What to Do When a Loved One Experiences Addiction

October 8, 2019

Regardless of substance, addiction and substance misuse often have lasting impact on one’s health, quality of life, and relationships. When loved ones experience addiction, they are not the only ones who struggle. Understanding what addiction is, how it looks, and how to treat it is the first step in helping loved ones through addiction.

What is addiction?

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is the inability to control one’s use of alcohol or drugs. It affects one’s brain, behavior, and mental, physical and spiritual health. People experiencing addiction continue to use substances despite the negative consequences they may experience.

Though there are many substances that can lead to addiction, the most common include:

  • Tobacco;
  • Alcohol;
  • Marijuana;
  • Opioid painkillers, including heroin; and
  • Stimulants, including cocaine and methamphetamine.

According to Addiction Center, about 21 million people in America experience addiction, and only 10 percent of those seek and receive treatment. Overcoming addiction is challenging because of the way substance misuse affects the brain. Substances such as alcohol and drugs cause the brain to release certain neurochemicals which produce a euphoric high. Over time, the brain no longer produces neurochemicals the same way, and those who are addicted feel they need more of those chemicals to achieve a sense of euphoria. Without the effects of the substance, the brain cannot achieve the same neurochemical balance there was before. These brain changes lead to cravings and feelings of need for the substance, and it becomes difficult to want to stop.

Beyond cravings for the substance, when someone who is addicted tries to stop using a substance without medical supervision, withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, painful, and even dangerous for the individual. Withdrawal intensity and symptoms vary depending on the substance, the person’s medical history, length of substance use, and other factors, can include:

  • Anxiety, depression, sleep issues;
  • Headaches;
  • Heart racing, chest tightness, stomach aches; and
  • Shaking, muscle aches, sweating.

Because of symptoms like these, overcoming addiction and working through withdrawal symptoms can seem daunting to those experiencing addiction, but the support of family members and physicians can help those facing addiction work through it.

What leads to addiction?

For loved ones, addiction may seem to come out of nowhere. However, this is not usually the case. There are many factors that contribute to the development of addiction. Some are innate, while others are environmental. Some potential contributors are below:

  • Genetics – genetics play a large part in addiction; they make up 50 percent of an individual’s risk of becoming addicted.
  • Childhood trauma – those who experience traumatic events in childhood, such as physical or emotional abuse, are more at risk of developing an addiction.
  • Social environment – including peer pressure and alienation from peers.
  • Mental illness – substance use can be an attempt to self-medicate or feel better, which can quickly turn to addiction in those with mental illness.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), half of all individuals who experience mental illness will also experience addiction in their lives. Anxiety disorders, PTSD, ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder all have high co-occurrence with addiction.

Addiction can affect any individual; however, a person is typically most at risk of being exposed to substance misuse during adolescence, when the brain is still developing. Mental illness typically begins to appear when the body is experiencing changes and stressful life changes are happening in the individuals’ lives. Substance use may become a way of coping for adolescents, or a way to socialize with others who are using substances.

What are the symptoms of addiction?

It can be difficult to know if a loved one is experiencing addiction. There are many symptoms, depending on the individual and substance(s) being used, and they can often be overlooked or confused as symptoms of other issues. The individual may experience and exhibit:

  • Impulsive or risky behavior, especially as a means to continue substance misuse.
  • Changes in sleep patterns and schedule, neglect of responsibilities or obligations.
  • Increased hostility and secrecy regarding their actions and whereabouts.
  • Physical symptoms, including changes in weight, trembling and sickness, memory issues, rambling, increased injuries.
  • Emotional changes, including mood swings, aggression, apathy, depression, suicidal thoughts.
  • Damaged relationships with both friends and family, lack of communication.

Though these symptoms can also occur as a result of other illness, stress, or life events, it’s also important to consider family history of addiction, any past experience the individual has had with substances, prior inability to show control over behaviors, or mental health struggles that could also point to substance misuse. It’s also important to remember that individuals experiencing addiction will often try to dismiss or ignore the seriousness of their addiction, and that they will often surround themselves with others who will encourage their substance use.

