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Helping Yourself & Others

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Helping Yourself & Others

Due to advances in research and understanding, addiction is increasingly recognized as a disease and treated medically.

You don’t have to recover alone. The support of family and friends is one of the most important motivators for treatment and recovery. There is a community of people in recovery ready to support you. And if someone’s drinking or drug use is affecting you, there are people who have been there who can help. Healthcare professionals can work with you to design a treatment program that is right for you or your loved one.

Getting help

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a 24-hour, toll-free hotline for alcohol and drug treatment information and referral.

When you call this number, 1-800-662-HELP, you have the options to speak to a representative about substance abuse treatment, request printed material on alcohol and drugs, and get referrals to substance abuse treatment programs in your area.

SAMHSA also has an online, searchable directory of alcohol and drug abuse programs located around the country.

Recognizing a problem

It’s not always easy to know when a loved one’s drinking or drug use has crossed the line into becoming a problem. People with addictions can be very good at hiding, compensating for, and denying their problem. You may not want to address it because of feelings of shame or fear. The problem can seem too big, or too painful, to solve. You may be afraid of losing what’s left of your relationship, home life, and financial means.

You are not alone. And you don’t need to be ashamed. Yes, addiction is very difficult, but it can be treated, and you can take steps to improve your life.

Recognize that you need support for yourself. Making changes in your life and relationship is stressful, even when the outcomes are ultimately positive.

Finding support
There are support groups with others who have struggled with these challenges. Al-Anon is a free peer support group for families of persons coping with alcohol dependence. There are also groups for families of persons coping with drug abuse. Other sources of support include trusted friends, a healthcare provider, a therapist, or clergy. These sources of support can help you face the resistance that you will get from your loved one as you begin to help them make healthy changes.

Helping your loved one get help

Many people struggling with addiction do not recognize that they have a problem, and so they avoid getting help. You can’t force your loved one to get help. But you don’t have to wait for someone to “hit bottom” to act. Research shows that family and friends expressing concern and setting limits are among the most important motivators for seeking treatment.

Steps family and friends can take (from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism):

  • Get help. Gather information in advance about treatment options in your community. If the person is willing to get help, call immediately for an appointment with a treatment counselor. Offer to go with the family member on the first visit to a treatment program and/or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
  • Get support. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Support groups offered in most communities include Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other significant adults, and Alateen, which is geared to children of parents who are dependent on alcohol. These groups help family members understand that they are not responsible for their loved one’s drinking and that they need to take steps to take care of themselves, regardless of whether their family member chooses to get help.
  • Stop all “cover-ups.” Family members often make excuses to others or try to protect their loved one from the results of his drinking. It is important to stop covering for the person so that she experiences the full consequences of drinking.
  • Time your intervention. The best time to talk to the drinker is shortly after an alcohol-related problem has occurred, such as a serious family argument or an accident. Choose a time when she is sober, both of you are fairly calm, and you have a chance to talk in private.
  • Be specific. Tell your family member that you are worried about her drinking. Use examples of the ways in which the drinking has caused problems, including the most recent incident.
  • State the results. Explain to your family member what you will do if he doesn't go for help—not to punish him, but to protect yourself from his problems. What you say may range from refusing to go along to any social activity where alcohol will be served to moving out of the house. Do not state any consequences you are not prepared to carry out.
  • Call on a friend. If your family member still refuses to get help, ask a friend to talk with her using the steps just described. A friend who is in recovery from an addiction may be particularly persuasive, but any person who is caring and nonjudgmental may help. The intervention of more than one person, more than one time, is often necessary to coax a person who is dependent on alcohol to seek help.

Understanding recovery

Getting treatment is the first step in a life of recovery.

Three important things to know about  your loved one’s addiction and recovery (from Helpguide.org):

  1. You cannot force someone you love to stop abusing alcohol or drugs. The final choice is up to him. The right support can help you make positive choices for yourself. You can learn to balance encouraging your loved one to get help without losing yourself in the process.
  2. Don’t expect your loved one to be able to quit and stay sober without ongoing help. Your loved one will need support and new coping skills to be able to resist cravings in a society where drinking and drugs are often glamorized.
  3. Recovery will be an ongoing process. It takes time for the body and brain to recover from the effects of alcohol. Learning new coping skills and how to apply them in stressful situations is an ongoing process. Like any chronic illness, there may be relapses.

Keeping your family safe

Addicted parents are more likely to neglect their children. A parent’s addiction or alcohol dependence can increase risks to children. It is hard to be a good parent when your brain is clouded by addiction. A parent who is drinking or using might drive under the influence with the children in the car. With addiction comes an increased risk of a violent environment, whether from crime, fellow users, intimate partner violence, or child abuse. Growing up in a household with addiction may increase a child’s chances of experimenting with drugs and alcohol and becoming addicted himself.

Addiction takes a heavy toll on children emotionally. Parenting might be inconsistent, unrealistic, or neglectful. Children can feel guilty or responsible for their parent’s drinking or drug use, and imagine that they can control it. Growing up with addiction can distort a young person’s sense of self and relationships.

There are resources, programs, and support groups designed especially for kids and teens to help them cope and come to terms with a family member with an addiction. Fortunately, a troubled family is not destiny, and children are resilient.

If you are concerned about how your partner’s addiction is affecting your children, seek help now from a healthcare professional to learn steps you can take to create a healthier environment for your children.

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