When Someone You Love is an Addict:
Things You Can Do for Them and You Too
Whether you realize it or not, addiction is a problem that affects the whole family. In fact, the behaviour of a person who is deep into addiction may adversely affect every single person around them, including their friends, teachers, classmates, and co-workers.
How to recognize if someone you love is an addict
If you are the parent of a teenager, and you think that your kid might be addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are a number of red flags to watch out for. If a usually good student who always got high grades before suddenly loses all interest in their studies, they might be spending their time with unsavoury friends and dabbling in drugs and drink. When a formerly active kid suddenly stops playing sports and appears to be slovenly and generally unmotivated, it could be a sign of substance abuse. Likewise, if your teen’s once-sharp appearance suddenly takes a turn for the worse.
Sudden secrecy is another signal that your child may be trying to hide something such as drug abuse or alcohol use from you. If your kid puts a lock on their door or otherwise sabotages your efforts to enter their bedroom, this could be an indication that something is terribly wrong. If you start to notice missing money, or if your teenager asks for more allowance than usual yet never comes home with an obvious purchase, you may need to find out what, exactly, is going on with them.
Why people become addicts
Every parent of a teenage addict asks themselves, “How could this happen to my child?” The answer to that question can be as complex as addiction itself. Most kids who become addicts take their first taste of the thing they ultimately become dependent on as a result of peer pressure. As the adage goes, ‘monkey see, monkey do.’
Kids as well as adults often find themselves in the throes of addiction due to an attempt to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety with self-medication. Bear in mind that not every kid who smokes a joint with their friends or steals one beer from the family refrigerator is an addict. Scientific American magazine notes than kids who are exceptionally intelligent may actually be more susceptible to addiction than kids with lesser IQs. Scientific American also mentions a scientific study that showed that teens who experiment a time or two with marijuana are evincing normal adolescent behaviour. When a kid overdoes it, or doesn’t know when or how to stop experimenting, they may be on their way to addiction.
How to help your addicted family member
A three-tiered approach to addiction is the best plan to help your family member overcome their addiction and lead a clean and sober life. Counselling that delves to the deep seated and ofttimes hidden causes of addiction can be very helpful, says Mayo Clinic. Working out those underlying troubles may accelerate your loved ones recovery.
Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Alateen have helped hundreds of thousands of teens to recover from addiction, and they can probably help your family, too. Teens generally enjoy the company of their peers. Listening to their stories may be far more useful than any lecture they receive from you. Do your best not to belittle or shame the addict. Again, this sort of ‘talking down’ to your addicted teen may do more harm than good. Visit ARCProject.org.uk/alcohol-detox for additional tips about how to help your addict and yourself.
Provide a clean and sober environment, and remove liquor from the home, or at least keep it under lock and key. If your kid asks for money to buy something they need, ask them what it is and buy it for them instead of handing over cash. Should your kid come home high, do not engage them while they are under the influence.
How to help yourself
First, understand that your family member’s addiction is not your fault. Everyone is wired differently, and some people are simply prone to addiction. Young addicts come from all social-economic backgrounds, and many come from families that have no history of addictive behaviour. Feelings of guilt will do nothing to help your addict, so remain as positive as possible. Nobody is responsible for the behaviour, good or bad, of anyone else. Remember, you did not cause the addiction, nor are you able to control someone else’s addiction.
Avail yourself of an Alanon meeting. These 12-step meetings are designed for people whose lives have been affected by an addiction that is not necessarily their own. Sharing your horror stories as well as your success stories will help you understand that you are not alone in dealing with an addicted loved one.
Alice Tomlinson is a substance abuse nurse who works closely with patients facing addictions as well as their friends and family. In her articles she wants to raise awareness and help people to better understand how to deal with this sad situation.