You can help a loved one recover from addiction, but you must protect your own physical and emotional well-being.
Anthony Estreet, Ph.D., M.B.A., LCSW-C
CEO, National Association of Social Workers
“Social workers want you to know if you are present in the lives of a person who has an alcohol or substance use disorder, there is hope.”
No matter your faith, race, or income level, you may have a family member or friend who is grappling with alcohol abuse or drug addiction.
More than 46 million Americans aged 12 and over — or almost 17% of our population — live with an alcohol use or substance use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Having a loved one dealing with a substance use disorder can be challenging. As the founder of Next Step Treatment Center in Baltimore, I have seen this issue firsthand. Baltimore, like many other cities, has seen the harmful cultural and economic impact of addiction and drug trafficking.
On the frontlines
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers are on the frontlines of our nation’s addiction crisis, with nearly 120,000 social workers working in mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Instinctually, you will want to help your loved one. Here is advice from social workers on how people who have a family member or friend with a substance use issue can stay safe physically and emotionally:
- Don’t walk away from your loved one and try not to personalize the behavior of the person who is using drugs or misusing alcohol.
- Set boundaries when you can and stick to them. This lessens the chance you will engage in enabling behaviors that may hinder recovery. It also helps the person living with a substance use disorder develop accountability.
- Stay engaged in your spiritual life (if that is your choice), eat healthily, and get plenty of exercise and rest. Don’t hesitate to take breaks from the situation as needed.
- Support your loved one’s sobriety by telling them about support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Drive them to meetings and support groups. Keep in mind people living with substance use disorders may become sober and relapse, so be patient.
- Use support groups for families, such as Alateen or the Children of Alcoholics Foundation.
- Call 988 if you or someone you know maybe experiencing a mental health- or substance use-related emergency.
Children are at higher risk for emotional, sexual, and physical abuse by parents or guardians who use alcohol or other substances. Children in these households are also more likely to live with mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.
If there are concerns about domestic violence or child abuse, safety comes first. Be sure to seek additional assistance to help navigate an unsafe environment. You may discuss your concerns with your family physician; a teacher, school social worker, or counselor; or seek out a mental health professional, such as a clinical social worker or psychologist.
Social workers want you to know if you are present in the lives of a person who has an alcohol or substance use disorder, there is hope. So, don’t give up. Maintaining your emotional and physical health and safety will require intention and practice.