Family addiction is a serious issue that affects 46% of families in the U.S. alone. Left untreated, it can cause a devastating rift between family members. This also comes in conjunction with mental health issues, which comes either as the result or the cause of substance abuse. The worst part is that loved ones tend to hide these problems out of fear that they’ll be stigmatized or kicked out by their family.
The best way to deal with family addiction is rehabilitation, not punishment. Of course, you should take action only when you’ve identified that substance abuse or mental health is truly the issue. However, your loved ones may be afraid to express their problems to you outright. In this case, you have to look out for signs of their trouble.
Here are 5 signs that a loved one is dealing with addiction in the family:
1. Self-isolation from family
One of the most common signs of addiction or mental health is self-isolation. With a lot of social stigmas associated with substance abuse, victims tend to keep to themselves while living with addiction.
You can clearly see this when your loved one becomes:
- Less communicative. They no longer start conversations on their own and give brief disinterested responses when talked to.
- More irritable than usual. They’ve built a bubble around themselves and become frustrated when someone tries to intrude into their comfort zone.
- Secretive and defensive. If they’re pushed about their issues, they either deny them or avoid the topic altogether.
If you’ve observed these in your loved one, be more lenient and accommodating. Foster a welcoming space that lets them feel free to express themselves without prejudice. For instance, you can stay beside them as you go about your usual day-to-day activities and strike a smile at them every once in a while as a positive acknowledgment of their presence.
They may not immediately open up right away when you do this, but it’s an effective first step to helping them.
2. Changes in appearance and demeanor
Substance abuse and mental health issues can also take a toll on how your loved one appears and behaves. Generally, they become less interested in keeping themselves well-presented to other people or, sometimes, maintaining their hygiene.
Observe your loved one and watch out for these signs:
- Frequently disheveled appearance
- Wearing the same clothes for extended periods of time
- Occasionally spacing out
- Unresponsiveness when talked to
Some of these signs may be inconvenient to you or your family. If your loved one is in charge of chores, for example, they may either forget to do them or leave them unfinished, which may become a habit over time. Family members may also use their lack of hygiene as a reason to stay away from them out of shame.
In any case, you have to exercise patience and understanding. Instead of scolding them, for instance, gently remind them or assist them with their chores. Avoid being confrontational about their behavior or appearance. Instead, be more encouraging of healthy habits with the express intent of helping them out.
3. Psychosomatic symptoms
The idea that “It’s all in the mind” couldn’t be farther from the truth when there are psychosomatic conditions that occur due to struggling with mental health. Lethargy or lack of energy is one of the most common psychosomatic symptoms that affect those suffering from substance use or mental health issues.
Other symptoms include:
- Sudden changes in weight
- Unhealthy diet or irregular appetite
- Inconsistent or excessive sleep
Lacking energy for everyday activities can lead to long-term deterioration physically and mentally. While you can help alleviate their physical symptoms, this is only a band aid solution at best. You have to solve the issue from its roots by focusing on the substance abuse and mental health issues at the core of the problem. As said before, this comes by promoting a positive environment for the struggling loved one.
4. Showing lack of interest in hobbies
One of the tragic results of suffering from addiction and mental health issues is the loss of interest in hobbies that your loved one was once passionate about. Dopamine is responsible for providing pleasure in the midst of a reward. Substance abuse can affect how dopamine is produced and released by stimulating only when the victim consumes the substance. However, this also leads to a decrease of dopamine when the loved one is doing their actual hobbies.
When this happens, you can’t just force them to return to their hobbies as a way of averting substance use. At worst, this further discourages them from taking up the hobby again. Instead, use a positive, gentle approach in encouraging them about their hobbies.
Try some of these out, for instance:
- Recall happy memories about their hobbies
- Compliment their skills in a specific hobby
- Take up the hobby yourself, even if briefly, and ask your loved one to join you
These can rekindle the spark within your loved one and encourage them to return to the hobby. It can also be effective in curbing the effects of substance abuse to some degree. Even if it isn’t, helping them return to their hobbies assures them that there’s something to look forward to outside of using substances.
5. Struggling with school or work
Another common sign of addiction and mental health is the impact on their performance either at work or in school. There are two ways that substance use affects their performance:
- Impact on their mental state. Lack of focus, forgetfulness, and decrease in creativity and innovation are some of the symptoms of substance use that can affect how your loved ones perform.
- Social stigma from colleagues. The fear of being discovered and stigmatized for substance abuse is highly prevalent in a school or workplace environment. Chances are, a vast majority of your loved one’s colleagues (even the management in a company or school) will become prejudicial towards them.
The worst part about impaired performance is that this can also be a contributing factor to substance use, further proliferating it.
Coping with substance use requires a significant amount of time and dedication. Spending time away from professional or academic responsibilities will be vital for this. It may sound detrimental and counterproductive, but it’s actually very beneficial for your loved ones. If they’re given time to focus on their personal lives and cope with their addiction and mental health, the other aspects of their lives will also improve – that includes their other responsibilities.
Parents of addicted loved ones should discuss with the school’s guidance counselor to come up with a solution that can help the student cope with substance use while improving their academic performance. On the other hand, professionals undergoing substance abuse should consider taking an FMLA leave.
Solve family addiction with professional treatment
Discovering that your loved one is undergoing substance use and mental health issues can be heartbreaking for the family. You may feel like you were unable to become a meaningful, positive presence to them, enough to lead them towards consuming substances. However, this is not the case – perhaps your loved ones are going through tough times in their lives that they didn’t feel that they should express. Whatever the root cause behind their substance use may be, the most effective solution is professional treatment.
At California Recovery Center, our mission is to give extensive family help for addiction in a systematic, extensive manner. We provide outpatient and inpatient treatment options for your loved ones so that they can have flexibility in coping with their addiction and mental health issues. Feel free to reach out to us so we can discuss the best way to help your loved ones through their struggles.