Family Guide to Addiction & Alcoholism
Many family members contact Hope Rehab on behalf of their loved one – son, daughter, husband, wife, etc; even on behalf of friends. The Hope team can advise you on how best to support and help your loved one. We understand it can be difficult approaching someone regarding rehab and addiction issues. We suggest that you contact us to guide you in these matters. We know that drug or alcohol addiction can be the toughest challenge a family ever faces. With that in mind we created this page – to provide some guidance and to offer suggestions for how to deal with an addicted child, sibling, parent, or friend.
Why Addiction is a Family Disease?
Drug abuse can transform a son or daughter into an untrustworthy stranger, and it can turn a parent into an unpredictable tyrant. Addiction is referred to as a ‘family disease’ because it only takes one member of this unit to become addicted for the whole family to become dysfunctional.
It is common for the rest of the family to feel somehow responsible for the addictive behaviour – “maybe if we had tried harder” or “if only we had seen the signs sooner”. Those who fall into substance abuse can become highly skilled at manipulating the rest of the family by taking advantage of these feelings of guilt – e.g. kids can be made to feel incredibly guilty when a parent tells them, “if only you behaved better, I wouldn’t need to drink so much.”
Addiction tends to isolate families due to shame about what is going on. The family is pushed tighter together due to the need to hide the problem, and there can be a real sense of ‘us and them’. Parents may become willing to lie to protect their addicted child, and kids may be afraid to invite friends home in case mum or dad is drunk.
Living with an addict means life can become like an emotional rollercoaster, and the mood of this one person can decide the type of day everyone else is going to have. The scary thing is how fast and unpredictable these mood changes occur – it can be all jokes and laughter one minute, but like a click of a switch the person is shouting and throwing things around the next minute. Living in this type of situation can be incredibly stressful, and there can often be physical abuse as well.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is not the same as doing something all the time because you like it although the word is often misused in this way – you will hear people say things like “I’m addicted to this new flavour of yoghurt.’ The addiction we are talking about here is where changes have occurred in a person’s brain that leads to an inability to stop a behaviour even when the person decides to quit.
Addiction involves both physical and psychological dependence. To say people are psychologically addicted means they experience cravings, and they find it hard to imagine how they could cope without the drug. Physical addiction occurs because the body needs to adapt to the substance abuse – it does this by developing tolerance. Once people become physically addicted, it means they are going to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction this way:
It is not necessary for people to become physically addicted before a mind-altering substance starts to cause serious problems in their life. Problem drinkers can behave in much the same way as alcoholics, and a first-time drug user could become psychotic or overdose.
Signs of Teenage Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Mothers and fathers can miss the signs of alcohol or drug abuse for a long time, and it doesn’t mean they are bad parents. Teenagers can quickly become skilled at hiding the effects of substance use, and it is easy to blame changes in their behaviour on the normal ups and downs of adolescence. This is why it is so important for parents to be looking for out for signs of drug abuse, and to act on any intuition they might have that something is wrong with their child.
It is vital to deal with any suspicion of substance abuse quickly because the longer a child is allowed to use alcohol or drugs, the more likelihood of them becoming addicted. Drugs like methamphetamine and heroin can lead to addiction rapidly because the effects of these chemicals are so pleasurable. Common signs of alcohol or drug abuse would include:
These symptoms can occur due to reasons other than substance abuse, but it is important to rule this out as a potential cause.
Why Do Kids Become Addicted?
The one question most parents are desperate to know is – why? Did they do something wrong? How could they have prevented it from happening? Nobody ever really sets out with the intention of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs, and it is scary how easy a trap this is for kids to fall into.
Adults can forget just how powerful peer pressure can be during those teenage years, but saying ‘no’ to something that the ‘cool’ kids are doing isn’t easy. Adolescents can feel desperate to fit in with their friends, and refusing to join in can mean being ostracised by the group. Sometimes it is just easier to go along with everyone else, and this means even a sensible teenager can end up in the clutches of addiction.
In some cases, teenagers can be experiencing the early mild symptoms of a mental health problem like bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder. They use alcohol or drugs, and it makes them feel better. The young person ends up addicted because they are self-medicating this condition – even though this person may not be consciously aware that this is what is happening. There can be lots of other reasons for why young people feel unable to cope with life, and substance abuse can seem to offer an easy solution.
