The holidays are often a time of happy family togetherness, but for those with loved ones struggling with addiction, they can be more complicated. Here are 5 tips to help those friends and family during the holidays from Amelia Peck, LMFT.
My cousin has had some serious drug addiction problems. He's addicted to alcohol, too, and needs to go to rehab for substance abuse. He knows that he's an addict and needs help, but won’t take responsibility for his drug abuse. I'm worried about his mental health, and how he's treating his other family members and loved ones. How can I be supportive without enabling him? - Concerned Family Member
Dear Family Member,
I am so sorry to hear that you are going through this. It is a challenging position when we want to help people in our lives, especially family members, but they don’t seem to want the help we think they need. You are right about the importance of the responsibility he needs to take to begin to embrace the change that needs to take place. Thankfully, many treatment facilities are more than ever before understanding drug addiction and substance abuse as a mental health issue. So the help that is available for those struggling with addiction is probably better than it has never been. But in the meantime, while we are waiting to get to that point, here are some thoughts for you to consider.
One of the most important ways we can walk through addiction with our families is to have clear boundaries with our loved ones. What will you allow and what won’t you? It is important to be clear and consistent with loved ones in this area. Part of the mental health component of substance abuse is that people who are addicted to substances manipulate and struggle to accept boundaries. When they are not ready to hear their truth, they will not be ready to accept that boundary.
If this loved one is present during the holidays, you may need to encourage your family to support them by not bringing alcohol to family gatherings. While there are many jokes made about drinking during the holidays, don't allow the cliche to let you feel entitled to drink too much yourself.
You also need to consider safety. Are there children in the picture or another loved one who would be vulnerable while someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol? These considerations and challenging discussions. However uncomfortable, it can help promote awareness about the addiction. That way, someone like your cousin can begin to make the decision to move towards substance abuse treatment and addiction recovery.
Some cities have treatment facilities called Harm Reduction Clinics. In the midst of drug abuse increasing and the opioid crisis that is happening in our country, there are clinics that offer Syringe Exchange Programs and supplies to addicts who are not ready for rehab but are willing to engage with a clinic. These facilities also offer injection counseling and fentanyl testing strip. While this might seem enabling, the idea around these clinics is to help reduce the risk of overdose. You can contract several diseases like HIV or Hepatitis C through the use of needles, so this is a valuable service. Individuals who enter these clinics can also be offered kits of Narcan, which is an antidote for an opioid overdose and can save their life.
If the individual is at least getting a foot in the door at a clinic, when they decide to make that move towards rehab, they can more easily make that transition. A certain level of clinical support will already be available to them.
As I said before, these are not comfortable situations and conversations that you will have to have with a loved one who is an addict. You have to know your own priorities on this journey as well. If you are a parent, a spouse, or serve as other roles in your life that are vital to your well-being, to know where your boundaries are with your cousin will help you know more of where you can help your family member. Be clear on how to be where you need to be.
However, make sure the lines you draw don't distance yourself from the process. The intention is to be along the journey while keeping yourself healthy in the process. Family therapy might be something to explore so that a professional can help guide you on this process as well. Your own one-on-one therapy may help you let out your emotions freely as well.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself in all of this. Making sure you show yourself compassion is vital. It is easy to quickly become exhausted and overwhelmed by everything. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. So if you are close to your cousin and are ready to walk through this journey with them, make sure you are also taking time to take care of you as well. Your cousin will need support groups but you might need one as well. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are groups for families and loved ones of alcoholics and people who struggle with addiction. They happen all over the country, and while you are waiting for your cousin to make his first step, this might be yours.