September is National Recovery Month. We frequently focus our attention on the person in recovery during this annual campaign, but what about the people who love him or her? Addiction is a family illness, after all, and each member of the family has to recover from the impacts of and structures that surround a loved one’s addiction.
In honor of the family, friends, and partners of those struggling to overcome this illness, here are some actions Clarity Way’s Director of Clinical Services Jack Gilbert, LCSW recommends to support an addicted person, while still taking care of yourself:
Don’t cover for them. Making excuses when a loved one fails to meet their responsibilities and obligations shields them from the natural consequences of their behavior. If an addicted loved one never feels the discomfort of those consequences, there is little reason for him or her to stop using or feel motivated to be sober.
Set healthy boundaries and enforce them. Decide what boundaries you need to maintain with your loved one for your own safety and wellbeing, then communicate them clearly and do not waver in them. Common boundaries that families often set with an addicted family member include: not paying their bills or loaning them money, not bailing them out of legal problems, not allowing them to be in or live in the house when they are using, and not allowing them to be disrespectful to other family members.
Help yourself recover. Don’t forget that as a family member of an addicted person, you may need help for yourself. It is not uncommon for bystanders of addiction to experience anxiety and depression as a result of loving someone who is battling addiction. Many parents, spouses, children, and friends whose loved ones have addiction problems have found help, comfort, and support for themselves through mental health counseling and programs such as Nar-Anon, Al-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics.
Maintain a regular self-care regimen. Beyond the basics of maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and regularly exercising, it may be helpful to develop additional habits that reinforce your sense of well-being. Cultivating hobbies, participating in social activities, and getting respite time are great ways to engage in self-care.
Express your support. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you can’t express your support in other ways, such as telling your loved one that you care and want them to get better, driving them to treatment, participating when their clinicians ask for your presence in treatment, visiting them, and cheering their successes with them.