How addiction affects others: 5 top tips for families coping with addiction

Whatever form it takes, addiction can have a damaging impact on careers, finances and relationships; and particularly the family. Recovery is a process not just for the addict, but for the whole family. With this in mind, Priory has collected advice from one of our experts designed to help the family members of an addict cope with the confusing and painful feelings they may have.

Pamela Roberts, Addictions Team Leader at The Priory Hospital Woking, provides 5 Top Tips for families coping with addiction.

1. Accepting addiction - Realising an addiction is more than just a bad habit can take time. It requires families taking a risk and stepping back from all the ways in which they may naturally want to help. You may feel powerless and unable to help loved ones who are suffering. Accepting that addiction is a disease can bring some relief.

2. Breaking the patterns - Recognising addiction as a disease can help you begin to let go of feelings of wanting to change or control loved ones who are suffering. Try to think about your own patterns of behaviour and emotional triggers, such as rage, despair and insecurity. They may affect the potential recovery of both the addict and the family as a whole. Thinking 'what if...', apportioning blame, and normalising are all natural reactions to addiction.

Yet these reactions can sometimes lead to regrettable behaviours towards addicts, such as verbal or physical attacks. It may be tempting to try to establish a sense of normality by ignoring the situation. However, it is crucial that you constantly think about the effects your own behaviour could be having on an addict in order to aid recovery.

3. Self-Esteem and Self-Worth - Family members may feel they are to blame for causing addiction, despite it not being the case. Enduring the effects of addiction (social withdrawal or self-neglect) can leave family members without a sense of self. By taking responsibility for the recovery of the whole family and stopping attempts to recover the addicted family member, there is a positive shift in values. Starting to pay attention to your own wants and needs instead of relying on the addicted person to meet them, is an important shift.

If you're a parent, you may ask: "What should I tell the children?" Generally, children - even at a very young age - are aware that something is wrong. Denial and secret-keeping could cause suspicion, which can often be scarier than the truth. Children have a great capacity for the truth and a frank conversation can help to ease any confusion.

4. Managing emotions - You will likely feel a range of different emotions towards the addicted person. Hopefully, they can begin to take responsibility for their own recovery, but this may not be the case. It can be difficult for you to step out of the cycle of blame and resentment, so it is important to learn how to manage anger. For example, not having an outburst or even suppressing it, but finding ways to healthily express it.

5. Seek addiction help - Meeting with other families or family members who have experience of addiction and family recovery can be extremely helpful. Not only can they understand and relate to what you and your family are going through, they may also have other coping strategies that have been successful for them.

At The Priory Hospital Woking, the experienced Addictions team are able to help families and addicts with recovery. A dedicated Family Support Group (FSG) is available for family members of resident clients enrolled in the 28-day Addiction Treatment Programme (ATP) and also independently. Please visit the Woking page for further information.

For more details on the full range of Priory Services, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to make an enquiry.