It Takes a Village: How to Love an Addict

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Sometimes we can’t choose whom we love and sometimes that person is an addict.  It might be a parent, child, significant other, sibling or another family member.  In some situations, the only way to really have a healthy relationship with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol is to have no relationship because it’s too hard watching what they do to themselves.

This week, we’ve gathered our team of experts to discuss what to do when you love an addict and want to have them in your lives.


# 1 Amanda Patterson, LMHC, CAP, NCC

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In my work as a Certified Addictions Professional, I work with the entire family when it comes to addiction.  This might include individual and family counseling in order to truly help.  More often than not, families are involved in every step of treatment and rightfully should be.

 

Here are the top three things I tell family members about how best to cope and deal with loving an addict.

1. Set firm boundaries

The biggest step towards recovery for a family is to set boundaries.  A lack of boundaries within a family is a risk factor for substance usage.  Addicts are not used to limits being placed on them and will likely act out as more and more boundaries are set; however this is a necessity.  By working with a therapist, your family can learn when to say no and when to support in a healthy manner.

2. Love from a distance

There are going to be times when setting boundaries seems impossible and the only way for you to stay sane is to love from a distance.  It is important to work on any codependency and enabling that may be going on by taking some space.  This doesn’t mean you don’t love the person, it just means that loving from a distance is the best way to help that person.

3. Get yourself help  

One major recommendation I often give is to attend Alanon or Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings.  It is very helpful to connect with people who are going through something similar.  This can become a safe space for you to learn about addiction, as well as learn about yourself.  Try at least 3 meetings before you discount the benefits.


I remember the book Hillary Clinton “It Takes A Village” and that’s what it can look like when you love someone with addiction.  It will take a village and seeking the help of a Certified Addictions Professional is a wonderful addition to your village.


Amanda Patterson, LMHC, CAP decided to become a therapist while attending Nova Southeastern University. She saw the need to help people achieve the life they wanted to live, while creating a life of her own. She completed her master’s in Mental Health Counseling and started a career in the juvenile justice arena. Since then, she has started a private practice in Pembroke Pines, Florida, specializing in depression, anxiety relationship issues, and substance abuse. Amanda is a believer in holistic treatment and she practices veganism, meditation and yoga in her life. Find out more about her practice here. For a free 15-minute consultation, call or text Amanda at 954-258-8845 or email her at amanda@amandapattersonlmhc.com.



#2 Stephanie Savo LMHC, LLC

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Coping with an addict as a family member can be difficult. Just like any caretaker it’s important to take care of yourself.  Addiction is a disease that affects adults as well as teenagers. During this time there can be serious disruption and high amounts of stress, depression and anxiety within the family unit. Here are some ways to cope with a family member who is in active addiction:

 

1. Education yourself

Learn about alcoholism and drug abuse. Learn about the effects and the different types of drugs in addition to addiction.

2. Don’t enable

When people are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol there tends to be a sense of entitlement exhibited and manipulative behavior. When loved ones fall into this trap, they end up supporting the addiction (subconsciously or consciously) out of fear of losing them. This perpetuates the cycle of addiction.

3. Boundaries

Set boundaries with the person who is using. Letting their problems consume you and become yours creates co-dependency. The relationships become enmeshed and there is no divide so the addict doesn’t get to experience the consequences of their active using.

4. Support Systems

Attend Al-anon or other support groups for family members with addicted loved ones. You will create a support system of your own to help you have a place to voice your experiences and not feel you are alone in the situation.

5. Don’t forget about yourself and others

Remember you get to take care of you through this process. In addition, if there are children, siblings, etc. involved they need love and attention too. Making it all about the addict leaves everyone else in the dark. Educate the other family members when age appropriate and continue to live life. The entire family is experiencing this together and it can be confusing for everyone.


Stephanie Savo is a licensed mental health counselor who has been practicing therapy since 2008. She graduated with her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University. Stephanie has experience working with adolescents and young adults. She has been working with adolescents and young adults who experience depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem and worth, lack of identity and individuality, and who want to be empowered.

Stephanie utilizes a variety of therapeutic techniques when working with her clients. She treats the person and the symptoms they are experiences rather than the label. She focuses on taking a collaborative and eclectic approach with her clients to help them get to their desired goals. Stephanie models for and assists her clients with consistent growth and personal development as she does in her own life.



#3 Liza Piekarsky, LMHC, CAP, NCC

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Recovery is a “Family Process”. Families are an extremely important component of their loved one’s recovery, therefore their roles are complex. Learning how to meaningfully participate in recovery and gain acceptance will positively impact how a loved one responds. If you are a family member of someone suffering from addiction, it is not too late to help them in their journey through recovery.

To begin this journey, here are some helpful tips:

1. View addiction as a disease.

It is instrumental in eliminating blame and helping to increase awareness that they did not cause their child’s addiction and therefore will be unable to fix it. Family members cannot control the addict and their behaviors; however, they can control their response and how it affects their own life.

2. Educate yourself on your child’s addiction.

This is the first step in restoring hope. Studies show that addiction recovery is more powerful when the family is educated and involved in the process. Learn to recognize signs that your child or loved one is flirting with danger. Receiving psycho education will assist the family in gaining an understanding of the stages of dependency. It helps them to identify family roles as well as the physical and psychological effects of substances.

 3. Recognize warning signs.

Warning signs can include, but are not limited to:

Isolation: Is your child spending more time alone in their room and refusing to attend family functions that they would have typically enjoyed participating in?

A change in sleeping patterns in which your child is often awake all hours of the night and sleeping throughout the day.

Changes in appetite: Different drugs have different culinary signatures. While certain drug classifications like uppers suppress and inhibit one’s appetite, drugs such as marijuana can surge and appetite .

4. Explore and understand family roles.

Without apparent knowledge, family members can enable their loved one’s drug use to continue. Recognize the difference between supporting and enabling. If your he/she is clever enough to obtain drugs on a daily basis, they are clever enough to get food as well, therefore rescuing them only reinstates the cycle of addiction.

The addict, hero, scapegoat, mascot, lost child, and the caretaker are roles often assumed by children of addicts or alcoholics, but the codependent nature of the family relationship can persist until the children are adults. By recognizing which role you or a loved plays in the family, you can take steps to stop enabling the behavior.

5. Family members are highly encouraged to seek help and support for themselves.

Don’t keep it a secret. Share your struggles with others in order to receive the support needed to promote recovery. Realize that you are not alone. Join a support group and enroll in counseling. Stop rescuing/enabling your loved one, it gives them fewer reasons to get sober. You do not want to be contributing to their addictive cycle. Take care of yourself. Lastly, recognize when it’s time to let go, you cannot fix what does not want to be repaired.


Hi, my name is Liza Piekarsky. I am an Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Addictions Professional, National Certified Counselor, and a Qualified Supervisor in the state of Florida. I specialize in working with teenagers/young adults who are struggling with substance use, behavioral difficulties, depression, and family conflict.

I utilize an integrative approach to treatment combining both cognitive behavioral and self-empowerment/motivational interviewing strategies. Happiness and fulfillment are two common goals many clients strive to achieve. I believe that to enhance the quality of one’s mental health it is important to explore one’s physical involvement. Incorporating the use of exercise, sport, and physical activity in improving one’s overall quality of life. I support the use of regular exercise complementary strategy to implement in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Lpiekarsky@gmail.com
201-951-5373



Helpful Links:

Al-Anon

Adult Children of Alcoholics

Family Addiction Resources

Caring Therapists of Broward


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