If your ability to function is strained by a loved one critically impaired by alcohol or drugs, it may be useful to think about how to get help for yourself.
The situation is likely to be especially painful when your addicted loved one is refusing to get help, despite considerable effort on your part to connect him to treatment, or is making at best a halfhearted effort. But the one person’s life that you can reliably impact and control is your own, if you get the help that you need.
Whatever your relationship to the substance abuser, you may find that engaging in your own therapy may provide help in dealing with feelings and reactions that are common when dealing with an addicted loved one — rage, guilt, and ineffectual over-involvement. And more, your own therapy may provide a way to more effectively mobilize to create change for yourself, as well as for your troubled loved one.
Understanding the Obstacles that you face
Key to effectively dealing with the pain is taking time to understand not only the toll that the substance abuse has taken on you and other family members, but also the obstacles that have made it feel difficult to make headway. Obstacles can include feared consequences of taking action, limited knowledge about what action to take, and aspects of your own unique history that complicate taking action.
My Experience Working with Stressed Family Members
For more than 30 years I have been working with families torn by substance abuse. Their suffering includes ongoing emotional or physical abuse, behavioral unpredictability leading to financial upheaval and/or child neglect, tarnished family celebrations (weddings, christenings, and graduations ruined by emotional upheaval and embarrassment), and often fear for the very life of the substance abuser.
I see spouses, parents, and adult children and grandchildren of substance abusers. Each situation is unique in some ways, but similar in terms of the suffering, overwhelming preoccupation, and the toll on family members individually and collectively.
Focusing on Your Own Self-Care
When a loved one’s addiction is making your life miserable, it can seem nearly impossible to find a way to focus on your own self-care. The people you turn to for help may be supportive in terms of empathizing with your anguish, but may be at a loss to know what to suggest other than attendance at Alanon meetings, or the possibility of staging an intervention.
Both suggestions may be useful. However, few people (including most therapists) have any idea about what goes into an effective intervention, or the exact purpose aside from connecting an addicted loved one to some form of treatment. And equally important, even those who do know something about intervention tend to discuss the pros and cons mostly in terms of its impact on the substance abuser, neglecting the impact on his or her family member(s).
By contrast, my work is specifically focused on helping the person who has sought help to get to a better place in dealing with his or her painful situation. That may include setting up a formal intervention, but that is not always the best answer. Often smaller steps, thoughtfully considered, may be equally effective. And sometimes the timing may not be right to focus on anyone but you.
When careful work is done to assess the issues that you are struggling with and your own readiness to take action, you will be in a better position to make headway in your own life. Careful assessment will include consideration of the obstacles that you face, as well as resources that you can bring to bear (emotional and otherwise). You will also understand your potential to impact the substance abuser’s behavior, as well as the inherent limits in your ability to create change (for anyone other than yourself).
Other Relevant Articles
- When an Adult Son or Daughter Needs Help Growing Up
- Getting Help for an Addicted Loved One
- Coping with the Challenges of Living with an Addicted Loved One
Dr. Marsha Vannicelli, a nationally recognized expert on the treatment of substance abusers and their family members has authored books and articles on this topic as well as lectured widely nationally and internationally.
© 2018 Marsha Vannicelli