I read with interest the article “Epidemic Coming” by Rob Perez in the Sunday 6/22/14 Honolulu Star Advertiser. I certainly agree that drug addiction and drug abuse is a very serious public health problem.
The purpose of this blog entry is to highlight the impact that addiction has on the family and to acknowledge the suffering that families experience while their addicted family member or drug abuser is focusing on their drug of choice. While treatment programs focus on the addict, it is also important to understand that addiction is a significant issue for families and has serious consequences for each member of the addict’s family. Families struggling with addiction need help with the stress and chaos that addiction brings to the family. I facilitated the Family Program at Hina Mauka Recovery Center for 12 years and based on that co-authored the book "Families and Addiction, How To Stop The Chaos And Restore Family Balance"
The people attending the family class at Hina Mauka shared how they struggled with feelings of shame, hurt, anger and confusion related to having an addict in the family. They said this made it difficult to reach out for help and as a result by the time they started attending the family class and spoke openly about the issues drug use created in their family, they were stressed out, isolated and exhausted. We found that it was common for family members to put so much time and energy into trying to help the addict in their family that their own life started to shrink and they began to lose sight of their own needs and interests. Many times it was the non-addicted family member that was seeing a doctor for some condition related to the stress of addiction in their family.
There is a temptation for family members to think they must be instrumental in creating a cure for their addicted family member. We found this was especially true for parents of addicts and is true whether the addict is 16 or 46. Family members would try harder and harder to find the solution to this problem as they believed it was their job “as parents” to find the key to overcome their loved one’s addiction. Trying to fix the addict is a trap for members of the family because it prevents them from seeking the type of assistance that might be helpful to themselves and as a result may have a positive impact on the addicted family member.
We found at the family program that what was most helpful was for family members to learn the skills needed to be able to respond to addiction in their family in a healthy way. These skills included learning to: create and maintain healthy boundaries with their addicted family member; find and use appropriate support; manage the loss of trust; give up trying to control outcomes for their addicted family member; and improve communication with the addict and other family members.
These skills take time to learn and are developed one small step at a time. We found that many family members were able to begin this process and make important progress in improving their lives and their relationship with their addicted family member. Family members can learn to stop reacting from fear and learn to respond to the addict with a plan that is based on accurate information and new skills.
It is important for family members to understand that they can begin their own process of recovery regardless of whether their addicted family member is willing to seek treatment. We found that when family members decided to “take back their own life” and started making changes the addict took notice.