Resources for the Families of Those Suffering with Addiction

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Substance use disorder doesn’t affect just one type of person—it impacts people in all walks of life, and most of them have families.

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a serious national public health problem affecting approximately 45 million families. Individually, 21 million people have a substance use disorder and 17 million have alcohol use disorder. These statistics have devastating consequences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 64,000 people died from drug overdoses each year. 88,000 died from alcohol-related causes.

Addiction is a family disease because it affects the whole family: it wreaks havoc in the household environment and in familial/romantic relationships. A family home that should be loving and nurturing can become stressful and confusing, and positive values are often replaced with distrust, frustration, and resentment. Having a family member with addiction also places children at risk of developing issues with substance use, as well as mental and physical problems in their teens and later life.

We call addiction a disease because it is progressive and—if left untreated—only continues to worsen over time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Over 23 million Americans live in long-term recovery, and have successfully resolved a drug or alcohol problem. This kind of change does, however, require the family to seek recovery together.

How we can support loved ones with substance use disorder:

We can support loved ones struggling with addiction—wherever they are in their recovery journey—in a number of ways:

  • Intervention. If the person refuses to seek help but is causing significant disruption within the family, and you fear for their safety and that of you and the family, it might be helpful to arrange an intervention.

  • Understanding SUD. Learn about substance use disorder to better understand that it is a medical condition. If a person with SUD feels punished or shamed for their behavior, it can push them away, even if you are trying to help.

  • Being supportive of recovery. Support a loved one’s decision to seek formal treatment, whether that is best achieved through a mutual-aid meeting or inpatient rehabilitation.

  • Make time for recovery. Be available to speak to family members when they are in treatment. Set aside time for them and show your support.

  • Seek your own recovery. Whether you realize it or not, you will also need help to recover while your loved one is seeking treatment. You may need help to create and enforce healthy boundaries, learn how to make your care a priority and how to put yourself first, and understand the role addiction plays in a relationship. Finding that help may come through professional therapeutic support, or through a mutual-aid program.

  • Work together as a family to support long-term recovery. This involves managing expectations, attending family therapy, sharing household tasks, allowing time for continued recovery activities, trying to do things together as a family like taking walks and eating a meal together, and trying to implement healthy routines like regular sleeping patterns and healthy eating.

  • Language matters. Be conscious of the language you use to describe substance use disorder. Refrain from using stigmatizing terms like “addict,” “alcoholic,” “clean,” and “relapse.” It’s best to use person-centered language. See below for a helpful guide

Information and resources are available.

There are a lot of resources out there for families and partners of loved ones suffering from substance use disorders. It can be hard to differentiate between them, so we’ve categorized them into helpful sections:

Education & Information:

Interventions:

The most common interventions used by practitioners are ARISE and the Johnson model.

Online support groups:

Facebook has a host of recovery support groups for families, including Voices to End Addiction & Inspire Recovery, FamilyRx, as well as online versions of mutual-aid meetings.

Helpful organizations:

In-person support groups and information:

Finding treatment:

Mutual-aid support for the person suffering from substance use disorder:

If your loved one doesn’t go to treatment or wants to supplement their therapy with a peer-based support group, they can go to any number of mutual-aid groups, including:

There are also religious and culturally specific groups that individuals can attend, including:

Olivia Pennelle is a writer, journalist, and recovery activist. Her work has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

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