In 2018, there was an estimated 5.8% of American adults were alcohol dependent or even experienced alcohol use challenges. More than an estimated 11.7% of Americans in the age range of 12 years or older reported engaging in illicit use in the prior month. The above-mentioned statistics draw a pretty vivid picture of how millions of individuals struggle with substance misuse and addiction. 

Nearly all of these people have friends and family members rooting for their ultimate recovery. Families play a huge role in the individual’s recovery process. This is why it’s crucial to understand how to deal with addiction in the family. Whether you’re in one of the following categories, it’ll present to be imperative that you learn how to cope with an addict. 

  • Friends
  • Siblings
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Spouses 

What Topics Are Covered In Family Therapy?

If you are trying to discover ways on dealing with the addict in the family, you may have concerns or questions regarding the following:

  • Finding support groups for the families of addicts
  • How can you better support your loved one?
  • How can you deal with your loved one’s addiction?

Addiction can happen to anyone. Even if a person lives in a community that is filled with loving individuals. Once an addiction develops, friends and family of the addict in the family are also directly affected. This is why it’s imperative to not only find tools on how to cope with an addict but also have an understanding of how to take care of yourself. Our guide will teach you how to deal with addiction in the family and provide the support and love needed to help the person grow. 

A 10-Step Guide: How to Deal With Addiction in the Family

Step 1: Learn as Much as Possible About Addiction

Education can help several families learn how to escape the blame game. Instead of thinking that the addict in the family has a weak, stubborn, and willful addiction, it might be beneficial to understand how addiction stems from the brain. Once you’re able to understand that addiction is not a choice, it might help you to eliminate the resentment and anger you might have about it. 

Several online resources are geared toward helping families learn more about addiction. Bookstores also offer a huge selection of books about the science behind addiction treatment and the chemistry of addiction in the brain. In addition, there are research teams that are conducting in-depth research every day about drugs

The research teams are learning more about how substances interact with the cells in an individual’s brain. They then use that knowledge to develop new addiction treatment methods that might one day be able to treat or even prevent addiction altogether. The overall knowledge of advancement can boost the family’s sense of hope that addiction can not only be treated but conquered.

Step 2: Connect With Understanding Peers

It is not a simple task to learn how to deal with addiction in the family, an addict in the family, or how to cope with an addict. As research has pointed out, addiction can cause a stressful situation when it’s a close relative. That stress can persist for years, and the long-term dysfunction can make it more difficult for families to effectively communicate. 

Oftentimes, there is a block of mistrust that is formed between every member of the family that is ultimately touched by addiction. When you’re able to connect with peers, it can greatly help especially if you become a part of well-established and trusted programs such as Alateen or Al-Anon. The overall goal of the above-mentioned programs is to assist the families of addicts. 

Programs like that are also able to provide a nonjudgemental and safe space where family members can discuss and learn how to cope with an addict and the overall addiction. Individuals choose to go to these meetings for several reasons, but one survey found that plenty of participants are drawn to program meetings like these because they needed help with:

  • Experiencing fewer issues with the addict in the family
  • Improving overall psychological health
  • Discovering a better quality of life
  • Lowering all levels of stress

These might appear to be lofty goals, but the above-mentioned meetings can help. When attending a meeting and listening to families of an addict, feelings of doubt and isolation might begin to dissipate. Families might also receive the help needed to deal with interpersonal issues. 

Step 3: Attend Family Therapy Meetings

Siblings, parents, and spouses of an addict in the family typically absorb many of the individual’s circumstances relating to the substance abuse. Many have a challenging time expressing how they feel about everything, so oftentimes, they say nothing. Family members who don’t know how to deal with an addiction in the family or how to cope with an addict might even start to become distant because they are simply tired of fighting with that person. 

The family members might begin to blame themselves, especially once the addiction persists or they might even blame the person for their unhappiness. Blame games and silent treatments can keep a family from seeking the help they desperately need. It’s natural for family members not to have the necessary tools they need to assist someone in active recovery.

It’s also normal for family members to not have the energy they need to even help themselves. Family therapy programs are specifically designed to completely break down guilt and distrust. Once this process falls into place, every member of the family has a chance to feel more heard. 

Family therapy programs can assist everyone in feeling more understood. Therefore, understanding one another. After this process occurs, everyone can work through any type of conflict but in a more healthy way. 

Families that were once defined by addiction and anger are now able to be solid family units that can provide support through healthy boundaries and honest communication. Family therapy sessions can indeed take time, but it’s pivotal to not skip any sessions. If you’re a family with a conflicting agenda full of appointments, understand that the sessions are imperative for everyone involved along with their mental health. 

Step 4: Prepare Meals and Eat Them as a Family 

In today’s chaotic and modern world, it’s common to eat meals separately with everyone’s busy schedules. The likely scenario is one partner snacks on a heavy salad at work while the other partner grabs a burger on the way home from work. Then the kids eat ready-to-go meals. 

