent's nightly use. Or maybe you are a parent witnessing your child explore with substance use. They may have been caught at school with marijuana and now are facing expulsion.

Eventually, you might find yourself in a place of despair, unsure of how to help or how to protect yourself. Culturally, we've heard all the cliché statements not to "enable" the individual struggling with addiction. We've heard "they will only change when they are ready." These statements leave families feeling confused about how to help.

The truth is -- feelings of confusion and helplessness are normal. Most families impacted by addiction struggle with finding effective ways to help their loved ones.

Isolation and Helplessness

Without help loved ones of those struggling with addiction can experience intense feelings of isolation and helplessness. It's hard to find a place of refuge. Many people have advice about how to best help. Even with the best intentions, advice from others can sometimes be more harmful than good.

Support and Healing

Although you struggle with isolation and feelings of helplessness, you have the potential for healing and support. Whether it is through a knowledgable support system such as Al-Anon or with the help of an addiction professional, there are options to assist you through the challenge of loving someone through addiction.

4 Tools We Recommend for Families Helping a Loved One Through Addiction

Tool #1 - Understand the Resources Available

As a mental health/addiction professional in a small community, I highly encourage families to learn about the services and resources available. Time is of the essence when helping a loved one through addiction. While your loved one might not be ready today, their motivation can change quickly. That being said, services do not always move as quickly as our loved one's motivation for change. The best way to arm yourself is to have a connection with an addictions professional. It will be your loved ones job to reach out and seek services but if you are aware of the resources available you can assist them in taking the first step. The support through Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) may also be helpful. Again, professional services might not have an immediate opening but support groups such as AA are always open. They can provide invaluable support in the early stages of recovery.

Tool #2 - Show Up with Love & Compassion vs. Anger & Shame

While this can be a challenge depending on the situation, it is always best to show up with love and compassion instead of anger and shame. As a loved one of someone who is living with addiction, it is easy for us to feel our own hurt, it is not alway as easy to understand our loved ones are also hurting. Shame is a familiar feeling for those struggling with addiction. Shame actually leads individuals back to using instead of away from it. We want to ensure they understand they are loved and know that they are worthy of love and belonging even when they engage in harmful or hurtful behaviors.

Tool #3 - Set and Hold Boundaries

Showing up with love does not mean you become a doormat. It means you must set boundaries to protect your own health. It does not mean there are no consequences for the pain caused. Setting boundaries means understanding yourself and how your own actions impact the individual in your life who is struggling with addiction. For example, boundaries can include not allowing the individual to stay in your home under the influence of substances or leaving the marriage after multiple acts of infidelity. Setting boundaries can be hard but vital for you to care for yourself. When you set boundaries you help the individual struggling with addiction know what is and is not acceptable. Setting boundaries ahead of time can help with responding in love vs. anger.

Tool #4 - Seek Mental Health Therapy - For Yourself!

Finally, I highly recommend loved ones of individuals struggling with addiction to seek out their own therapy. Unfortunately, relapse is often part of the journey to recovery. This fact is hard for loved ones of addicts. Feelings of sadness, helplessness, and despair can become overwhelming when faced alone. I recommend you find space for yourself to grieve. Get the support you need. Soak up moments of peace and calm. A therapist can help you through this process. Caring for yourself will also help your loved one. You are providing a model for living life, while learning how to care for yourself.

Please know these 4 tools have been found to help reduce the pain associated with loving an individual struggling with addiction but they are not fool proof tools. They are offerings from a therapist whom has worked with loved ones and addicts for the past 6 years. Like most therapeutic tools, they require practice. Be gentle with yourself-making a change in your own life is difficult. Remember to show up with love and compassion for yourself as well as your loved ones.

If you need additional support or would like to meet with a therapist to help you on your journey contact Bridger Peaks Counseling at 406-595-1374 or go to Bozemancounseling.org


About the Author

Rachael L. Dunkel, LCPC, LAC, NBCC   Rachael is a mental health and addiction counselor practicing in Bozeman Montana. Since completing her masters degree in mental health counseling, she has been working with individuals addressing trauma, mood and addictive disorders within the Bozeman Community.  Rachael’s clinical practice is psycho-dynamically oriented with an emphasis on attachment. She is as Certified Daring Way Facilitator, is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing and in the Power of Self-compassion. As a special need parent herself, Rachael has been passionate about addressing the emotional health of special need families. She has spoken to groups of individuals and families on the benefits of self-compassion as a tool for coping with the unique challenges of raising a child with special needs. In addition, she has recently implemented a no-cost therapeutic program offering mental health counseling within Mosaic Rehabilitation Center in Belgrade Montana.  Rachael’s mission is to continue bringing focus to this underserved population and help develop programming that meets the needs of these families.   Editing provided by Caitlin Brandl, MS, PCLC

Rachael L. Dunkel, LCPC, LAC, NBCC

Rachael is a mental health and addiction counselor practicing in Bozeman Montana. Since completing her masters degree in mental health counseling, she has been working with individuals addressing trauma, mood and addictive disorders within the Bozeman Community.

Rachael’s clinical practice is psycho-dynamically oriented with an emphasis on attachment. She is as Certified Daring Way Facilitator, is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing and in the Power of Self-compassion. As a special need parent herself, Rachael has been passionate about addressing the emotional health of special need families. She has spoken to groups of individuals and families on the benefits of self-compassion as a tool for coping with the unique challenges of raising a child with special needs. In addition, she has recently implemented a no-cost therapeutic program offering mental health counseling within Mosaic Rehabilitation Center in Belgrade Montana.

Rachael’s mission is to continue bringing focus to this underserved population and help develop programming that meets the needs of these families.

Editing provided by Caitlin Brandl, MS, PCLC