It is also believed that some teenagers are particularly prone to falling into addiction due to their genes or personality. Those young people who grow up in a home where the people around them engage in substance abuse can just assume this behaviour is normal.
What to do if You Suspect Your Child is Abusing Drugs?
If your child is abusing alcohol or drugs, it means they are in danger. Young people can suffer more serious consequences due to addiction than adults because their brain is still developing – their bodies are also less well able to handle these chemicals than adults. If you suspect your child of engaging in substance abuse you need to take action fast.
The first thing to do is to confront your child with your suspicions. Don’t lose your temper, or become hysterical, as this will just put that young person on the defensive. You need to calmly explain why you suspect drug abuse and the action you are going to take if the behaviour continues. Listen to any explanation your child offers, but don’t accept these answers too readily and expect some denial – those who are caught up in addiction soon learn to be deceitful and manipulative. Try to find out why they are abusing alcohol or drugs without looking for someone to blame – let the child explain using his or her own words.
In some cases, the ‘softly-softly’ approach will be enough to get your child to admit to the problem and agree to get help. If this doesn’t work, you are going to need to give an ultimatum. This means outlining the penalties for continuance with the behaviour. You should only provide an ultimatum if you are prepared to follow it through. Your family can also stage an intervention to pressurise your child into entering rehab. Don’t believe the myth that a person has to be willing to enter rehab for it to be effective – there are plenty of stories of young people who went to rehab reluctantly but had a change of heart while they were there.
It is vital you understand what you are dealing with if your child had become addicted to alcohol or drugs. It is no good expecting this young person to just use willpower to end the behaviour. They are likely to need professional help, and in a lot of cases, the best option is going to be an inpatient rehab program. If your child is dealing with a dual diagnosis (a mental health problem like depression alongside the addiction), you will need specialised help for this.
Things to Avoid When Dealing with Teenage Substance Abuse
How to Cope with an Addicted Parent
If one or both of your parents is/are addicted to alcohol or drugs, it can mean your home life is incredibly challenging. These people should be taken care of you, but the substance abuse may mean you have felt the need to take on the caring role. Worst of all, you may feel responsible for your parent’s behaviour – if only you were a better son or daughter, maybe they wouldn’t need to get high? This type of thinking is common, and a parent may have even told you this is the case, but it is vital you understand that none of this is your fault.
In the recovery community, we talk about the 3 C’s, and this refers to three things you need to understand about your parent’s behaviour:
One of the key things you need to be doing if you are dealing with an addicted parent is getting plenty of support. There are 12-step fellowships like Al-Anon and Alateen – there is also Adult Children of Alcoholics if you are a bit older. You will also find help online, but it is better to get at least some face-to-face support. If your parent becomes ready for addiction treatment, you will want to be supportive of the idea, but it shouldn’t be your job to sort everything out – especially if you are still a teenager.
“A Tough Love Intervention Can Save A Life”
Tough love, in this case, means to be caring but adopt a strict attitude toward a loved one who is abusing substances i.e. not to make their indulgence easy or avoid challenging them about it.
We now understand that addiction is a disease but this does not excuse addicts from taking responsibility and getting treatment. Some say it is even more reason to be tough on the addiction, not the person. Addiction itself shows no compassion and kills. A tough love intervention can save a life.
When dealing with teenagers and young adults your decisions could have a profound effect on the rest of their lives, this is why we advocate exhausting every avenue to get them the help they need before kicking them out the family home and restricting contact.
Another important reason we advocate so-called “tough love” is that a family member, spouse or friend often cannot resolve the addiction due to emotional ties. It can be heartbreaking to watch a loved one destroy their life. Families need to prioritise protecting themselves as they will never be able to support an addict family member if they are broken.
We always point the family members and loved ones in the direction of Al-anon, a self-help group specifically for to support them.
The problem is sympathy and enabling never really help someone who suffers from the disease of addiction. It is important to say “tough love” is not about depriving an addict of help or support.
Sanctions help the suffering addict to understand how their addiction is hurting others, not just them. Also there maybe children in the home who need protecting.
Finding and funding rehab once or twice is acceptable, but there comes the point when this also is a form of rescuing, and therefore enabling.
As treatment director at Hope Rehab, I am often faced with desperate parents and spouses on the end of the phone in a dilemma or crisis, so I suggest an ultimatum – rehab or out the house!
