The 5 Options for Helping a Family Member with Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol
Overview: In this post we’ll discuss the primary options for family members of addicted loved ones, the pros and cons of each option, and resources and tips on how to go about using this option in your life.
This post if for people who are looking for help in knowing how to respond to having a loved one with addiction. If you are reading this post, you’re most likely a family member who has a loved one with an addiction and are looking for help in getting your loved sober, as well as getting your life back.
First, welcome and congratulations! Finding help can be tough, and you are taking the first step in what can feel like an overwhelming search for options to help you and your loved one. At Sober Families we are here to make that process a little easier and to provide you with information and support as you seek ways to help your loved one break free from his/her addiction.
5 Options to Help Your Loved One
There are many options available to help your loved one get sober and to get the support you need. The list below covers pretty much all the options we know of that can be used to help out your loved one. After a brief description of each option, we’ll present some of the pros and cons of the option followed by ways to get involved with that option.
Option 1: Learn CRAFT
Community Reinforcement and Family Training Model (CRAFT) originated at the University of New Mexico and was developed by Robert Meyers, Ph.D. and colleagues. The research on CRAFT shows that about 70% of families who learn CRAFT are able to get their loved ones into treatment within a year (Miller, Meyers, & Tonigan, 1999). CRAFT also helps family members improve their own lives, whether their loved one ends up seeking treatment or not.
How does CRAFT do this? By teaching family members practical skills to reward sobriety, not reward using, how to talk with a loved one about their use, and how to get a loved one into treatment.
CRAFT is non-confrontational, so there are no show-downs or surprise parties where you (or other family members) tell off the loved one and try to force him/her into treatment. There are many ways to learn CRAFT, but the most common ways are one-to-one coaching/therapy or using the self-help book written by Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe called Get Your Loved One Sober.
Pros: There are several pros to CRAFT including the following:
It’s a well-researched treatment that has been shown time and again to help about 70% of family members get their loved one into treatment.
It teaches practical skills. The skill s are easy to learn and can be used in many areas of our lives.
CRAFT is an active approach, and appeals to people who want to have something active to do to help their loved one.
Your loved one does not need to “hit bottom” before they can get help. CRAFT says that someone can begin the process of recovery from drugs and alcohol at any point in their lives. Your loved one does not have to have their life completely fall apart before they get help.
You don’t need to detach from your loved one.
CRAFT is positive. It focuses on what you are you doing right, what your addicted loved one does right, and ways to create more positive interactions between you and your loved one.
CRAFT is not an option for people who believe that confrontation is the best or needed way to help an addicted loved one.
The philosophy of CRAFT is quite different from 12-step approaches, which can lead to some difficulties and friction if a family member has a strong belief in the 12-step model.
Although getting support is strongly encouraged in CRAFT, it does not typically provide a structured weekly meeting where you can get support from people in similar situations.
The CRAFT skills can take some time to learn and you’ll need to practice the skills regularly, so there is some time cost with CRAFT.
CRAFT is often learned in one-to-one coaching with a professional, so that means there are some financial considerations. However, there are ways to learn at least some of it for free (including on the SoberFamilies website).
How do I learn CRAFT?
Get coaching or therapy with a therapist who uses CRAFT. If you are lucky enough to find a therapist who is knowledgeable about CRAFT, this is a great option. Unfortunately, right now there aren't many places in the U.S.A. where you can find a therapist who uses CRAFT. If you’d like help finding a therapist, let us know using the form below and we’ll see if we can find someone for you.
Attend a SMART recovery meeting for family and friends of people with addiction. SMART recovery has both online and local meetings for people who have family members struggling with drugs and alcohol. SMART Recovery is a peer-run organization that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, including CRAFT, to help people and their families coping with addiction). The friends and family SMART recovery group will connect with you other families that are experiencing struggles similar to your own and who are using CRAFT to help them get their addicted loved ones into treatment. A great benefit of SMART Recovery meetings are that you also get to talk to other people in a similar situation. You can find out more here: http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/family.htm
Read a CRAFT self-help book. There’s a great book called Get Your Loved One Sober that we recommend to clients all the time at Sober Families. A major benefit of this strategy is that it’s cheap. The Get Your Loved One Sober book includes exercises that you can do to learn and practice CRAFT skills. Sometimes, as people are learning the CRAFT skills through the book, they realize that they need more support and hands-on learning. When that is the case, the tips discussed in the therapy section can be helpful.
Learn on the Sober Families website. We’re developing more and more materials every month that are tied to the CRAFT approach. Stay a member of our newsletter to see those as they come out. We already have videos and will be conducting webinars and coaching. Stay in touch for our newest developments!
