by Mike Gillis, LCSW-C
When planning this blog series I was going to talk about the possible signs that a loved one may be using substances or having a difficult time controlling their use. If I’m being honest, that topic seemed to miss the mark for me.
There are a ton of reasons that drug use and problems with alcohol are such a common issue in our society today. One of those reasons is that the signs and symptoms are not necessarily universal for everyone, and the ones that are more common, are easily explained away by other physical ailments or coincidence.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard family members say “If I only put it together sooner it wouldn’t have got so out of control” or “I just thought they were depressed”. The thing those statements have in common is that the signs were there but easily explained away.
So while the signs are important to know, there are hundreds of articles that discuss the signs. So let’s use this time to talk about how we make sure we are prepared as a family to actually see those signs. Let’s dive in!
Us humans are masters of self preservation and survival. When it’s hot outside we sweat, when it’s cold we shiver, when we need nutrients our stomachs growl. This is a survival technique, all done without having to think about it.
Believe it or not, we do the same emotionally. When we are sad we do things to make us happier, when we are lonely we reach out for connection, when we are afraid we look for ways to feel comfort and security.
It makes sense then, when we see our loved ones struggling and the pain that we know comes with addiction, it’s natural to first look for other explanations. This is often unconscious, automatic and based in the idea of self preservation and survival. We protect ourselves as family members by explaining away the signs that may seem so clear in hindsight.
The simple, obvious and not very helpful answer is that we have to be honest with ourselves about what’s really happening. Unfortunately, we can’t just snap our fingers and feel or be a different way.
The longer, more difficult answer is, it’s important as a family member to have your own support, be as mentally healthy as possible and be prepared to face the difficult situations that come up in life. To use another cliche, you need to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.
The only way to truly guard yourself from explaining away the signs of addiction is to put in the work on yourself first, make sure you have your own support and be honest with yourself about what’s happening. Essentially, being emotionally prepared for the possibility that drug use/addiction could be an explanation for the signs that you are seeing so that you can be the most effective support for your loved one.
For some, this process can happen through family, friends and/or spiritual guidance. For others this process happens through talking to a professional and processing any concerns, fears and ways to be supportive and not engage in enabling behaviors.
Like I said in the first blog of this series, I hope that you hear the message that as a family member, whether you suspect drug abuse or the potential for it, getting your own help early can make a huge difference in outcomes for your loved ones.
If you are still on the fence about reaching out, let’s set up a phone consultation to discuss any concerns that you may have. I am also willing to discuss possible paths of healing if you or your loved ones are currently struggling with addiction. As always, I’m just an email or phone call away!
Up Next: How to Talk About Signs of Use
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