Help for Families of Drug Abusersby Amber Keefer
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drug abuse is a leading public health problem in the United States, causing more than 40 million illnesses and injuries each year. Drug addiction affects everyone in society -- the person abusing drugs, his family and friends, and the community in general. If someone close to you is using drugs, your family is likely dealing with a great deal of stress. Before you can help your family member to recover, you might need some help of your own along the way.
Consequences of Drug Use
The consequences of a family member's drug use can be varied and far-reaching. Children of drug users are often abused or neglected. Some develop stress-related health problems as a result of a parent's drug use. Children of drug users tend to be at higher risk for emotional and mental health problems, or for becoming addicted to drugs themselves. Another negative consequence is that if a parent is the family member abusing drugs, drug use can have an economic as well as a psychological impact on the family as a whole.
Taking Care of Yourself
Despite a loved one's drug use, it's important to look after yourself and the other members of your family, as they will continue to need your support as well. The fact is that you can't help the drug user until she admits that she has a problem and is ready to get help. Nor can you help the person abusing drugs unless you take care of yourself. Accept that recovery takes time and that relapse is common. Your family may have a long road ahead.
Join a local support group. Although support is geared toward the drug user, their families often need help, too. Call a drug abuse hotline when you get frustrated or just need someone to talk to. Although your first response might be to try to find help for the family member who abuses drugs, you and the rest of your family may need support. There are both local and national support services available. It's easy to feel helpless in a situation like this. However, one of the best things you can do for the person abusing drugs and the rest of your family is to find help for yourself. You can be a vital source of support for others, but you might not be able to do it alone.
Nar-Anon is a 12-step program designed to help family members of drug addicts cope with living with someone who abuses drugs. You must have a family member or friend who has a problem with drugs to be a member of the support group. Members offer help to each other by sharing their experiences with loved ones who are addicted to drugs. Nar-Anon continues to offer families hope and support even if an addict is no longer using. The support group holds meetings nationwide.
It's important for families to keep in mind that the drug user is responsible for the choices he makes. Family members should not worry that their actions have caused the person to use drugs. People begin using drugs for a variety of different reasons. Whether the person takes drugs for recreation, to cope with stress or because he is sad or bored, it may help to know that your family isn't the only family this has happened to. Only the drug user can fix the problem. What you can do is support the person without sacrificing your own needs and the needs of the other members in your family.
When it comes down to it, you might not know how to deal with the drug user, as his behavior may be erratic. Still, there are general stages that families go through when dealing with a loved one's drug use. What makes it more difficult is that not all family members may be at the same stage at the same time. Denial is often the first stage that the family of a drug user goes through. You think if you ignore the problem it will go away. Some families then move on to enabling the drug user by covering up for the person and making excuses for him. Families tend to tolerate some difficult behavior when going through this stage. Some families eventually move on to trying to control the drug user's life in an attempt to make the person stop using. When this doesn't work, giving up is usually the final stage. If you become apathetic toward the drug user, you may no longer care about his problem.
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