If you’re reading this post then you’re probably no stranger to the toll that addiction can take on families. You’ve probably experienced first-hand the damaging effects of addiction on you, your family, and your addicted love one. Addiction has many costs, and some of the most “expensive” costs of addiction are the negative impacts it has on family members. In this post we’ll talk a bit about the costs of addiction on families, but we’ll primarily focus on what you can do to help you and your family reduce some of the impact.
The Costs of Addictions on Families
We bring up these costs not to further depress you, but to let you know that what you’ve observed and what you’ve experienced is not imaginary. There are real costs to families and family members when a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol. There are also things you can do to reduce the costs of your loved one’s addiction. Although not an exhaustive list, addiction often affects families in the following ways:
- Disruption to family roles.
An addicted loved one may have difficulties parenting, being a fully involved partner/husband/wife, or being an active member of the family unit. It is not unusual that family members will take over the roles that their addicted loved one has stopped doing because of their substance use. For example, one parent may take over more and more of the parenting duties as their partner’s addiction to alcohol worsens. Children often become the mediator or go-between for parents who are arguing over drug or alcohol use. Often these disruptions lead to stress, family dysfunction, and conflict.
- Mental health.
As you are probably very familiar with, being in a relationship with an addicted loved one is stressful! It’s no surprise that studies show that people who have addicted loved ones generally report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. They also report more conflict in their marriages/partnerships (if the addicted loved one is a spouse or partner).
- Physical health.
Stress not only impacts our mental health, but our physical health as well. Studies show that people who have addicted loved ones endorse more negative health effects such as chronic heartburn, stomach upset, and poor quality of health.
Most substances have to be purchased and when a loved one sinks deeper into his/her addiction, more and more money will be spent on purchasing the substance. Sometimes, loved ones begin to miss work or lose jobs because of their substance use, which results in a loss of income. Or they may not work at all, or even steal money or objects to get more drugs. Financial problems can lead to stress and increased conflict, which in turn can lead to negative impacts on your mental and physical health.
- Other costs.
There are many other costs associated with a loved one’s addiction. These include spiritual costs, loss of intimacy, loss of social support, and many more. How has your loved ones addiction impacted you the most? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Reducing the Costs of Addiction: Strategies and Tips
Now that we’ve discussed some of the costs of addiction, it’s time to talk about what you can do to lower the costs of addiction. Many of these tips will take time and effort, and the benefits may not show up right away, but they can and will work if you start making them a part of your life.
Think of these tips and strategies as an investment plan – you’re investing in your well-being and your family’s wellbeing. When you engage in these strategies or other strategies that promote your wellbeing, you are making an investment in improving your life, your family, and possibly your addicted loved one.
Although the phrase “every journey begins with the first step” is overused, I still find it meaningful and motivating. Everyone starts as a beginner and by taking one step at a time, we can get things done that seem overwhelming, impossible, or daunting at first. Here are some strategies and tips we’ve found to be helpful in reducing the price of addiction:
You need support!
The importance of social support cannot be understated. Social support has been shown to be influential in keeping people mentally and physically healthy. The stress of having a loved one with an addiction can be immense and having additional support can help you carry the heavy burden of addiction and decrease your stress. A loss of social support due to shame, embarrassment, or fear is not uncommon in families with an addicted loved one.
It is critically important to build a social support network of people who will offer positive and helpful support. Luckily there are many types of social support. So even if you feel too embarrassed to get support about your loved one’s addiction, you can get support through being around people who make you laugh, who build up your self-esteem, or by giving back to others. Here are some ways to get social support, and feel free to add your own, or if you’d like, share some of your social support strategies in the comments section.
- Peer organizations: Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, SMART Recovery. These are organizations that are specifically created to provide social support for people who have an addicted loved one. You are almost guaranteed to have one of these in your area. For more information about peer organizations see our post on resources.
- Hobbies and Interests: Engaging in activities that bring us pleasure or a sense of achievement, particularly when we feel depressed and overwhelmed, can be a powerful mood booster. Many hobbies can include other people who share the same interest. Even hobbies that are often viewed as solo activities can be altered to include others. For example, there are running groups for people interested in running and there are hiking clubs for people interested in hiking or the great outdoors. Meetup.com is a great resource for finding groups of people who are interested in the same hobby.
- Parent groups: Getting support about parenting can be helpful and does not need to focus on your loved one’s addiction. Again, any type of positive support can be beneficial, so even if you find a parent group for new mothers, or the P.T.A., you can get the benefits of positive social support.
- Therapy (individual and group): If you feel like you need more individual support or more private support that is focused on the impact of your loved one’s addiction, you may wish to consider individual or group therapy. For information about how to find therapists in your area see our post on resources.
- Spiritual groups: Like parent groups, spiritual groups can provide positive social support that is not focused on your loved one’s addiction. Again, any type of positive social support can be beneficial, and spiritual groups may provide additional support to those who have a strong spiritual focus in their lives.
- Exercise groups: There are now several studies that support the idea that exercise has beneficial effects on mental health. Why not get the benefits in a group setting where you might also get the benefits of social support? Find a work-out partner or take exercise classes. A win-win possibility!
- Friends and family: If you have friends and family members who provide you with positive social support, then this is the time to turn to them for that support. It is up to you how much you disclose about your loved one’s addiction, and I recommend only disclosing this information to people you believe will be supportive and not judgmental or blaming--you’ve probably have had enough of that already! Even if your friends and family are judgmental about the addiction, you may be able to turn to them for support in other areas of your life. For example, maybe you have a sister who is great at making you laugh. Getting the chance to laugh and connect in a positive way with a family member can be a great mood booster and a way to step away from your loved one’s addiction for a period of time.
Develop new skills that will help you live better and help your loved one.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapies are therapies that teach people practical skills to help change their actions. CBT approaches like CRAFT work with family members to help them learn skills that will help them support sobriety and not support use. Stay tuned to our blog and our website because we’ll be talking A LOT about the skills you can use to support yourself and your family, as well as help get your loved one into treatment. You can go to this page if you’d like to learn more about CRAFT.
Check in on your core values.
Values are the guiding principles that give our life meaning and purpose. They are the ideals that we strive for, the better person we want to become, and the reason for doing things that are incredibly difficult. Our values are the purposes that give our life meaning and the motivation to keep going when things get hard. For example: being loving, caring, healthy, independent, and learning are all values.
Values are vitally important in the situation you’re in and when people love a person with an addiction. They are the principles that will guide you in your decisions and actions, and they will give you the motivation when you feel like giving up. Here’s a little exercise to get you connected with some of your values.
In this blog we talked about the costs of addiction to family members. Some costs include disruption to family roles and the mental health of family members. We also discussed ways you can take action to reduce the costs of your loved one’s addiction. Self-care and support are important methods for reducing the price of your loved one’s addiction on you and your family.
As always, we appreciate hearing from you and hope that you will share some of the tips you’ve used to reduce the costs of your loved one’s addiction below...