For Families of Addicts


Talking to kids about a parent's addictionTalking to kids about a parent’s substance abuse problem isn’t easy, but this is a conversation you simply can’t ignore. Brushing the topic aside gives children the message that addiction is a shameful family secret. Instead, plan to discuss a parent’s decision to seek treatment in an age-appropriate manner—setting the stage for open and honest communication.

Teaching the 7 C’s of Addiction

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, the 7 C’s of addiction can serve as a useful framework for helping children understand a parent’s substance abuse problem and how it affects their own lives.

I didn’t cause it.
I can’t cure it.
I can’t control it.
I can care for myself
By communicating my feelings,
Making healthy choices, and
By celebrating myself.

After you’ve talked to your child, consider sharing a copy of the 7 C’s of addiction. Your child may wish to display a copy of this information in his or her bedroom or to carry it in a wallet or backpack as a reminder of how to handle conflicting feelings surrounding a parent’s substance abuse treatment.

Explaining Addiction to Kids Under 10

At this age, children still live in a me-centered world. This means they’re likely to blame themselves for a parent’s addiction-related behavior. Your task is help your child understand that their mother or father’s addiction is not their fault and to reassure them of your family’s love and commitment to each other.

You can begin the conversation by bringing up an example of behavior that your child witnessed, such as an argument occurring after your spouse missed your child’s school play to go out drinking with friends. Explain that addiction is a disease that causes people to make bad choices, even when they know those bad choices hurt themselves or others. Stress that the parent in treatment is getting help for his or her illness, much like you would take your child to the doctor for a high fever or a bad cut.

Talking to Tweens

Tweens are at the stage of their lives where they’re attuned to rumors and gossip. When you talk to your tween about a parent’s addiction, your goal should be to make sure he or she has all the facts.

Plan to talk to your tween in a calm, quiet location that’s free of distractions. State the facts simply, saying that the parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol and is seeking treatment for this illness. Give your tween ample opportunity to ask questions, answering as truthfully as you are able to. Stress the importance of coming to together as family during this time and invite your tween to come to you whenever he or she is feeling sad or angry about the situation.

Talking to Teens

Teens often have a different perspective on addiction than younger children. They may be resentful for having to handle household chores and care for younger siblings when a parent is under the influence. They may also be jealous of friends who they view as having “perfect” families.

When you’re talking to your teen, express your appreciation for all your teen has done to help the family during this time and acknowledge the impact this experience has had on his or her life. You can point out that all families have their own struggles, but avoid taking a condescending or dismissive tone. Teens will often shut down if they feel they’re not being respected as part of the conversation.

After your teen has had a chance to process the initial discussion, you should broach the subject of what a family history of addiction means. While genetics aren’t destiny, studies have shown that having a parent or other close relative who suffers from addiction does increase a teen’s risk of developing a substance abuse problem. Stress your concern for your teen’s wellbeing and help him or her explore interests and hobbies that can will reduce the urge to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

Seeking Help for Your Child

The experience of living with a parent’s addiction can cause some children to act out. If you notice that your child is experiencing signs of depression or anxiety, such as changes in appetite, sleeping patterns, academic performance, and time spent with friends, he or she may be in need of counseling to help process the feelings associated with a parent in treatment. Your pediatrician can refer you to a qualified therapist in your area. Attending Ala-teen or a related support group for children in similar situations may also be beneficial.

By Dana Hinders

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Understanding the relationship between alcohol and depressionThe relationship between alcohol and depression is deceptive. Since drinking is often a part of social gatherings, it may seem like a few beers would be a great way to take your mind off your troubles. However, alcohol can actually worsen depression symptoms. In some cases, it may even induce depression in someone with no previous signs of a mental health disorder.

Signs of Depression

Despite being one of the most common mental illnesses, depression is often misunderstood. Clinical depression is more than just having a bad day once in a while. Someone suffering from depression experiences noticeable changes in mood and behavior that significantly affect their overall quality of life.

Signs of depression can include:

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of intense sadness
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or socialization
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling like you’re a failure or that you’ve let friends and family down
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Symptoms that occur on all or most days for two weeks or more indicate a need to consult a medical professional.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Studies indicate that nearly 1/3 of people suffering from depression also have a drinking problem. The link between depression and alcohol addiction is strongest in women and teenagers.

Signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Believing you need alcohol to relax or feel better
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences in your personal or professional life
  • Drinking until you black out
  • Developing an increased tolerance for alcohol, so you require more drinks to feel impaired
  • Feeling powerless to stop drinking
  • Lying about your drinking to friends and family
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, shakiness, and trembling when you’re not able to drink

Understanding the Relationship Between Alcohol and Depression

Chemically speaking, alcohol is a depressant. A depressant is a substance that lowers neurotransmitter levels, reducing stimulation and arousal in the body.

The majority of people who suffer from both depression and alcohol addiction began drinking as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. However, since the genetic risk factors for both drinking and depression significantly overlap, alcohol abuse can sometimes trigger symptoms in people who weren’t previously depressed.

Other ways in which alcohol can affect depression include:

Fatigue. Drinking regularly can negatively affect your sleep patterns. Fatigue can worsen existing depression symptoms or trigger symptoms in people who are not clinically depressed.

