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When someone in a family has an alcohol or other drug problem, everyone is affected. At first, as the problem develops, the family may not understand what is happening. The person with the problem may not see his or her use as a problem, or the person may not be completely open about what is going on.
As the problem becomes clearer, family members may have different ideas about how to deal with it. As individuals and as an unit, family members may struggle to balance their desire to help and protect the person with the need to let the person take responsibility for his or her behavior.
If the problem worsens, family members may also begin to feel hopeless.
There may be:
Finally, family members may attempt to control the person and his or her use, or they may increase their own use of alcohol or other drugs. Family members may also begin to neglect themselves emotionally, physically or socially.
Families can play a strong role in recovery. With support from families, people are more likely to stay in treatment and have a successful outcome. Providing that support, however, is only possible if family members take care of their own needs first.
Self-care for partners and families
Partners and family members need to look after their own physical and mental health. To do this, you can do the following:
Having a relative or partner with a substance use problem can also strain the relationships of family members who are not using. Different family members may see the problem differently and interact differently with the person with the problem. Family counseling can help to promote family unity, and enable family members to support each other and the person with a substance use problem.
Getting treatment for your relative or partner
It may be hard to get your relative or partner to accept help. Even if the person does realize his or her use is a problem, he or she may not see treatment as useful. The decision to seek help has to come from the person who needs it. There are, however, some ways that family members can encourage a relative or partner. Generally, a concerned and supportive approach is most effective.
When approaching the question of finding treatment, determine what stage of change the person is at (see Change, Recovery and Relapse Prevention?for more on the stages of change). Often, family members want the person to be in the action phase, but the person hasn't yet decided to change his or her use. Pushing too hard or suggesting treatment or other action strategies before a person is ready can backfire, and lead to even more resistance to change. A good start is finding out what part of the problem your relative or partner is least resistant to changing. For example, the person may mention that difficulties in getting to work on time or in being an effective, involved parent could be related to drinking. You could use this discussion to start the person thinking about getting help. Another thing you can do is to find out about addiction assessment services in your community. Offer to accompany your relative or partner to an assessment appointment.
If the problem is severe, a push for treatment may come from outside the family. If work performance has been affected, an employer may require that the person take action about his or her substance use. Pressure to change or obtain treatment may also result from legal difficulties or other related problems. Even though people may initially be angry about being pushed into treatment, the treatment experience often helps them to see how they need to change.
As the person begins treatment, family members may feel hope and optimism. They may begin to appreciate how hard it is for their relative or partner, and admire the person's courage in admitting the problem and beginning to make changes. Your positive encouragement helps to support the person as he or she works toward change.
A substance use problem can profoundly affect an intimate relationship. Feelings of resentment, anger and loss of trust can lead to distance and hostility in the relationship. The non-using partner may feel betrayed due to past actions. He or she might also have taken on more responsibilities than seem fair. Over time, a partner may begin to feel more and more in a parental role, eroding the couple's bond. If the partner with the substance use problem does reduce or stop use, it will still take time, patience and a great deal of effort to rebuild what might have been lost. The partner might have been using substances to deal with stress and need to learn new skills to deal with life pressures.
If your partner is willing, meet with his or her counselor A meeting can help you to better understand treatment and to learn ways to be supportive and encourage progress.
Support groups for family members can also help. Later on, as your partner enters the action or maintenance stage, consider couple therapy with a marital or couple therapist who understands addiction. Such therapy can help improve communication and strengthen the relationship.
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