Health & Wellness

When Your Loved One is Addicted

Advice for managing a difficult situation

Suffering from substance use disorder is an undeniably difficult experience. But the loved ones of those experiencing addiction are often an afterthought when it comes to navigating the road to recovery. We sat down with Jason Martin, LCPC, CPRP, NCC, ACS, Director of Addiction Services at Sheppard Pratt, to answer some frequently asked questions about having a loved one with a substance use disorder.

Q: How do I know my loved one needs professional help?

When using a substance has a major impact on their life—inability to go to work, being written up, not engaging socially, spending all of their savings on substances—that’s a clear sign that it’s time to seek help from an addictions provider.

Q: There are many treatment options out there. How do I know what level of care they need?

I recommend getting them an assessment to see what level of care they need and to figure out what they are willing to accept. Willingness to participate and level of care need to be in alignment for the most successful recovery journey. During the assessment, the provider will help determine if your loved one can stay safe and work on their recovery as an outpatient. Some people may need hospitalization to safely detox.

Q: Where can I go for resources for help for myself?

Often, the treatment program your loved one is participating in will have specific programs for family members—take advantage of these. Al-Anon, Alateen, and SMART Recovery are fantastic resources, as well. These organizations will have recommendations around online resources and support groups you can access.

Don’t forget about intentionally engaging in more traditional forms of self-care—activities like therapy, yoga, and spending more time with friends and family can make a big difference for your mental health.

Self-care and spending more time with friends and family can make a big difference for your mental health.

Q: What should I do to be part of their support system?

Be kind, open, and supportive; continue to be there for them even though they may be acting differently toward you. Remind them that you love them and want what’s best for them. When your loved one is remorseful, hear them out and support them through that as well.

It’s also important to have an understanding of recovery—remember that relapse is often part of the process and is not a moral failing. And, make sure that you are not enabling their habit.

Q: What kinds of changes should I make at home?

You don’t necessarily need to rid your house of all substances, but it’s important to address any triggers that might foster memories of using or could create circumstances for using. Know that your loved one may use more of another substance to help them get through cravings – for example, drinking more coffee or smoking more cigarettes.

Q: What should I consider when telling our friends and family?

Before sharing too much, ensure that they can be supportive of treatment and be accommodating in one-on-one and group situations. You should also consider if someone will be triggering in a recovery environment. For example, an overbearing father may not be the most helpful presence at this point in time. Ultimately, know that most people are supportive and will do what’s best to help you and your loved one on the recovery journey.

Q: I have kids – what should I tell them?

While it may seem right to not tell them what’s going on, the more honest you can be, the better. Kids know when something is happening and when something is wrong – they just can’t communicate that in the same way adults can. Try to be up front with age appropriate information, while simultaneously not oversharing.