Thursday, November 18, 2021

Healthy Habits: Addict in the Family

 Almost half of the U.S. has a family member or close friend who has or is currently struggling with an addiction problem. With stress at an all time high, oftentimes we feel hopeless as to how to help our loved one. 

I had a chance to interview the mother of an addict and bestselling author, Beverly Conyers, who offers wisdom and insight to families who have walked this road. 

In the new edition of her bestselling book, Addict in the Family, Conyers draws on research, experience, and compelling personal stories from others to explain what families should know about substance abuse, interventions, relapse, and more. Although families can’t cure a loved one’s addiction, they can provide support without enabling, set boundaries, prioritize self-care, and find healing through therapy, spirituality, Al Anon or Nar Anon, and countless other resources that show no one is alone on this journey.

Why is it important to have coping skills when a family member is struggling with addiction?

Addiction changes the way the brain functions. As a result, when someone is addicted, their priorities, values, and behaviors change. Their self-control and decision-making skills are seriously impaired. All of this puts enormous strain on relationships, because we no longer know what to believe or expect. It’s almost as if our addicted family member has become a different person. We need solid coping skills in order to meet the challenges of this confusing new reality.

How can mindfulness tools help people deal with anxiety and fear related to a loved one's addiction?

When someone we love is addicted, it’s normal to feel fear and anxiety. But we can’t be helpful to anyone, including ourselves, when we’re in a state of distress. Mindfulness can help us regain our equilibrium by teaching us how to center ourselves in the present moment. One well-known way to do this is to focus on our breathing, consciously noting the rise and fall of each breath. Another technique is to focus on our senses, paying close attention to what we can actually see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Taking a walk, working on a favorite project, listening to music, journaling, or meditating are also ways to practice mindfulness. The key is to actually be aware of whatever we’re doing in the moment. Taking even a few moments for mindfulness throughout the day can help us feel more centered and reduce fear and anxiety. 

What are some important questions to ask yourself when things seem hopeless?

Experience teaches us that there’s really no such thing as a hopeless case. I’ve talked to many formerly addicted people who lived in dire circumstances for years and years, and yet who are today healthy, functioning members of society. There’s a saying in the recovery community, that ‘where there’s life, there’s hope.’ Still, when we’re struggling to cope with a family member’s addiction, it’s natural to feel hopeless from time to time. When we do, it can help to can ask ourselves some important questions:

1) Do we really know what the future holds?

2) What things are actually within my control?

3) What are my values and spiritual beliefs that can give me strength?

4) What can I do to nurture myself right now?

How can people support loved ones through recovery?

Most of us hope that once our loved one gets into recovery, things will quickly improve. But things sometimes get worse before they get better. Early recovery can be traumatic as the addicted person’s body and mind adapt to the absence of psychoactive chemicals. Emotional and mental health issues that were masked by addiction may need to be dealt with. And family members who endured outrageous behavior during their loved one’s addiction may find themselves filled with anger and resentment – not to mention a brand-new worry about relapse. Adjusting to this new reality can be stressful for everyone. But we can ease the stress and support our loved one’s recovery by following a few simple tips: 1) Remember that it’s our loved one’s journey, not ours. Offer encouragement but don’t try to micromanage. 2) When things get stressful, ask ourselves, ‘how important is it?’ Learn to let go of the little things. 3) Keep the focus on ourselves and take care of our physical and emotional well-being. We can’t be truly supportive unless we, ourselves, are healthy.

Why is it important to have discussions with kids about substance abuse and what should those conversations include?

Pop culture exposes our kids to countless images of drug and alcohol use. One of the most striking predictors of future addiction is the age at which substance use begins. Around 80 percent of addicted adults began abusing substances before age eighteen, a statistic suggesting that the teenage brain may be more susceptible to addiction than the adult brain. One reason for kids’ vulnerability is that the prefrontal cortex — the area of the brain that governs judgment, problem solving, and self-control — doesn’t fully develop until around age 25. Substance abuse hinders the development of the prefrontal cortex, creating long-lasting problems with decision making and impulse control. Parents can reduce the risk of substance abuse by teaching kids about the damaging impact of addictive chemicals on their health, relationships, intellect, and goals. Parents can clearly express their expectations and define consequences for breaking those rules. Most importantly, parents can model healthy behavior and keep the lines of communication open.

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