It’s important to note that a family meal is a great way for everyone to connect at the end of a day that might have been lonely, upsetting, or even stressful. Every meal eaten together can build on the work done in family therapy, and the ritual itself can promote a feeling of togetherness and common ground. Note that the activity doesn’t have to stop at the table either.

Spending quality time making the meal or cleaning up after the meal can thoroughly increase the benefits of sharing a meal. Even if you’re able to commit to one meal a week can create a huge impact. 

Step 5: Manage Expectations

Once the addict in the family commits to attend treatment, the excitement among the family can be exhilarating. The thoughts going through everyone’s heads who thought to themselves, how to deal with an addict in the family are, “Finally our loved one is getting help and things will get better.” Unfortunately, the turnaround for addiction isn’t a quick or easy process.

It can take a very long time for patterns and behaviors associated with addiction and the individual to change. The person can very well hold on to their old habits and in turn, become extremely frustrated with the overall recovery process. Sometimes, it’s the slow shift that leads to huge disappointment. 

When an individual experiences a relapse, it can be super disheartening. During this moment, it’s paramount to remember that relapse doesn’t mean failure for you or them. Addiction is a chronic disease. Therefore, relapse is a normal part of recovery. Even though numerous steps can be taken to help an individual avoid a relapse, it’s important to know that recovery is a lifelong journey that goes up and down, it’s not a simple single event. 

It’s also essential to manage expectations for yourself and other family members. It will take effort and time for these relationships to heal. Families sometimes make the mistake that they can’t engage in much because they aren’t their normal selves. You’re still able to enjoy your time with your loved ones and actively support each other. Even though life isn’t perfect, it can still be meaningful.

Step 6: Stay in Touch With Personal Joy

It will be highly important that every member of the family takes time to engage in self-care and discover an activity that is fulfilling or relaxing to them. This can include many of the following:

  • Playing with children or an instrument
  • Taking nature photographs
  • Volunteering with animals
  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Crafting

The activities named above can make the participant feel happy which helps boost mental health and preserve a sense of self-worth and efficacy.

Step 7: Get Adequate Exercise

Starting the day with a quick run or ending the workday by running a few laps in the pool can deliver considerable benefits. Exercise has been proven to reduce depression and stress. Matter of fact, in a 2014 Stress in America survey, it was discovered that 43% of adults exercise to cope with stress. 

When you engage in stretching your tendons and muscles, the brain is prompted to release pleasure chemicals such as oxycontin and dopamine. Instead of yelling at your family member, why not run with them? Instead of pacing around the house, how about yoga? 

High-energy exercise sessions can assist families in releasing their worry and stress more healthily. The object is to find an activity that doesn’t cause harm or lasting scars. Exercising is an amazing way to stay on track with the healing recovery. 

Step 8: Stick To a Formal Sleep and Wake Schedule 

Some of the more dangerous potent behaviors often occur in the middle of the night. Individuals with addictions typically overdose, stumble home from parties, meet dealers, or get themselves into situations that family members have to deal with. It should come as no surprise that family members also struggle with sleep anticipating the next crisis to transpire. 

When regular loss of sleep occurs, the recovery process can be more challenging. It was reported that individuals who slept for only 4 ½ hours a night per week experienced higher levels of stress, sadness, mental exhaustion, and anger. Individuals need adequate sleep to feel like their best selves, and families can better assist when they’re refreshed. 

Step 9: Schedule Private Therapy Sessions

Research has found that families with addiction experienced increased levels of anxiety and depression. Caregivers typically feel worn out from everything that is asked of their loved one and normally doesn’t have the correct coping skills to get through it. The children and siblings can oftentimes feel forgotten or like they have to overcompensate due to the lack of attention. 

To avoid the self-esteem issues that can be caused by the above-mentioned scenarios, a private therapy session can present to be extremely rewarding. It’s a safe place for stressed family members to openly talk and work through various issues. There is usually a skills-based format that is followed here along with:

  • Released codependent behaviors, destructive habits, and thoughts
  • Anger management
  • Assertiveness skills
  • Coping skills

Step 10: Educate and Advocate

There is a huge amount of misinformation on addiction. Some individuals feel addiction is a form of weakness. Then some people feel when family members help, it’s seen as “enabling”. It’s also important to note that language matters. A study by the Recovery Research Institute discovered that the participants were more likely to view individuals like the following: 

  • Socially threatening
  • Blameable
  • Punishable

Especially when the individuals were labeled as “substance abusers” instead of “having a substance use disorder.” It is difficult to stay uplifted in an addiction environment, but family can be a huge part of the change. Careless statements and harsh words are felt more by family. 

When you hear a statement like that, share the truth about addiction through research, therapy sessions, and support groups. You can share your knowledge by providing destigmatizing words that can be used instead. Advocating on behalf of those struggling is empowering and brave. 

Recovery Awaits at Discovery Institute

If you’re in a family walking the life of addiction with your loved one, know that you don’t have to walk this journey alone. Here at Discovery Institute, we provide support for the individual struggling with addiction, and everyone involved. Remember that family support is an integral part of recovery. Our guide can help you and your loved ones learn how to deal with addiction in the family.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.