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Living with a Loved One Suffering from a Substance Abuse Disorder

Living with a loved one suffering from a substance abuse disorder may be one of the most difficult challenges anyone can face. Shame, fear, confusion, guilt, resentment, and indignation often permeate the home of substance abusers. In the quest to maintain peace, those who bear the greatest burdens are the ones who think that somehow, they can control what happens based on their own instincts and/or who the addict was before.

If this sounds like you, you are not alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction, “is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.” Millions of individuals struggle with substance abuse and many substances abused in today’s society are powerful enough to get your loved one “hooked” after just a couple of exposures.

Lost Connections

Living with a loved one suffering from a substance abuse disorder brings down the moral of the home and within the family unity. The darkest sides of the problems that occur create atmospheres where isolation and crisis become the norm with all healthy communications getting lost in the turmoil. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Services (SAMHSA), “The idea of family implies an enduring involvement on an emotional level. Family members may disperse around the world, but still be connected emotionally and able to contribute to the dynamics of family functioning.”

Dealing with the health of loved one is one of the central roles that continue to bind loved ones together, but, it should come as no surprise if you have a loved one suffering from a substance abuse disorder, that the connections you once had with that individual will, at some point, be broken. The unrequited feelings when trying to sustain a relationship with a substance abuser can leave a deep, dark, and empty hole in the hearts of others that would otherwise, be unthinkable.

Characteristics of a Substance Abuser

substance abuser

Some signs of a substance abuser include denial and manipulation.

Addicts employ a wide range of defense mechanisms to limit detection of the severity of their substance abuse, to alleviate their own guilt and shame, and above all, to be able to continue using. According to the Institute of Medicine (US),”Drug abuse leads to reallocation of economic support away from the family; lack of participation in family activities, including caregiving; lack of emotional commitment and support for parents and children; and the inability to provide a reliable and adequate role model for other family members, especially children.”

Don’t be naïve. Some of the most commonly noticed characteristics of a substance abuser are:

  • Denial
  • Manipulations
  • Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
  • Theft and borrowing of money or pawning items to buy drugs
  • Staying away from the home to avoid confrontations
  • Placing the welfare of themselves and their so-called “friends” above the importance of the relationships within the home
  • Cognitive, emotional, and mental health problems – frequent outbursts of anger, depression, anxiety, restlessness, impulsivity, forgetfulness, distorted patterns of thinking, poor judgment, and inhibition loss
  • Physical signs of distress and/or functioning impairments, insomnia, fatigue, and frequent bouts of sickness

Moving Forward

Losing an addict to overdose has become an epidemic problem in the young as well as the old and forcing the addict to become accountable for their substance abuse related problems can be as frightening to you as is to them. Too often, co-dependency gives way to the addict’s ability to manipulate the relationship for their own selfish gains. Preying on your fears for their wellbeing and ability to continue using while having you reorganize your life around their behaviors and mood is an experience no one wants to go through. The longer it continues the worse it will get.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “An individual’s motivation to change can be strongly influenced by family, friends, emotions, and community support.” Providing support is great only if the substance abuser chooses to get help, but, the first thing you need to realize is that your support for them relies on your ability to take care of yourself. Education, insight, and hope are powerful motivators to living a healthy and satisfying life in those living with substance abusers, but, breaking the cycles of abuse, neglect, and pain can be difficult.

Finding Support

Joining a support group opens up opportunities to learn more about how to protect yourself and get more involved in helping your loved one. The people in these groups know the desperation that others go through when they have a loved one suffering from a substance abuse disorder and their one true objective is to be able to help in an honest and nonjudgmental way. Many resources are available to those living with a loved one suffering from a substance abuse disorder including Nar-Anon, Al-Anon and similar support groups that are specifically targeted towards the family members and loved ones of those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.