What You Can Do:
#1 Get educated.
You can’t help fight an enemy you don’t understand. Learn about addiction — the signs, the treatments, the relapse triggers — and talk to your loved ones about drugs and alcohol from an early age. Of course, education is no guarantee of healthy choices, but it can be a powerful tool in preventing drug abuse and finding a way into recovery.
If your loved one goes into treatment, participate in any family programs that are offered. The education and encouragement offered by a drug rehabilitation center can help you support your loved one and take care of your own needs at the same time. Continue to be a source of support and accountability post-treatment, when drug cravings and triggers heighten the relapse risk. Bennett strongly recommends putting into place a family recovery contract when a loved one returns home from treatment or sober living. She notes, “If the ‘addict’ doesn’t live at home, a recovery contract is important with fewer stipulations, but not imperative.”
#2 Take care of yourself.
A critical lesson for Eve was the importance of being good to herself, regardless of whether her son was doing well. You can’t control another person, but you can make healthy decisions for yourself. And you must in order to have any hope of being able to support and encourage your loved one.
For some people, groups like Al-Anon provide a safe place to get education and fellowship with others who are facing similar struggles. Others prefer seeing a therapist privately or joining a different type of support group.
Whatever your path looks like, “you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep looking forward, not back,” Eve says. “There’s no way to make sense of it. There’s no reason why my son should’ve died. Give yourself over to a higher power — for me, it was the only way I could live my life.”
There’s a lot of pain and grief involved when you love someone with a substance use disorder. Your other family members and friends may not grieve in the same way as you and may have their own ideas about how to handle the situation. For example, Eve started BIGVISION, an organization dedicated to helping young adults transition into sober life after rehab. Although her family had trouble understanding it at first, helping others suffering from the same illness that took away her son has been an integral part of her healing.
#3 Talk about it.
Talking about the problem can be healing both for the person trying to overcome substance use disorder as well as their loved ones. A person with a drug problem may be reluctant to come to you and ask for help, but if you can tolerate the lies and manipulation, an open dialogue is your best chance to be there for them when they need you most.
“Work on building a good relationship, without judging or accusing,” Eve suggests. “You have to step back, you can’t be on top of them all the time, or they won’t trust that they can come to you.”
For loved ones trying to take care of themselves, nothing is more toxic to your healing than shame. Eve had many friends who struggled with addiction in their family but were too ashamed to talk about it. “We made a decision as a family to be up front about our struggles,” she says. “The more you talk about it, the more you realize everyone has a story, everyone has been affected by addiction in some way.”
For Eve, speaking her son’s name and telling his story is one way to keep his memory alive. “I still cry when I tell Isaac’s story, even two years later. And I can see people’s faces cringe when I talk about my dead child. They don’t know how to handle it,” she says. “But I can’t worry about making them uncomfortable. He’s still my son and I won’t pretend he didn’t exist.”
The realities of addiction are painful. It’s hard to hear that a loved one’s life is at risk and you can’t fix it. But once you accept certain realities, you may discover that there’s empowerment beyond the powerlessness. There are steps you can take to help yourself and your addicted loved one, and once you’ve taken those steps you can take solace in knowing you did all that you could in the face of a devastating disease.