Option 2: Attend an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Meeting
Al-Anon and similar groups (e.g., Nar-Anon) are mutual peer support groups made up of relatives of people with addictions. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are probably the most well-known of these groups. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are based on the AA and NA models, but are focused on the relative’s experiences of loving a person with an addiction.
Like AA and NA, Al-Anon and Nar-Anon have a spiritual element and use the 12 steps to help members cope with their loved ones’ drinking or drug use (the 12 steps are similar to the 12 steps in AA/NA, but emphasize the relative’s experiences).
From the limited number of research studies done on Al-Anon/Nar-Anon, these approaches help improve family members’ well-being, but are not very effective in getting the person with the addiction into treatment (Meyers, Villanueva, & Smith, 2005). For example, in a study done in 1999 (Miller, Meyers, & Tonigan), approximately 1 in 10 family members who took part in Al-Anon were able to get their loved ones into treatment.
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are widely available and you can probably find a meeting within driving distance of your home.
You get to talk to other people who are in a similar situation and get support. Once you find a meeting that you like, you can establish supportive relationships with fellow family members that can be incredibly helpful when you have a loved one with an addiction. The meetings typically occur once/week, so you can have that source of support on a weekly basis (or more if there are other Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings that you like and are close to you).
It’s free. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are free, which can be helpful for people who have limited means or don’t have the budget for the other options discussed in this post.
Most meetings come from a religious, often explicitly Christian perspective. This can be really helpful if it fits your worldview.
You have to be willing to detach from your loved one. 12-step approaches for family members advocate that family members are powerless over their loved one’s addiction, which translates into an approach that can be called detached loving. Detached loving is when you love a person, but you don’t do anything to help, hinder, or otherwise influence your loved one in overcoming his/her addiction.
People who are proactive, detached loving can be very difficult. Al-anon/Nar-anon don’t teach you specific skills that you can use to help your loved one.
Some people don’t like the idea of being powerless that is taught in 12-step approaches and this can lead to difficulties in following the 12-steps.
The spiritual part of 12-steps can be a turn-off for some people.
12-step groups are usually not open to helping your loved one to reduce their use or use in less harmful ways. So if this is your goal for your loved one, 12-step groups may not be the best fit for you.
How do I find a meeting?
Finding local Al-Anon and Nar-Anon groups is pretty simple. Just go to their website: http://www.al-anon.org/ or http://www.nar-anon.org/naranon/ and you will on their front pages instructions and links on how to locate a meeting near you. If there isn’t a meeting near you, there are online meetings, which you can find links to on their websites. Each meeting has a different personality and so you may want to try attending a few different meetings to get a sense for which one would work best for you.
Option 3: Conduct an Intervention
You may have previously heard of this approach from TV shows like A&Es “Intervention.” The most common type of intervention used is the Johnson Intervention, which was developed by Vernon Johnson in the 1960s. The basic ideas behind this type of intervention are:
a person with addiction is in extreme denial about their use of substances;
only direct confrontation with family members about the negative effects of their use will enable the person to seek treatment.
In an intervention, an interventionist or counselor meets with family members and concerned others (e.g., friends, partners, employers) prior to the actual intervention and helps them prepare for the meeting (i.e., the intervention). During the intervention, the interventionist helps guide the family members and concerned others express the effects of their loved one’s use in a factual and non-judgmental way.
If the person is willing to accept help, then treatment options will be presented to him/her. Research on the Johnson Intervention shows that it can be effective for getting people with addictions into treatment, but that only 30% of family members are willing to actually go through with the intervention after being trained, probably because the method is so confrontive.
If you believe that your loved one could benefit from being confronted with the harmful effects of their use on their family, then this approach might be a fit.
If you are willing to go through with the actual intervention, then this approach can be fairly successful. Although interventions are intense, people who follow through with it are often successful in getting their loved one into treatment.
Meeting with an interventionist often helps families feel more empowered and reduces their stress.
This is approach is confrontational and many people find confrontation unpleasant, upsetting, or not consistent with their values as a family member.
It costs money. The costs vary depending upon who you use as your interventionist.
Unless you go through with the actual intervention, it’s not very effective. Only people who actually do the intervention itself find that it’s likely to work.
The after-effects of the intervention can also disrupt relationships, as it is common for the addicted loved one to feel hurt, betrayed, or angry about the intervention.
How do I find an interventionist?
A first step is learning more about interventions. This website contains information about what you should look for when selecting an interventionist, as well as a national directory of interventionists. There is also a form on the website where you can request help finding an interventionist near you. A skilled interventionist will lead you through the next steps of the intervention process.
Option 4: Find an Addictions Therapist
Some people choose to work with an individual therapist who has experience working with addictions. In particular, you may want to try to find a therapist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy so that they can help you learn skills to help you get your loved one into treatment. In addition, individual or group therapy can address many concerns that people have when dealing with the stress of addiction and their family. For example, therapy can help with depression and anxiety resulting from the stress of being in this kind of the situation.
