How Do You Care for Yourself When a Loved One Has a Substance Use Disorder?
It’s hard when you have a loved one who is struggling with a substance use disorder. Not only are you constantly worried about their health and welfare, but their substance use and resulting behavior probably affect you directly in various ways. They may get belligerent, ask to borrow money, keep strange hours, bring around suspicious people, and disrupt your life in countless other ways. You want to help them but they may not be ready for help yet. The situation is a source of chronic stress as you try to deal with your own conflicting motivations. If you have a loved one with a substance use disorder, the following are some ways to take care of yourself.
Know That It’s Not Your Fault
First of all, know that whatever struggles your loved one is dealing with, it’s not your fault. Addiction is complex, typically involving genetic factors, mental health issues, childhood environment, or trauma. Sometimes these things combine in just the wrong way and most of the relevant factors are beyond anyone’s control.
Maintain Healthy Boundaries
Maintaining healthy boundaries is good for both of you. Healthy boundaries mean you expect your loved one to respect your values and autonomy and you respect theirs. Healthy boundaries are also a safety issue. If your loved one is going to live with you, they need to respect certain rules, like not bringing drugs or alcohol into the house, not bringing people over, and so on. They also need to respect you and your property by not trying to manipulate you, lie to you, or steal from you.
Boundaries are a way of protecting yourself and a way of not enabling their addictive behavior. Maintaining healthy boundaries may also be a way of improving the situation. Dysfunctional family dynamics, including poor communication and weak or nonexistent boundaries, often contribute to addiction.
Dealing with a loved one’s addiction can wear you down and take a toll on your health. Chronic stress produces hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to various health issues over time.
To reduce stress and maintain health, three things are most important: sleep, diet, and exercise. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Even a modest sleep deficit can lead to increased anxiety, poor concentration and memory, poor planning, and lack of self-control. Over a longer period, a sleep deficit increases your risk of major depression and anxiety disorders.
Diet is the next important aspect of staying healthy. There are now many studies connecting a good diet with better mental health. One meta-analysis with data from more than 45,000 participants found that a healthy diet significantly reduces your risk of depression. Healthy diets in the various studies typically included mostly whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with very little processed grain, meat, or sugar.
Exercise is the third leg of the stool. It improves your physical health, especially your cardiovascular health, and helps you maintain a healthy body weight. Perhaps more importantly, it helps improve your mental health, particularly by making you less reactive to stress. All you really need is to walk 30 minutes a day to notice improvements.
Find Ways to Relax
Some people have trouble relaxing because they feel like it’s just doing nothing. However, relaxation helps you reduce stress and recover from the stress of the day. Find something that works for you whether it’s meditating, listening to music, reading, or taking a hot bath or shower. Schedule some time to relax every day.
Talk to a Therapist
Having a loved one with a substance use disorder is a difficult situation to deal with. You may have trouble dealing with guilt or setting boundaries. You may have trouble coping with the associated stress or communicating effectively. A therapist can help you with all of these issues. As noted above, family dynamics often drive addiction and it’s possible that by improving your communication skills, learning to set and respect boundaries, and resolving your own issues, that you might have a positive effect on your loved one.
Seek Social Support
Finally, seek social support. One of the hardest things is feeling like you are dealing with this situation on your own. People with substance use issues will sometimes deliberately try to isolate you as a means of control. Connect with others who are facing the same challenges. Consider attending Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings in your area. You can talk to people who have been through the same thing and understand. Having that sense of connection makes you feel less stressed and more confident about dealing with the challenges related to your loved one’s addiction.
Having a loved one with a substance use disorder is always a difficult situation. It’s hard to know to help without enabling. Many people feel personally responsible for their loved ones’ addiction and recovery and the ongoing stress can have a serious effect on your health. While it’s great to want to help your loved one and encourage them to get help, remember that ultimately, they have to make their own decisions and that you can’t help them if you are sick and depressed. At The Foundry, we know that family is one of the most important elements of a strong recovery and we want you to play an integral role in your loved one’s treatment. To learn more, call us at 1 (844) 955-1066 or explore our website.