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It’s not easy to admit that someone you love may be struggling with drugs or alcohol. Substance use disorder is a staggeringly commonplace health concern, with over 20 million Americans aged 12 or older struggling with substance use disorders in 2017.1
Whether you’re concerned about your mother, brother, niece, uncle, or another family member, this guide will help you identify signs of addiction, understand what treatment programs are available for substance abuse, and find ways to take care of yourself.
Though there may be a tendency to ignore the more subtle signs of drug or alcohol abuse, after a while they may be too noticeable to push to the side. Identifying the signs of addiction in a family member or significant other gives you the opportunity to talk to them about it and help them get the treatment they need.
Not all substances have the same effects, but addiction has some common warning flags to be aware of. These fall under three categories.
General physical signs can include: 2, 3
Outside of physical signs, your loved one might also be exhibiting some mental or emotional changes if they are abusing drugs or alcohol. Look for your loved one: 2, 3, 4
Some general behavioral changes in someone that is addicted to a substance can include: 2, 3, 4
When someone we love has a problem, our first instinct is generally to help. However, with an addiction, what feels like helping could be enabling. Some examples of enabling are:
Enabling isn’t only unhelpful; it can reinforce the addiction by helping your loved one skip out on consequences.5, 6
Substance use disorders and long-term substance abuse is associated with certain brain changes that may remain long after the person has quit drinking or using drugs; these changes help to explain why it is difficult for your loved one to control the compulsion to resume substance use even after successfully achieving abstinence for some time.2, 7
If you’re concerned that a loved one has an addiction, you may not know how to talk to them about it. But an intervention like you’ve seen on TV often may not be the most effective way to address the issues.4
A good place to start is to ask your loved one’s doctor or a counselor for help,4 as talking to a professional can assist you with coming up with a plan beforehand.
Discuss any special needs your loved one has with his or her care provider when choosing a program. After meeting, you and the medical professional should talk to your loved one together, and help them develop the motivation to change.4
With so many treatment facilities to choose from, it can be hard to know which one to pick. You may want to look for:
Since addiction isn’t the same for everyone, treatment shouldn’t be either. Finding the right treatment for your loved one starts with matching them to the proper resources by assessing their needs and determining if any other areas of physical or mental health may require care during treatment.7, 8 Along the continuum of care, you can expect to hear terms like:
Family-based treatment can help your loved one stay in treatment and have better outcomes, as well as help the whole family heal, learn how to be supportive of recovery, and know what to do if your loved one slips up.5, 6, 7
Since addiction has an impact on how the family functions as a unit, it’s important to include the family in the therapy process.5 Some evidence-based family therapy techniques include:
Family therapy is especially important for teens in substance use treatment. Specific treatment methods used with adolescents include: 7
If you have health insurance coverage, it may pay for some of the cost of substance use treatment for your loved one.4 If you aren’t sure of what is covered, you can call the insurance company or call the treatment facility directly for additional information. If you can’t afford the treatment, many facilities offer treatment plans or may offer sliding scale payment schedules. If your loved one has no insurance coverage, treatment center staff may help them apply for insurance.
Oxford Treatment Center has resources to help you determine the best way to pay for treatment.
There’s a proverb that says, “You can’t serve from an empty cup.” Don’t get so wrapped up in caring for your loved one that you forget to take care of yourself.
Caring for others is stressful and draining and takes a toll on your physical and mental health. Incorporating self-care helps you stay healthy and help your loved one more effectively. You can do this by: 9, 10
By taking care of yourself, you’re setting a positive example to your loved one and helping them progress through their recovery. Recovery isn’t easy, but it is possible, and it’s easier to do together.