Addiction is often described as a family disorder because it shapes how a family unit functions and how family members interact with one another.
Acknowledging that you love an opioid addict is similar to the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But it’s important to know that these stages aren’t necessarily experienced in that order, and not everyone experiences all of them.
However, understanding these stages can help influence your attitudes and behavior toward your family member’s addiction and help you comprehend your own responses to the situation.
How To Know If You’re In Denial about Loving an Addict
If you’re reading this, you are already breaking through denial and beginning to face the reality that there may be a problem with someone you love.
Denial is a very common response to a family member’s addiction.
Why? Because it’s a difficult, and often painful, reality to confront. By the time you acknowledge that there’s an issue, you have likely been participating in it for some time without realizing it.
You might notice your loved one behaving in a different way, like showing unexplained anger or leaving for large periods of time that’s unaccounted for, but you dismiss their behaviors as isolated incidents. Continually dismissing these red flags is a way of allowing the issue to grow.
Bargaining with Addiction
You’ll know you’re bargaining when many of your thoughts or sentences begin with, “If only we had…” This is normal, but it’s not particularly helpful to focus on where you think you “went wrong.”
While bargaining is normal, it often leads to feelings of guilt and remorse. Addiction is a complex disorder and getting wrapped up in figuring out a single cause to the issue is not productive.
How Loving an Addict Can Leave You Angry and Depressed
By the time you realize that a loved one is engaged in active addiction you may feel quite a bit of anger or depression over the issue.
These feelings may give you the urge to lash out at the person in active addiction or other family members as you sort out how to handle the issue. Even though this is completely normal, it’s important to find ways of managing these strong emotions to respond to the situation in the most helpful way.
Accepting a Loved One’s Addiction
Although acceptance seems self explanatory, like anger and depression, it’s important to understand that acceptance is not passive resignation. It’s not giving up.
Acceptance of an unpleasant reality is an active process that takes a good deal of courage. This process is much like forgiveness. It’s not agreeing with the behavior, but accepting that it is, or has, happened.
Acceptance best positions you to move forward and deal with the situation in the best way possible. It’s important to understand that acceptance may seem fleeting at first. You may feel a good deal of acceptance on moment and then feel anger or return to bargaining the next.
Confronting a Family Member’s Addiction
The first step is to confront the issue and discuss it with the family member that you believe to be in active addiction. It’s helpful to be aware of your own emotional reactions and respond to the situation as calmly as possible. The person who keeps their cool the best will better communicate the issue.
Confronting the issue is only the beginning. From there it is important to learn new skills including:
- Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries
- Recognizing enabling behaviors and codependence
- Effective communication strategies
- Active listening
- Learning more about addiction itself
How To Find Healing For Yourself And Others In The Family
Family involvement is often very helpful in the treatment of opioid addiction, particularly if you can participate and respond rationally and with patience. Your support is much needed and will be appreciated by your loved one in active addiction. Your participation in negotiating and clarifying treatment goals can be helpful, especially if you can remain focused on solutions.
You also need to find sources of support for yourself. Everyone in the family has their own work to do and finding support for yourself, and others in the family, will help you on your journey. Some places where you can find support are Al-Anon, your local church, friends, and other family members.
What to Avoid When Loving an Addict and When to Let Go
Among the best things you can do are seek counseling and maintain a good system of support for yourself. A counselor can help you learn skills, such as boundaries, coping skills, and working toward acceptance. Only you can decide your level of participation in your relationships and how you want to move forward in your life.
Refrain from treating your loved one in active addiction like the family pet project. Realize that members of your own support system will sometimes have a lot of opinions and advice to offer. Filter these opinions with a bent toward finding your own way toward health and wellness rather than finding ways to “fix your addict.”
Despite your best efforts, sometimes when someone in active addiction will not be open to treatment, refuse to observe boundaries, or even present a danger to your physical, mental, or financial wellbeing. They may even insist that you are their problem, rather than opioid use, and all would be well if you’d just leave them alone. This is the same as thinking that everything will be okay once you “fix your addict,” only in reverse.
If you have a family member who you believe is suffering from addiction, our team at MedPro Treatment Centers can help. You don’t have to do this alone.