This is a question we hear from nearly every family member or loved one of someone struggling with substance use disorder. Commonly known as addiction, substance use disorder always impacts more than just the person who is battling the disease.
But how? If you’re sober, and you’re not the one drinking or using, how can you admit that it’s negatively impacting your life?
The truth is, actively seeing someone you love struggle with substance use disorder affects your mindset and wellbeing. They’re the ones facing what seems like an overwhelming obstacle—so how can your emotions matter? How can your experiences matter?
We’re here to tell you that they do. We’re here to tell you that you matter. Every part of your experiences and all of your emotions and every way that your loved one’s struggle with substance use disorder impacts you matters. Feelings of guilt, shame, fear, loneliness—they’re very real and completely normal for those actively battling substance use disorder and their loved ones.
When your loved one has a substance use disorder, it impacts you in many ways.
Recognizing and acknowledging how you’re impacted is a very important first step. Next, it’s finding healing in those areas—the same kind of healing you want your loved one to receive.
If you’re like many other support persons, you may view this level of self-care as selfish. Maybe you believe that focusing the limited energy you have left on yourself—rather than the person struggling with a substance use disorder—isn’t going to help your loved one.
However, we’ve found that starting to support a loved one with substance use disorder often means taking care of yourself first. This gives you the healing, strength, knowledge and coping tools you need to not only find a renewed balance in your own life but also support your loved one in the healthy ways they need.
Just like substance use disorder treatment, there are various options available to help you. It’s all about finding something that works for you—and finding people who just get it.
Al-Anon: Free Twelve Step support group for families and loved ones of those with an alcohol substance use disorder
Nar-Anon: Free Twelve Step support group for families and loved ones of those with a substance use disorder
Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT): support group focused on healthier relationships and communication with loved ones facing a substance use disorder
Family groups: support groups for family members of loved ones who are struggling with a substance use disorder
It’s possible to both take care of yourself and recognize the impact your loved one’s addiction has on you while also providing an effective level of support.
While you can’t make decisions for your loved one or force them to change, you are still one of the most influential people in their lives. One of the most impactful ways to use this influence as your loved one travels through their substance use disorder journey—no matter where they are on it—is just being there to listen in a non-blaming, nonjudgmental way.
We understand that this doesn’t feel like an immediate, quick path to recovery. But it’s those small steps that will move your loved one into a more positive direction and, eventually, into long-term recovery.
Encouraging these small but mighty steps starts with healthy communication. For many, this must start by first separating your loved one from the disease of substance use disorder. Recognizing that you love who this person is at their core guides how you respond to them in times of frustration, anger and fear.
As you open the lines for honest communication, allow your loved one to explore their options by meeting them right where they are. For example, are they ready to attend AA, NA or other support groups? If yes, how can you help? Would they like you to give them a ride? If not, what positive step are they willing to take? And how can you support them in it?
It’s important to remember that nothing about substance use disorder is black and white. The emotional rollercoaster impacting your life and your loved one’s life will continue—and it’s crucial to honor whatever you’re feeling in those moments. Find your support people. Keep communication open, honest and positive. And above all, find the treatment path that works best for you and the one that works best for your loved one.