Supporting Families Dealing with Addiction
The Power of Connection and Support in Addiction Recovery
When it comes to addiction, the impact extends beyond the individual struggling with substance abuse. Family members often find themselves entangled in a web of codependent behavior, unknowingly exacerbating the problem while trying to provide support. Abigail Russell, OneEighty Outpatient Counselor and Support Group Facilitator, emphasizes the importance of connection and support for families dealing with addiction. In the support groups she has run, participants find solace in knowing they are not alone in their struggles. Many family members hesitate to reach out due to the stigma and shame associated with having a loved one with addiction. However, joining a support group allows them to share their experiences and realize they are not the only ones facing these challenges.
Codependency: An Unbalanced Relationship
Abigail defines codependency as “an unbalanced relationship marked by the constant desire to protect, save, and rescue.” While the person suffering from addiction is often the focus of attention, codependency can also become an addiction itself. It manifests as a lack of boundaries, self-esteem issues, and neglecting one’s own needs in favor of taking care of others. This disconnection from oneself is a central aspect of addiction, where individuals seek validation and worthiness through their efforts to help others. Abigail challenges family members and loved ones to consider, “How do we love ourselves? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we set boundaries that are appropriate for us in our relationships?”
Recognizing Codependent Behavior
Codependency is not limited to family relationships – it can also occur among friends and loved ones. It thrives in an environment of weak personal connections and an inability to establish healthy boundaries. A codependent person struggles to say “no” and feels compelled to say “yes” to avoid upsetting others. The underlying belief is that their own well-being is contingent upon the well-being of those they are trying to help. However, this mindset often leads to burnout and a sense of inadequacy.
Dispelling Myths about Helping
One common misconception is that helping someone in need is always beneficial. However, when it comes to addiction, there is a fine line between assistance and enabling. Family members may inadvertently contribute to the problem by engaging in behaviors such as bailing the person out of jail, providing financial support, or covering up their actions. These actions prevent the person from facing the consequences of their behavior and hinder their potential for growth and recovery.
Signs of Codependent Behavior
Codependency can be recognized through various signs and behaviors. Here are some common indicators of codependent behavior:
- Excessive caretaking: Putting others’ needs above your own to the point of neglecting your own well-being.
- Difficulty setting boundaries: Having trouble saying “no” or establishing healthy limits, often resulting in feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of.
- Low self-esteem: Relying on external validation and seeking approval from others to feel worthy or valuable.
- Poor sense of self: Having a weak or unclear sense of personal identity, as your focus and identity are primarily defined by the needs and desires of others.
- People-pleasing: Going to great lengths to please others, even if it compromises your own values, needs, or happiness.
- Enabling behavior: Engaging in actions that shield or protect the person struggling with addiction from facing consequences, such as covering up their mistakes or providing financial support without accountability.
- Fear of abandonment: Constantly worrying about being abandoned or rejected, often leading to clingy or dependent behavior in relationships.
- Difficulty expressing emotions: Suppressing or ignoring your own emotions, as you prioritize the feelings and needs of others.
- Lack of personal boundaries: Invading others’ personal boundaries or allowing others to violate your boundaries without asserting yourself.
- Control issues: Attempting to control or manipulate others’ behavior or choices in an effort to maintain a sense of security or stability.
- Neglecting personal needs: Ignoring or neglecting your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being while excessively focusing on the needs of others.
- Feeling responsible for others’ happiness: Believing that your happiness and worth depend on making others happy and solving their problems.
It’s important to note that experiencing one or more of these signs does not necessarily mean you are codependent, as everyone may exhibit some of these behaviors from time to time. However, if you consistently identify with several of these signs and find that they significantly impact your relationships and overall well-being, it may be helpful to seek support and professional guidance to address codependency issues.
Lightbulb Moments and Acknowledging the Problem
A crucial step in breaking the cycle of codependency occurs when family members and loved ones realize their contribution to the problem is a crucial step in breaking the cycle of codependency. Family members often find it challenging to accept their role in enabling their loved one’s addiction. However, moments of revelation occur when they understand that their actions, driven by a desire to help, may be hindering their loved one’s journey toward recovery. It is in these moments that they begin to comprehend the need for change.
Abigail uses a handout on Avoiding and Coping with Relapse that includes a checklist in her family counseling sessions that is a real eye-opener and conversation starter for family and loved ones – reminding them that change is progress and not a threat, and that recovery is a lifelong process.
Tools and Approaches for Families Dealing with Addiction
Individual counseling for family members allows them to begin to focus on their own healing and recovery. Family counseling can also be beneficial for discussing boundaries, resentments, and triggers that need to be addressed within the family dynamic. Abigail advocates for the approach of normalizing addiction and codependency – emphasizing that nobody chooses addiction and that it is a disease that tears lives apart. Codependency often arises from a deep love and concern for the well-being of a loved one, causing individuals to lose sight of their own needs and boundaries. “I tell my clients that family counseling is going to be challenging and it can become stressful,” Abigail explained. “I want clients to have a little bit of baseline for their sobriety before they get involved with family counseling.”
Motivational interviewing is a technique that Abigail finds effective, especially when working with parents or partners of individuals struggling with addiction. Through open-ended questions, she helps family members identify the areas where they have control or influence and explores potential changes they can make in their own lives to support their loved one’s recovery. This approach helps clients feel motivated and empowered to take action within their sphere of influence – without trying to control or change the addict directly.
To navigate sensitive topics like relapse, Abigail mentioned the usefulness of a handout called “Avoiding and Coping with Relapse.” She explained that this resource provides guidance on setting boundaries and approaching discussions about relapse in a supportive and respectful manner. She also encourages clients and family members to pursue activities and hobbies which can help in improving self-esteem and regaining a sense of self, and are important aspects of the healing process for family members.
Stories of Transformation
Abigail offered one powerful story of transformation involving a mother who sought help after witnessing her son’s struggle with addiction and experiencing a loss of self in the process. Initially feeling lost and overwhelmed, she embarked on a journey of individual counseling and gradually engaged in support groups like Al-Anon, specifically designed for families affected by addiction. Through therapy, she began to understand the impact of codependency and the importance of setting boundaries and caring for herself. When her son faced legal troubles, she resisted the urge to bail him out, allowing him to experience the consequences of his actions while maintaining her own well-being. This newfound perspective and support network provided her with the strength to navigate the challenges of her son’s addiction without sacrificing her own mental and emotional health.
We’re here to support you.
We help people change direction with programs for addiction, domestic violence, rape crisis, mental health, housing, and prevention and education. At OneEighty, we actively support an evidence-based approach to sustainable recovery from trauma and addiction – restoring dignity and purpose, reimagining potential, and rebuilding lives. In addition to Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT), OneEighty offers counseling programs, intensive addiction treatment programs, group addiction treatment, residential services, recovery housing, and peer recovery.
For those encountering a substance use crisis please call OneEighty’s Substance Use Treatment Navigator Hotline available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year at 330.466.0678. For other resources, click the links below: