Once upon a time, you had a happy home. The bills were paid, the cabinets were stocked and everyone enjoyed family time. Recently, things are not so happy at home. You’re walking on eggshells hoping there won’t be another fight. Family time rarely happens because your partner is gone a lot. The pantry is almost bare and you’re scared to ask for grocery money. Life has become a troubling version of what it used to be. What happened?
Signs and Symptoms
- Bloodshot or glazed eyes
- Dilated or constricted pupils
- Droopy eyelids
- Abrupt weight changes
- Bruises or small bumps inside the elbow or near other veins
- Sniffly/runny nose or congestion
- Bad breath, gum disease or severe dry mouth
- Rapid or slurred speech
- Dizzy, lack of balance, blurred vision
- Muscle twitching or tremors
- Lack of bowel movements
- Excessive sweating
- Increased body temperature
- Increased aggression or irritability
- Sudden changes in attitude and behavior
- Lethargic or manic
- Depression and mood swings
- Sudden changes in social activity and network
- Dramatic changes in habits, schedule or priorities
- Financial problems and borrowing money
- Involvement in criminal activity, such as theft
- Withdrawal from family members
- Careless about personal hygiene
- Loss of interest in hobbies, sports, etc.
- Changes in sleeping pattern
- Missing work or important events
- Secretive behavior
- Defensiveness and lying
- Unable to deal with stress
- Diversion, minimization and rationalization of behavior
- Gaslighting and manipulation
If you recognize multiple signs in your family member, you may love an addict. Loving someone who abuses drugs can be a very difficult journey. You will face guilt, doubt, anger, fear and judgment.
You Are Not Alone
You may feel isolated as you deal with an overwhelming situation. You may fear disgrace if anyone finds out. Secrecy helps drug users hide signs of their addiction. They will try to keep you from talking to others. You do not have to stay silent. Reach out to friends and family. Check with your employer about help for your family through your health care plan, as well. You do not have to face this alone.
It is important that you understand what is within your control and what is not. Addiction Campuses say:
“That being said, YOU have the power to do something. You have the power to take care of yourself, set boundaries, and focus on your own life – instead of trying to control your loved one. Although it will be painful, remind yourself that his addiction isn’t personal – but your well being is. The only life that you can save is your own.”
Are You Enabling?
You must acknowledge you are enabling the addict in your life. You may be trying to help, or just avoiding another fight, but certain behaviors harm you, your family and the drug user. Enabling includes:
- Lying to cover up for the addict’s issues
- Putting their needs before your own or your family’s.
- Rescuing them from situations such as money problems or jail
- Taking care of all the family responsibilities
- Acting out of fear instead of love
- Blaming others for mistakes they made
- Resenting your loved one
- “Parenting” the drug user
You cannot control the behavior and choices of the addict. You can’t continue to fix everything for them. They will not change and will continue to feed off of you until you change your behavior and stop enabling them. But how do you stop when your family may suffer?
To stop enabling you must:
- Stop your financial support. Do not give them any money. The addict will become angry and will act out. Don’t give in or give up.
- Learn to say “No.” You will make decisions that are unpopular, but you must do what is best for you and your family.
- Allow them to take responsibility. Natural consequences are great teachers.
- Stop feeling sorry for them. Remember, they are making choices that harm themselves and your family.
- Make your life a priority. Focus on taking the best care of your family possible. Take care of yourself too.
- Don’t let them manipulate you. They will beg, plead, lie, cry and fight to get what they need. If they can get you emotionally engaged, they can manipulate you. Remember you are doing this for everyone’s best interest.
What is in your control are your choices and your behavior. Before you can help your loved one escape the prison of addiction, you must create healthy boundaries for yourself. You will need to help the rest of your family do this as well.
Healthy boundaries are critical for the mental and emotional health of your family. A healthy boundary allows you to decide for what you will take responsibility. Clear expectations will protect and take care of you and your family. However, we aren’t taught create them. Here is how to get started:
According to the Positive Psychology Institute, you create healthy boundaries by:
- Examine boundaries that already exist or are lacking.
- Just say “No,” and don’t feel the need to explain.
- Keep the focus on yourself. Example, “I can’t give you $40 because I need to get groceries today.”
- It is impossible to set boundaries without setting consequences.
- Explicitly state why they are important.
- Only declare consequences you are willing to follow through on.
- Have honest conversations about boundaries with the family and the addict.
Before you can help your loved one, you must help yourself create and establish these lines. Life with an addict requires more than dealing with the drug. Their manipulating behaviors taken out on the family can leave scars and cause further problems. Boundaries teach your children how to have healthy relationships in the future.
The Right Kind of Help
Once you have learned how to set expectations and stayed committed to your security, you can begin to plan how to help your loved one. Depending on the severity of the situation, you have a couple of options to help your loved one.
- Involuntary commitment – this is a court-ordered rehabilitation in an institution or program from which the person cannot leave until the program is complete. Usually, this option is used when they are a threat to themselves or others. It can take a long time to get through the court system to execute this action.
- Intervention – this means confronting the addict with their behavior in a social setting. This meeting is to show the drug user the negative impact they are having on their lives and the lives of their family. An intervention lets them know that you are aware and what your boundaries are. It gives the addict a chance to be honest and choose treatment. You can conduct an intervention with family and friends only, or with the help of a professional. Be sure to prepare for anger, denial, bargaining and questions.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2009 some 23.5 million people needed treatment for substance abuse. Only 2.6 million, or roughly 11%, actually got the help they needed. Of that 11%, many fail and return to using drugs. If your attempt to help your loved one should fail, figure out how to improve next time and always stick to your boundaries. And remember, you are not responsible for their actions, only your own. Stay strong and get the help you need for your loved one, yourself and your family.