Helping a Family Member Overcome Substance Abuse

Successful recovery rarely happens without the help of loved ones. If someone in your home is struggling with drugs or alcohol, he or she will need you to be involved in every stage of the rehab process. You can help recognize early signs of substance abuse. You can arrange intervention and treatment services. You can support your loved one’s long-term health. No matter where he or she is in addiction or recovery, you can play a major role in helping the person you love get his or her life back on track.

Familial support is one of the most important factors in overcoming substance abuse. The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services[1] explains that “close family relationships” protect against substance use and relapse. Homes where, “Family members are nurturing and support one another,” are homes where recovery can happen.

Unfortunately family can also be a risk factor in substance abuse. If adults in the home use drugs or alcohol, it’s more likely that others will do the same. Conflicts at home, chronic unemployment and inconsistent discipline can contribute to substance abuse in children and teens. One of the best ways for family members to help one another is to get clean and sober themselves.

Recognizing Substance Use Problems in Family Members

Helping a family member overcome a drug or alcohol problem starts with recognizing substance abuse. The following signs may indicate that a loved one needs help:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unusual tremors
  • Wearing clothes that conceal the arms or legs
  • Wearing clothes with slogans that promote drug or alcohol use
  • Wearing sunglasses in the house
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Skipping class or work
  • Neglecting favorite hobbies or sports
  • Giving up old friends in favor of a new crowd
  • Refusing to let you meet new acquaintances
  • Constant cough, runny nose or reddened nostrils
  • Unexplained laughter or silly behavior
  • Unexplained mood swings
  • Aggression or violent outbursts
  • Poor hygiene and grooming

You don’t need to see all of these signs for a problem to be present. You don’t need to see any of them. When a family member is using drugs, you may have nothing more to back up your suspicions than a gut feeling that something’s wrong. If you feel that a family member is different, start a conversation with him or her. A calm, nonjudgmental attitude is the best way to approach a family member who’s abusing drugs. An angry, punitive approach is likely to shut down communication immediately. Let your loved one know that you care and that you’re there to help. A professional addiction counselor, family therapist or interventionist can help you find the right words. He or she can guide your conversations so that you help rather than hurt.

How Substance Abuse Harms a Family

Substance abuse harms families. The effects of alcoholism or drug addiction can include spousal or child abuse, sexual infidelity, unemployment, poverty and loss of child custody. Even when the effects aren’t as obvious or dramatic, they are still present. Addiction is a family disease. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence[2] (NCADD)explains, “Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics…Without help, active addiction can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime.” Helping a family member ultimately helps the entire family. Recovery heals damaged relationships and restores balance.

Addiction is a family disease and requires family therapy. The addicts addiction has effected everyone around them, therefore, creating family therapy will help with long-term recovery.
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Understanding the Stages of Recovery

Convincing an addicted family member to get help can be a frustrating experience. Remember that recovery happens in stages. Not every addict agrees to get treatment right away. Some early conversations or intervention appears to “fail.” However as NCADD[3] shares, “In some cases, a person may refuse help at the time of the intervention, but as a result of the intervention, come back and ask for help later.” Early efforts may be met with denial. Individuals may not be ready to think seriously about giving up drugs or alcohol. Your family member might talk about quitting occasionally but have no real commitment to doing so. This stage of recovery is often followed by the contemplation stage.

At this point a person is actually thinking about quitting and may be considering treatment. If you have already begun a conversation about substance use and treatment, now may be when he or she comes to you for further help and support. Your addicted loved one may now be in the determination or action stage of recovery. He or she may be ready to make the commitment to getting clean and sober by seeking professional recovery support.

Family Intervention Options

Family confronting teen daughterDon’t wait for a loved one to decide to seek treatment. While he or she makes the ultimate decision about when or if to go, your words and actions can create change. A professional interventionist helps you say and do the right things. He or she makes sure your conversations about substance use are safe and productive. He or she can help you see the difference between helping and enabling. As NCADD shares, in regards to interventions,

“When done with a person who is trained and successfully experienced as an interventionist, over 90% of people make a commitment to get help.”

Interventions do not have to be the large, formal and dramatic events you see on television and in movies. Interventions can involve series of conversations. They may take place with or without an interventionist present. A professional will help you determine the best and most effective intervention method for your family member. You will then begin the planning process.

Planning an intervention involves education. Professionals help you better understand the situation and your role in it. They help you choose the best treatment options and establish consequences in case a loved one refuses to go. These consequences can range from losing permission to drive the family car to losing joint custody of children depending on the situation.

Personal, environmental and familial factors will also determine the best treatment methods. A treatment center that specializes in Dual Diagnosis is often the best choice for recovery. Addiction and mental health issues frequently overlap. Dual Diagnosis care ensures all aspects of health get the attention and care they deserve. It frequently includes family therapy to involve all members in the healing process. The whole family works together before and during treatment. They must work together after as well. A safe, drug-free home environment is one of the best protections against relapse.

At Michael’s House, we understand the importance of family. We involve you in every step of recovery from early intervention to long-term support. Our holistic approach to recovery ensures your loved one gets the comprehensive care he or she need. It ensures your family gets the chance to heal as a whole. Contact us any time to find out how you can create a healthy, drug-free family.


[1] http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/substance-abuse/providers/prevention/risk-and-protective-factors.html#family. “Risk & Protective Factors.” Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 9 Mar 2017.

[2] https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease. “Family Disease.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. 24 Feb 2016. Web. 9 Mar 2017.

[3] https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines. “Intervention: Tips and Guidelines.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. 25 Jul 2015. Web. 9 Mar 2017.

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