Living with other people always calls for balance and understanding to create a safe and harmonious household. When it comes to living with someone with an addiction, though, such goals may be a bit more challenging.
The first goal is to understand addiction and its potential effects on your household and relationships. This is also the case if your loved one is in recovery.
Read on to learn how to overcome the challenges that can occur when living with a loved one with addiction, along with how to care for them — and yourself.
To understand how to live with a loved one who has an addiction, it’s important to first learn the driving forces behind the addiction itself.
Addiction is a disease that causes changes in the brain. In people with addiction, dopamine receptors activate and tell the brain that drugs are rewards. Over time, the brain changes and adapts as it becomes dependent on the substance being used.
Due to such significant alterations in the brain, addiction is considered a chronic, or long-term, disease. The disorder can become so powerful that it can be difficult for your loved one to control their use of the substance, even though they know the physical, emotional, and financial consequences associated with it.
But addiction is treatable. Inpatient rehab may be a short-term solution, while counseling and health coaching can be long-term options. During recovery, help and accountability from friends and loved ones may also be needed.
It’s important not to take matters personally. This may seem easier said than done, especially when it feels like you’ve tried everything in your power to treat the disease in your loved one. But addiction can be one of the most severe conditions to contend with. It’s one that often takes multiple people to help treat, including doctors, friends, and family members.
Addiction affects all members of the household in different ways. Just some of these effects can include:
- anxiety and stress
- anger and embarrassment
- financial problems
- inconsistencies in rules, schedules, and routines
- physical and security danger (risk is higher if the person with the addiction is currently intoxicated or seeking drugs)
It’s important to remember that you didn’t cause the addiction. You also can’t fix it.
What you can do is take steps right now to ensure your safety and protect your well-being.
If you’re living with a loved one who has an addiction, consider the following tips:
- Keep you and your family safe. This is especially important if you have family members who are more vulnerable, such as children, elderly relatives, and pets. Make sure there are household rules and boundaries set. If safety becomes an issue, you may need to ask the loved one with an addiction to temporarily leave the home.
- Have a response plan if matters escalate. This could include having backup from friends, family, therapists, or, in extreme cases, the police. People who have an addiction in and of themselves aren’t dangerous. But if somebody is acutely intoxicated with a substance, they may become dangerous.
- Restrict access to money. Your loved one may do whatever they can to get money to buy the substance they’re addicted to. It may be best to take them off any personal bank accounts and credit cards. You may even consider opening up a new bank account for yourself as a precaution.
- Set boundaries for your household. Lay out specific rules and expectations. You can even make a list. Provide clear-cut consequences if your loved one breaks any of these boundaries.
- Encourage treatment. Talk to your loved one about considering a treatment program, especially if individual therapies haven’t been adequate in addressing the disease. This may come in the form of rehab, psychotherapy, and nutrition counseling.
- Prioritize self-care. This is a difficult time for you and your family. The stress can make it easy to neglect your own health needs. If at all possible, try to take some time out of your day for yourself. Exercise, eat right, and make time to relax to ensure your well-being.
- Join a support group. You’re certainly not alone. In 2016, more than 20 million people aged 12 years or older had a substance use disorder in the United States. Support groups are widely available online and in person that address the needs of those who love someone with an addiction.
Once your loved one has left rehab or stopped doing drugs for a significant period of time, they’re considered a person in recovery. This means they’re still vulnerable to relapses, so it’s important to continue offering support and building trust so your loved one can come to you if they feel the urge to use substances again.
It can take time to trust a loved one again, especially if they’ve lied, exhibited harmful behaviors, or stolen from you. You may need to work with a therapist to help you both reestablish the much-needed trust your relationship needs to thrive.
Also, don’t be afraid to directly ask your loved one how they’re doing in the recovery phase. Asking them about any possible urges can help them talk out their feelings rather than giving into their impulses.
Living with someone who has an addiction can be hard for everyone involved. Aside from helping your loved one treat their addiction, it’s important to keep you and your family safe. With a bit of planning and boundary setting, this can be accomplished.