You get one-to-one help from a professional. Addictions therapists often have a wealth of experience in helping people and family members deal with addiction. They will be able to share their experience and knowledge with you.
Addictions therapists are in every community. By not restricting yourself to someone trained in CRAFT, you should have a broader range of choices.
Individual therapy should be able to help you with anxiety, depression, and stress that goes along with having an addicted family member.
An addictions therapist may not be specialized in helping families of people with addiction, as they typically work with the addicted person themselves.
The success rate for a general addictions therapist in helping you get your family member into treatment is unknown. The likelihood they are using a proven technique like CRAFT or Interventions is uncertain. You’d probably want to ask them if they know anything about CRAFT or interventions.
Here’s some ideas on how to find a good therapist:
We have created a tip sheet on how to find therapists and the questions to ask any therapist before you start working with him/her that can be helpful to use when searching for a therapist. You might also want to check the ABCT therapist search to look for cognitive behavioral therapists who work with addiction.
Option 5: Self-help and Other Resources
This category includes doing things like reading books about addiction, reading books for families with addiction, talking to friends and family, discussing these difficulties at church, or asking a minister or other spiritual leader what to do. What can be useful about these options is that they are readily available and talking to trusted others can result in good social support.
There is no one-size-fits all approach to helping your addicted loved one and yourself. You might explore a variety of options and it may take time to find the option or combination of options that will best fit your needs and your loved one’s needs.
You can easily find books for families dealing with addiction. It takes relatively little effort to read a book and educate yourself. This can be a really good starting point for learning more about addiction.
Talking to your social network can provide you with significant support and help you deal with the stress of having an addicted loved one.
Both of these options are free or inexpensive.
Books are good way to gain knowledge, but if you really want to have something new happen you need to develop skills and be dedicated to practicing them.
Your community can often provide good social support, but often they don’t have the specific background needed to help families deal with addiction.
How to move forward with this:
Our favorite self-help book that we recommend is, Get Your Loved One Sober, and provides a good starting point. There are a number of other books for families dealing with addiction that you can find online, for example at Amazon.com. Your friends, your family, and your church (if you have one) are already a part of your life. If you haven’t already started talking about it with them, we’d recommend picking one person and start with them. While it’s common to feel embarrassed or ashamed about the situation, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not your fault that your loved one has an addiction. You need the help and support. Pick someone and tell them about what’s happening.
5 factors to consider before selecting an option
In considering the above options, there are a few factors that can help you decide between different options. We’ve already discussed some of the factors to consider above, but here are a list of 5 factors we believe are important to think about before deciding on any option to help you and your loved one:
1.) Personal needs: It can be difficult to think about your needs when you’re focused on helping a loved one, but it is very important to consider your needs when deciding on which option you will use to help your loved one. What do you need to be successful? How do you learn best? If you need some emotional support and feel that you learn best from hearing from others in similar situations, then options like 12-step or SMART recovery may be the right for you. If you learn best using a skills-based and active approach, then CRAFT may be the right option.
2.) Personal beliefs: Like your needs, your personal beliefs about addiction and how a person recovers from addiction can have a big impact on how successful and useful an option will be for you. If you are deeply spiritual or religious, then 12 step groups may be an option to try first. If you believe that an addicted loved one needs to be confronted about their use then intervention may be an option for you. If you’d rather use a non-confrontational approach that focuses on the positives, then CRAFT may be the best option.
3.) Finances: Some of the options above can involve spending a fair amount of money, while others are free. Additionally, some of the options allow you to use your health insurance to help pay for the services, while others may not. Take stock of your current financial situation, your financial goals, and how much money you can realistically spend on helping your loved one and yourself.
4.) Time: The amount of time you will need to spend will vary depending on the option you choose. Some options require you to practice skills many times so that you learn them and use them effectively. Other options only require you to go to a meeting for 1 hour each week. Think about how much time you have to invest, as well as how much time you’re willing to put into this effort.
5.) Goals: What are your goals for getting help? There are no right or wrong goals when it comes to planning how to help your addicted loved one. You may want your loved one to give up alcohol all together, or you may want your loved one to just reduce his/her drinking. Take a few moments to think about your goal(s) before selecting an option.
In this post we’ve examined the 5 most common options to helping family members with addicted loved ones. Each approach has benefits and costs.
We also reviewed personal factors to consider when selecting an option, such as your beliefs about addiction, your goals, and finances. Remember, if the option you initially choose doesn’t work, it does NOT mean that your addicted love one will never get better.
Addiction is a difficult and complex problem. Sometimes a combination of approaches, trying the approach again but with some revisions to it, or trying something else entirely is the thing that works. Keep trying and don’t give up.
If you have opinions about this article or experiences from your life that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you.