Substance abuse is a chronic, progressive condition that can tear apart the life of the person using substances as well as those who love them. Addiction can cause a range of consequences from lost jobs to broken families, leaving destroyed relationships in its path. Repairing these relationships is possible but it requires patience, work, and understanding for all parties involved.
Signs of Substance Abuse in Your Loved One
Substance use usually starts as a casual or recreational activity. It may lead to some minor consequences, but the person believes they can moderate or stop. They are enjoyable to be around and substances don’t consume all of their energy and attention. You may feel some concern about their use but not enough to press the issue.
As time goes on, though, their use progresses. The consequences become more severe and occur more frequently. They may seem distracted, disappear with little explanation, and behave erratically, all while lying about their substance use. Deceit and manipulation of loved ones are two common characteristics of substance use disorder.
Signs of substance abuse also include money and valuables disappearing or problems with the law. Your loved one may withdraw from family and friends or social gatherings as a whole. When their substance abuse becomes apparent you’re left wondering what you can do.
Intervening in Your Loved One’s Substance Abuse
Once the substance use reaches the point that the problem is apparent, loved ones usually now feel the need to intervene. You may question them about their use or behavior, or perhaps you’ve sent them to a treatment facility or two. Your intentions are good at first and you hope that your attempts to help will be met with acceptance and understanding.
Sadly, that’s not always the case. Individuals in the throes of substance abuse often do all they can to continue using. Even if it seems like their consequences are harsh they may reject your help or shut you out entirely. Navigating conversations with them likely feels like you’re walking through a minefield.
Eventually, your attempts to help shift from a place of good intentions to a result of frustration and pain. It’s difficult to feel rebuffed and ignored when what you want for your loved one is to be safe and okay. After a while, you might even give up on trying to help. And this is why rebuilding relationships after substance abuse can be such a difficult process.
Substance Abuse is a Family Illness
Substance abuse treatment often focuses on the person struggling with substance use. Unfortunately, the disease affects far more people than just the person with the problem. It’s excruciating to watch a loved one with a substance abuse problem and it often pushes people to their breaking point. Effective treatment should consider every member of the family.
There’s a reason clinicians refer to substance abuse as a “family illness”. Family Groups were born out of the need to support family members of those suffering from alcoholism and addiction. Rebuilding the relationships that substances destroy is a difficult task. Families often need professional intervention as a whole, not just for the person with the drug problem.
Part of healing the family involves the recognition and acceptance that not everything will be okay once your loved one stops using substances. This is only the beginning of a lifetime journey of overcoming substance abuse and learning the skills needed to stay substance-free. It’s hard to realize that your pain may last longer than you hoped for, but it’s part of the process.
How to Heal Relationships
There are a few important things to keep in mind as your loved one stays substance-free and your family starts to heal. What can you do to focus on your part as your family works together to rebuild these broken relationships?
Set Realistic Expectations
Again, recognize that it will take time for these things to heal. Setting unrealistic expectations only prepares you for inevitable failure. Instead, work together to set realistic expectations for the recovery process as a family.
Practice Healthy Communication
Unhealthy communication is destructive to relationships, especially during active substance abuse. Short tempers, passive-aggressive comments, and raised voices do nothing to help. Practicing direct, honest communication is critical to healing.
Eliminate Unhealthy Relationships
There are circumstances when some relationships should be eliminated instead of worked on. There may be some people that shouldn’t be part of the recovery process. Recognize when someone should be left as part of the past and eliminate these unhealthy relationships as your family moves forward.