When someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, it is natural to want to help. But sometimes—more often than anyone would like—these efforts to help might seem ineffectual. And exhausting.
Addressing Your Feelings and Needs
In these cases, you will find yourself feeling frustrated or angry or sad. If those feelings aren’t addressed, you could even experience trauma associated with the difficulties of trying to love and support the person in your life who is misusing drugs or alcohol.
But it doesn’t have to come to that. Here are six keys to caring for yourself in the midst of trying to help someone else.
1. Remember That You Are Not Responsible for Your Loved One’s Disorder
Your loved one may try to blame you for their substance use disorder. Maybe your spouse will tell you they drink too much because you make them feel like they aren’t successful enough. Or maybe one of your children will tell you that your poor parenting decisions made them turn to drugs to cope. Maybe a friend will tell you they have started using drugs because it feels like you are drifting apart.
In all of these cases (and others like them) it is essential that you remember that you did not cause your loved one’s substance use disorder. Addiction is a disease of the brain associated with a number of genetic risk factors as well as with a varied and complex set of environmental triggers.
It is all too common for a person with a substance use disorder to attempt to redirect blame for their struggles onto someone else. But even if your relationship with the person has been rocky, it is simply not the case that you are the cause of their addiction.
2. Reject the Idea of Controlling the Problem Yourself
Each of us is responsible for our own choices and behaviors, and so it is important to remember that you cannot control or fix the problem your loved one is dealing with. They have to take control of the situation themselves.
That said, you can exercise control within your own sphere. For example, you can refuse to allow drugs or alcohol into your home. You can turn down requests for loans that you think will be used to support a drug habit. And you can offer to help your loved one seek treatment options that would be right for them. But you should take the pressure off yourself to fix the situation on your own.
3. Remember that Substance Use Disorders Can’t Be Cured
There are many misconceptions about how and whether substance use disorders can be cured. The fact is they can’t be. There is no medical cure nor any 100 percent effective therapeutic approach. And a substance use disorder won’t simply disappear if a person improves their self-esteem or gets involved in a faith community. Regaining and maintaining sobriety is hard work that only the person with the disorder can truly undertake.
Of course, substance use disorders can be treated—and that treatment can be effective in the long term. A person who goes through rehab and intense counseling can use that foundation to build a sober life. But it isn’t easy, and as the prevalence of relapse demonstrates, it isn’t foolproof. A substance use disorder is a chronic illness, and its treatment must account for a number of variables.
4. Insist on Taking Care of Yourself
Here’s an important mantra: self-care is not selfish.
It might seem as though your personal problems are hardly worth noticing when compared to the struggles of your loved one. You may be tempted to ignore your own needs as you try to always be there for your family member or friend. But that’s a trap.
In order to truly be in a position to support your loved one, you must maintain your own physical and mental health. This might mean maintaining good sleep habits, eating healthy food, and getting regular exercise. Even small changes—less soda and more water, getting to bed an hour earlier, adding a daily walk to your routine—can make a big difference in how you feel and in your ability to consistently provide support for your loved one.
5. Let Your Feelings Out
Taking care of yourself might also mean seeing a therapist to learn how to handle your emotions. We noted that when a loved one is struggling with addiction, you may experience an overwhelming combination of emotions. You might feel anxious or afraid, frustrated or angry, guilty or sad. These are all natural emotions to feel under the circumstances, and it is important that you not suppress or ignore them.
Finding an outlet for your feelings may mean doing something as simple as keeping a journal where you can process your emotions. It might mean seeking counseling. Or you may find benefit in joining a support group for people with loved ones battling substance abuse.
6. Remember that Your Life Should Not Be Defined by a Loved One’s Addiction
It’s easy to get caught up in your loved one’s ongoing struggles. But you shouldn’t allow your life—and all the things you enjoy and are grateful for—to be subsumed by someone else’s needs. Make sure you are still doing the things you love and taking time to appreciate all the beauty in life. Having a loved one with a substance use disorder is just one facet of who you are. It’s important to focus on the many other parts of your life, too.
We Can Help You Support Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself
At Bel Aire Recovery Center, we are fully aware of the many challenges you might be facing with a loved one who has a substance use disorder. From family education to ongoing support, we have the resources and expertise to help you help your loved one—without losing yourself along the way.