How can I talk to my loved one about their addiction?

Before talking to a loved one experiencing addiction, make sure to understand the substance(s) they have misused and the symptoms they may experience, and approach them with care and understanding. There are many ways to safely approach a loved one with addiction; individually, as a family, in an intervention, or privately. It is important to approach a loved one when they are not under the influence of any substances; this way, they are clear-headed and can absorb what is being said to them.

When speaking to your loved one about an addiction, try to be calm and supportive; show that you care for their well-being, rather than showing disappointment or anger at their past actions. Explain specific examples of when you have been concerned or worried for them because of their substance use. However you approach your loved one, be prepared in advance with what you would like to say, and offer your support in overcoming the addiction.

What treatment options are there for overcoming addiction?

Depending on your area, there may be many different options for addiction treatment and recovery. Researching options before talking to someone experiencing addiction can be helpful; having recovery options available to them right away is encouraging and supportive.

Regardless of program, effective treatment for addiction must be aimed at stopping substance, use, preventing future use, and encouraging happiness and success in family, work, and community. No one treatment type works for everyone; it is a highly individualized process, and can take different lengths of time depending on the person. Treatment options must be readily accessible, address any underlying or co-occurring disorders and struggles, and reviewed often to grow with the individual’s changing needs. In many situations, basic options for treatment include inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient rehabilitation. Inpatient treatment requires that the individual lives in a substance-free facility. This offers them around-the-clock care, and is a good option for those who are new to recovery, those struggling with co-occurring illnesses, or those who may struggle to stay substance-free outside of supervision. There is a higher risk of the individual returning to substance use in outpatient treatment, as they are not under full-time care, so this option may appeal to those with mild addiction or who are committed in treatment.

In both inpatient and outpatient recovery, there are several treatment methods that may be offered. Some common recovery treatments include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – individuals meet with licensed therapists to learn how to recognize, avoid, and cope with situations that may lead to substance use, including how to cope with factors that can lead them to want to use substances.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – used in situations of co-occurrence with mental illnesses, DBT improves an individual’s self-esteem, mood management skills, and encourages them to remove triggers for substance use from their lives.
  • Medication-assisted treatment – behavioral therapy and medications are used together to ease detoxification and treat addiction.
  • Motivational interviewing – individuals are taught self-motivation, encouraging a desire to recover and maintain recovery; it is a partnership between the individual and counselor in working toward recovery.

Recovery options at New Vitae

New Vitae is a Wellness and Recovery program that offers individualized options for treatment of addiction and co-occurring illnesses. New Vitae’s Recovery and Support Services include Partial Hospitalization, Residential, Intensive Outpatient, and Traditional Outpatient services for those experiencing addiction from young adulthood.

Services offered include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Medication-Assisted Treatment, mindfulness, communication skills training, and relapse prevention. We offer residential health treatment in Bucks County and Lehigh County in Pennsylvania, between Philadelphia and New York City.

New Vitae offers small group sizes to provide specialized care for each individual; participants are encouraged not only in their individual recovery, but as part of the community both in the program and out in the world. Individuals are encouraged to take hold of their recovery, participating in self-help groups consistently and applying learned skills to their lives. We encourage and teach individuals experiencing addiction recovery tools to reach and maintain lasting sobriety, as well as personal stability.

Speaking on Addiction: Heather Hayes, “A Nation Held Hostage”

New Vitae is committed to offering support to those experiencing and recovering from addiction. In this endeavor, we were proud to host a speaking event featuring Heather Hayes, a Licensed Counselor, Board Registered Interventionist, and international presenter on topics of addiction and co-occurring disorders, including her own past of addiction and lifetime of recovery. During the event, Heather Hayes presented “A Nation Held Hostage,” her talk on addiction in our nation.

New Vitae = New Life

New Vitae Wellness & Recovery is dedicated to helping you and your loved one experiencing addiction and looking for recovery options. To find out more about New Vitae’s recovery options and services, contact us online or by phone (610-965-9021) today.

"The staff was committed, educated, and extremely caring."

- Michelle K. (former treatment participant)