In Narcotics Anonymous (NA) we say “carry the message, not the mess” (or not the addict) this means to share what has helped us. Not clean up someone’s mess or pay their bills as it won’t help them stop if anything it encourages them to continue using when others bail them out. I mean why stop? Stopping involves a transitional period of withdrawal from a painkiller. It is very uncomfortable while you confront your demons.
We also say when an addict reaches out for help we should always help if possible. However, it is not worth chasing the addict. I know this as I run a rehab and whenever we chase a client it usually puts them off.
By the way, I was an outreach worker for over three years in London, and we took the drug and alcohol service to the addicts on the street. I can safely say almost no one actually got clean. We did, however, do some very good work, mostly harm reduction that may, in the long run, have helped some people, but I cannot say with any confidence for sure.
Enabling – Caretaking – Rescuing
Boundaries and being assertive are really important to practice tough love. How tough love works…
When clients admit themselves to Hope Rehab we ask if we can send out family feedback questionnaires and encourage the respondents to be totally honest, not to hold back or protect the addict from the reality of their active addictions.
Many addicts need to hit bottom before changing, in fact, this is true for most humans, anyway tough love may get them there sooner.
‘Tough Love’ by Simon Mott
Addiction Help for a Loved One Living or Traveling in Southeast Asia
If you have a loved one struggling with a problem related to drugs and alcohol in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, or Myanmar, you may be at your wits end trying to figure out a way to help this person. The good news is that there are some reputable rehab programs in the region. Here at Hope Rehab Thailand, our Western-trained therapists have extensive experience helping people break free of all types of addiction.
Why Expats in the Southeast Asia are at Such High Risk of Addiction?
The expat population in South East Asia can be highly vulnerable to developing and addiction problem. There are a number of reasons for why this may be the case.
Many of the people who develop addiction problems in South East Asia will have had problems with drugs and alcohol even before they arrived. These are usually high functioning alcoholics or drug users who were able to mostly hide the extent of their substance abuse at home. This ability to remain functional despite an underlying addiction is usually due to pressure from family, friends, and work colleagues. The problem is that when a person moves to a foreign country, there is far less pressure on them to hide their addiction so the problem can quickly escalate.
Another common reason expats in Southeast Asia develop addiction problems is due to loneliness and boredom. Coming to an exotic country like Thailand for a three-week holiday is a lot different than actually living here full-time. It is common for expats to develop culture-shock and alcohol or drugs can be a tempting way to escape this discomfort. The fact of being so far away from family and friends can also experience loneliness which they then try to self-medicate.
It is now becoming increasingly common for retired people to move to Southeast Asia from other parts of the world. There can be a wonderful life waiting for retirees in countries like Thailand, but there can also be the danger of addiction. People who have worked hard all of their lives can actually find it a struggle to settle into retirement and substance abuse can become a way to deal with this discomfort. There can also be a sense of entitlement in regards to drinking hard as people can feel like they have earned it.
An Effective Addiction Treatment Center in Southeast Asia
The Family in Recovery – How to Encourage Sobriety
In a perfect world, the family member would give up alcohol and drugs, and everyone would live happily ever after. Unfortunately, is it rarely as simple as that because recovery is a process rather than a single event. By getting sober, your loved one will have taken a crucial first step, but there is going to be lots of more work ahead to secure sobriety.
A newly sober family member can have a serious impact on the dynamics of this unit. The other members of the family will have needed to adapt to living with an addict, and they will have developed certain routines – now everything is changed, and it can lead to uncertainty and possibly even resentment. There may also still be a lot of fresh wounds due to the behaviour of the person who has just recently become sober. It can take a few weeks for things to settle back down, but once they do, things should be much better than before.
Here are a few suggestions for how to encourage a loved one to remain sober:
If an addict is mad at you – you probably are trying to save their lives.
Giving up alcohol or drugs can be tough unless you or your loved one has access to the right resources and support. Here at Hope Rehab Center, we provide a therapeutic environment along with the most effective treatments for all types of addiction. When you arrive here, we carefully assess your needs and create an individualised care pathway.
You will probably be leaving your family behind to come and stay with us here in Thailand, but this doesn’t mean they won’t be involved in the process. We understand your family is going to be a crucial aspect of your support when you return home, so we work with them to increase their understanding of your needs and condition. One of the other things we do is send your family members a feedback questionnaire, so we can then find out more about how your behaviour has been affecting them.
A much better life awaits you and your family in sobriety. If you are ready to take the crucial first step, contact us now via the contact form below.