Talking about alcohol or drug abuse can be difficult--some people are scared
to approach a loved one about their addiction, while others may do so
in a way that's detrimental to the end goal of getting into treatment.
And the work doesn't stop once the treatment program begins.
Debbie Hutchinson, Psy.D., Manager of Outpatient Mental Health Programs at
Mission Hospital, Laguna Beach, shares ways families can show their support:
Know the signs of addiction. Before broaching the topic of treatment, family members need to identify
a problem with drugs or alcohol. "One thing that's an indication
is a change in personality or typical behaviors," Hutchinson says.
"There can also be mood swings--the person gets more irritable, or
was happy and now seems depressed or paranoid. I see many adults who start
to have financial problems, and with teens, I see a decline in grades
as they pull away from parents. Physically, there may be bloodshot eyes
or dilated pupils, or poor hygiene." Learn how to
recognize a drinking problem.
Talk directly, not judgmentally. Any discussion with a loved one about their addiction should take a love-based
approach. "Always come from a place of care and concern. Begin by
expressing that concern and the desire to support, and stay away from
blaming, criticizing or expressing disappointment," Hutchinson says.
Be prepared if they're not ready for change. Some people may not be in a place to deal with addiction head on, while
others are willing to take on the responsibility of working toward sobriety.
"We work with patients at all stages," Hutchinson says. "For
instance, I've had situations where parents call us and say their
kid doesn't want to talk about treatment, and we invite them to come
visit us. We give a tour and talk about our services. It gives them an
opportunity to meet us and see that we care and want to help. We can give
families guidance and support until their loved one is ready for treatment."
Be a part of the treatment plan. "Often, family members will say to their loved one, 'Stop being
depressed,' or, 'Stop using drugs,' but it's more complicated
than that," Hutchinson says. "Families should have an understanding
of addiction and they need ongoing support as well. That's why I want
them to get involved in a 12-step program for families." Also part
of this family treatment is identifying the roles each family member plays
within the home. "Codependency is rampant when you talk about these
situations, and there can be denial, too. Family members may not say anything
about the addiction, or they may want to believe the loved one has it
Create an environment for successful sobriety. Overcoming addiction often involves drastic lifestyle changes, and the
person can't do it alone. Family members must help change the environment
that enabled substance abuse. "This can involve setting boundaries,
eliminating old friends who also use drugs or alcohol heavily, or making
accommodations for a loved one," Hutchinson says. "If wine has
been a trigger, seeing that bottle is a temptation. It can even be something
like a wine glass, which used to represent fun but now represents a potential
stumbling block to sobriety. Knowing these risk factors and removing them
will increase the likelihood of success."
Build a support network. Achieving sobriety takes a team approach, and family members should take
advantage of professional expertise. That includes clinicians running
the treatment program, but they aren't the only ones. "Look at
the community resources out there and make use of them. For instance,
an adult or a child can go to a therapist one-on-one--it may seem like
a safer start if they're not ready for treatment, but once they are
in our program, we are in communication with the therapist, and after
they complete the program we can refer them back to the therapist. And
we also have relationships with people who are willing to reach out to
patients as part of a mentor support system. It's kind of like a coming
together of everyone to get the individual ready for treatment.
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