Those suffering from substance abuse are not the only ones struggling; the lives of family members and loved ones are significantly impacted as well. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), family members and romantic partners often serve as a powerful catalyst for positive life changes especially with respect to treatment engagement, although they often experience adverse effects as a result. Research shows nearly 75% of substance abusers report ‘a family member or significant other’ as the main reason for their admittance into a rehabilitation.
If entering a treatment center is the first step to end the suffering for addicts, what is the first step for their loved ones?
This article will outline how a family member, spouse, or close friend of someone struggling with addiction is adversely affected and provide evidenced-based techniques to help cope and heal alongside their loved one in recovery. Self-care is also very important here.
As a result of addiction, close relatives, intimate partners, and friends fall victim to emotional neglect that may manifest into severe anxiety or depression impairing one’s ability to work, attend school, and enjoy life. Often times the psychological effects are direct in form of guilt, codependency trauma, and societal stigma. Further, as the person struggles to overcome the addiction, relatives and friends often act as family caregivers and are prone to caregiver fatigue. This being said, they should make self-care a priority.
Seeking a therapist is the most effective means of treatment to address the aforementioned psychological effects. According to Dr. Duggan, the lead researcher commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs to assess the efficacy of support mechanisms for families of drug users, most rehabilitation centers offer resources to seek a private therapist in addition to other support services. Gruber and Floyd suggest attending support groups concurrently or in place of therapy.
Support groups are particularly beneficial because, through sharing, they help the participant realize that the trauma, shame, and stigma they may suffered is universal and stop taking the process very personally.
You are not alone.
Alnon, an organization offering support to friends and families of problem drinkers, is not the only option — there are alternatives, accessible both in person or online.
According to the American Addiction Centers, the most effective and recommended stress management and coping skills are below.
- Routine exercise: Exercising at least three times a week helps the body reduce tension and release endorphins that result in pleasurable feelings. Get outside and enjoy fresh air and new scenery!
- Sleep: Sleep is significant predictors for health outcomes. Getting anywhere from 7-9 hours sleep a night will improve the day.
- Healthy diet and water consumption: Making sure the body has enough fluid helps the heart pump to the brain, helping overall functioning. Avoiding sugar and alcohol in one’s diet helps keeps us nourished and hydrated.
- Visual Imagery: Imagining calming scenes of your choice (e.g., beaches, islands, libraries) can help evoke feelings of relaxation.
- Breathing techniques: Stress often makes it harder to breathe, without knowing it, stressed individuals hold their breath or breathe too fast when they are stressed. Taking deep breaths 10 times at equal intervals is a great coping skill and you can try anywhere!
- Meditation & Mindfulness: Mindfulness meditation is a practice where you can sit with your eyes closed, legs crossed on a chair or floor, while you breathe deeply from your stomach to your chest. The goal is to shift the attention to your breath going in and out, distractions are small challenges to let you know to reorient yourself back to focuses on breathing. Letting thoughts and feelings just be, with no judgment, helps you learn to perceive stress in a less distressing
Ensuring that a substance user receives treatment can be a relief, but the path to achieving that goal must allow caregivers to advance their personal lives. This may involve resuming shelved ambitions, interests, or hobbies.
Initially, self-care is about ensuring that a caregiver regains a healthy lifestyle; however, self-care as an ideology and practice is a life-long journey.