Entries tagged with “family support”.


Codependent coupleCodependency is a common response to the challenges associated with loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, even though the behaviors associated with codependency can seem positive on the surface, they will eventually have the negative effect of continuing to enable your loved one’s addiction.

Understanding Codependency

The term codependent refers to an excessive psychological or emotional reliance on another person to meet one’s own needs. Someone who suffers from a codependent personality will likely agree with the following statements:

  • I enjoy acting as a caretaker.
  • I seek out people who are in crisis so I can “rescue” them.
  • Pleasing people makes me happy.
  • Setting firm boundaries in a relationship is hard for me.
  • My moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of everyone around me.
  • I find it difficult to accurately describe my feelings to others.
  • I always want to be in control.
  • I have a hard time trusting other people.
  • I’d rather be in a broken or abusive relationship than be alone.

Codependency is often thought to be caused by low self-esteem, although it is a common response to the trauma associated with loving someone who suffers from addiction. Addicts are notorious for their unpredictable behavior, which can make those closest to them fight harder to maintain a sense of order and control over their environment.

The term codependency was first applied to the spouses of addicts, but codependent relationships can take many forms. Parents, children, and friends of substance abusers can all find themselves trapped in a cycle of codependency.

Enabling Addiction

Codependency is essentially a “helping” relationship taken to the extreme. Wanting to be kind to others is admirable. However, your actions do more harm than good if you’re unable to set clear boundaries.

For example:

  • You justify a loved one drinking or using drugs by saying the addict has had a stressful day or needs to relax.
  • You make excuses when the addict can’t come to social functions because he or she is under the influence.
  • You apologize to others on behalf of the person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • You loan money when financial problems are caused by drugs or alcohol.

All of these behaviors prevent your loved one from experiencing the full consequences of his or her addiction. When someone is always around to pick up the pieces, a substance abuser is able to stay in denial about the extent of his or her problem. When he or she is allowed to be irresponsible, self-destructive, and cruel to others without fear of reprisal, there is no incentive to seek treatment.

How to Stop the Cycle

Codependency creates a vicious cycle that harms both partners. Move towards a healthier relationship by keeping in mind the following tips:

  • Educate yourself.  Reading about codependency and attending support groups for the friends and family of addicts can help gather insight into the reasons behind your behavior and how your actions are harming your relationship.
  • Treat co-occurring disorders. People who suffer from codependency often have accompanying mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Treating these issues is essential to stopping codependent behavior. Medication and therapy may be necessary.
  • Establish boundaries. Setting clear boundaries for yourself will help you overcome the urge to enable addiction-related behaviors from your loved one. For example, you may decide that you’ll no longer answer text messages sent while you’re at work, that you will decline to spend time around your loved one when it’s obvious that he or she has been using, or that you’ll no apologize to others when your loved one acts inappropriately.
  • Spend time alone. When you’re in a codependent relationship, your sense of self starts to become intertwined with the other person’s mood, thoughts, and feelings. Breaking the cycle require you to establish an independent identity. This may mean taking up a new solo hobby or pursing a special interest that you’ve previously ignored due to the time demands associated with caring for your addicted friend or family member. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s something you enjoy doing by yourself.

At first, these actions might feel like they are selfish and unfair to your loved one. However, you won’t be in any position to support your friend or family member through addiction recovery unless you actively make time to address your own mental health needs. In the long term, breaking the cycle of codependency is the kindest and most compassionate way to get your loved one the help he or she needs.

By Dana Hinders


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How to help a parent who struggles with addictionWatching a loved one battle addiction is never easy, but having a parent who struggles with substance abuse presents unique challenges. You must balance the desire to see your father or mother get help with the need to address how parental addiction has affected your own mental health.

Recognizing the Signs of Parental Addiction

In many families, addiction is a secret that everyone knows and nobody acknowledges. Children grow up knowing that their parent abuses drugs or alcohol, but not fully understanding how to change the situation.

However, it’s possible for an addiction to develop so gradually that you might not realize there is a problem right away. In cases where an adult child is concerned about an elderly parent’s recent changes in behavior, retirement, illness, or the death of a loved one may serve as a trigger event for substance abuse.

If you’re worried about a parent’s alcohol or drug use, here are some warning signs to watch for:

  • Slurred or difficult to understand speech
  • Angry outbursts
  • Difficulty remembering conversations or details about important family events
  • Confusion
  • Glazed eyes
  • Pupils that seem unusually small or unusually large
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Unexplained financial problems
  • Lying about daily activities or habits
  • Change in activity levels, such as excessive energy or extreme exhaustion
  • Disheveled or unkempt personal appearance

Note that in cases where seniors are drinking to excess or abusing prescription medication, the warning signs of addiction are often mistaken for age-related cognitive decline or the early signs of dementia. Since addiction is often mistakenly seen as a younger person’s problem, it’s somewhat easier for seniors to hide the signs of drug and alcohol abuse from the casual observer.

Getting Help

If you’re worried about a parent’s substance abuse, discussing your concerns with other family members is a good place to start. You may find that your siblings or your other parent have similar concerns, but were too afraid to speak up until you began the conversation. Joining together to discuss the problem in a calm, rational way will help you decide how to best proceed.

Planning an intervention can be an effective way to convince your parent to seek treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. An intervention is a meeting led by concerned family members and friends. The meeting begins by having everyone share examples of behavior that they’ve witnessed and how these actions have negatively affected them. Then, the group presents a prearranged addiction treatment plan and the consequences for refusing to accept treatment. After listening to everyone speak, the addicted person is then asked to make an immediate decision about seeking treatment. If the addicted person refuses to accept treatment, the intervention team must be prepared to follow through on the consequences—which may include limiting contact or refusing to provide financial assistance.

Some key points to remember when talking to a parent about his or her addiction include:

  • Try to avoid using the word “addict” since older people are more likely to view substance abuse as a moral failing instead of a chronic illness.
  • Be supportive and compassionate by taking about happy memories you have with your parent. Stress that your concern is coming from a place of love.
  • Don’t bring up topics that are unrelated to your parent’s substance abuse. Keep your focus on the need to get your parent into addiction treatment.

If you believe that your parent may become violent if confronted about his or her substance abuse, do not try to have an intervention without the assistance of a mental health professional. Ensuring the safety of everyone in your family should be your top priority.

Taking Care of Your Own Needs

Having a parent who struggles with addiction is a traumatic experience due to the role reversal it involves. Normally, your parent is the one to care for you, guide you, and teach you how to prepare for the future. When addiction forces you to become your parent’s caretaker, feelings of confusion, anger, shame, and betrayal can result.

Seeking counseling can help you learn to deal with your feelings surrounding your parent’s addiction in a constructive manner. Support groups such as Al-Anon or Al-Ateen may also be useful in helping you to better understand the challenges associated with your situation.

Finally, you may find it useful to remember the 7 Cs of addiction as taught by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics:

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.

By Dana Hinders

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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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