Malnutrition. Alcohol satisfies the body’s calorie requirements, but contains no essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, or carbohydrates. It can also irritate the lining of the intestine, making it more difficult for the body to absorb needed nutrients. Someone who is malnourished lacks the energy needed to complete daily activities

Difficulty regulating blood sugar. When the liver’s resources are devoted to processing alcohol, it becomes more difficult to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This can lead to mood swings, including feelings of anger and irritability.

Folic acid deficiency. Folate deficiency is common in people suffering from depression, but regular alcohol use lowers levels of folic acid in the body.

Lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Alcohol can lower levels of these important mood regulating chemicals in the body, which can make a depressed person feel more depressed.

Impaired judgement. Alcohol decreases inhibition and impairs judgement. This can lead to risky behaviors, including self-harm or suicide attempts.

Decreasing effectiveness of medication. Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of prescription antidepressants while increasing the risk of side effects such as drowsiness and dangerously high blood pressure

Getting the Help You Need

Someone who is suffering from both depression and alcoholism is said to have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. In this case, both illnesses must be treated simultaneously. This is typically done with a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and medication to focus on relieving specific symptoms and addressing the underlying factors contributing to both problems.

According to research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, seeking treatment for alcohol addiction can quickly result in an improvement in depression symptoms. “Although it has been suggested that alcoholism and depression are manifestations of the same underlying illness, the results of family, twin, and adoption studies suggest that alcoholism and mood disorder are probably distinct illnesses with different prognoses and treatments. However, symptoms of depression are likely to develop during the course of alcoholism, and some patients with mood disorders may increase their drinking when undergoing a mood change, fulfilling criteria for secondary alcoholism. When depressive symptoms are secondary to alcoholism, they are likely to disappear within a few days or weeks of abstinence, as withdrawal symptoms subside.”

By Dana Hinders

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How to plan an interventionAn intervention is often the best way for someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction to begin their path to recovery. People struggling with substance abuse are often suffering from denial about the extent of their problem, so hearing firsthand how their actions have affected their loved ones can serve as a wake-up call.

This article outlines how to plan an intervention that will motivate your loved one to seek the help he or she needs.

Create an Intervention Team

An intervention planning team typically involves a small group of concerned family members and friends. However, you should not include anyone in the planning process who does not get along well with your loved one, is known for having an uncontrollable temper, or who is also suffering from an untreated substance abuse or mental health issue. It is vital to the success of the intervention that everyone be able to work together for the good of your loved one.

A healthcare professional such as a licensed counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist may be necessary if your loved one has a history of mental illness and/or violent behavior. A professional can help you structure the intervention to reduce the risk of an aggressive outburst or self-harming behavior.

If your loved one’s faith is an important part of their life, including a pastor or religious leader may be appropriate.

Gather Information

Once you have assembled your intervention team, take time to discuss the specific addiction-related behaviors that are concerning you. This might include:

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Changes in eating habits characterized by weight gain or weight loss
  • Sleeping significantly more or less than usual
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble at work or school
  • Difficulty remembering important details
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or socializing

Ask each person on your intervention team to write down the specific behaviors they’ve witnessed, as well as how this has made them feel. You can use these notes to make sure everyone stays on track during the intervention meeting.

Research Treatment Options

After you present your loved one with an expression of your concerns, you’ll need to present your request for treatment. Research counseling options and inpatient rehabs in your area to determine what is appropriate for your loved one’s needs. Contact your insurance company to learn more about applicable health insurance benefits for substance abuse treatment.

Your goal is to be able to provide your loved one with a pre-arranged treatment plan that includes clear guidelines, steps, and goals for taking control of his or her addiction. Someone struggling with substance abuse may not be thinking clearly enough to make these decisions, so taking control of deciding what steps are necessary is a compassionate way to express your concern.

Decide on Consequences

The ideal outcome for an intervention is that your loved one will accept your request to get help. However, you must be prepared to be met with a denial of the problem and a refusal to listen to your request.

Each person on the intervention team should decide what the consequences will be for refusing treatment. This may include steps such as no longer being allowed to have unsupervised visits with children or grandchildren, cutting off social contact, or being asked to move out of the family home.

Hold the Intervention

It’s a good idea to schedule an intervention for the time of day when your loved one is least likely to be impaired by drugs or alcohol. In many cases, this means planning the meeting during the early morning hours.

When you hold your intervention, the meeting should be structured as follows:

  1. Everyone individually shares examples of behavior they’ve witnessed and how these actions have caused problems–expressing their concern without becoming judgmental or accusatory.
  2. The group presents the person with a prearranged treatment plan.
  3. Each person shares what consequences they’ve decided are appropriate for refusing to accept substance abuse treatment.
  4. The group asks for an immediate decision as to whether or not treatment will be accepted.

If the offer of help is accepted, you should be prepared to have the treatment begin immediately. If you’ll be using the services of an inpatient rehab facility, this means you should have a bag packed and be ready to transport your loved on to the facility when the intervention is over.

If treatment is refused, the members of the intervention team must be prepared to follow through with the consequences they’ve agreed to. This can be emotionally trying, but is a necessary part of the process.

By Dana Hinders

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