Families of drug addicts live with constant shame and guilt, and often live with the constant wish that they could make things better for their loved one. There's a lot to worry about if your son, daughter, parent or spouse has an addiction. These are some of the worries of family members of people with addictions had in a research study across three different cultures, which showed that the families of drug addicts need support too.
1. The Physical Health of the Addicted RelativeThere are many ways that alcohol, drugs and other addictions can affect physical health, and it is common for the families of addicts to have concerns about the health of their addicted loved one. For example, they notice when the person with the addiction looks physically ill, when they lose or gain weight, and often wonder whether health problems are drug related. They may also know of health problems such as high blood pressure, pneumonia, liver and kidney problems, or of hospitalizations, and worry that their loved one's body can no longer stand the physical abuse of the addiction. In this day and age, they also may worry about intravenously transmitted infections, such as HIV and hepatitis.
2. Addicts Neglect Themselves -- And Families NoticeFamilies of drug addicts also often notice when the addicted person neglecting him or herself, in ways that the addicted person may not notice as they are caught up in their addictive behavior. They may notice their loved one is dirty and disheveled, that they are neglecting their appearance, the relative may come home dirty, smelling of substances, they may worry about accidents, bed-wetting, wounds, and carelessness over personal possessions.
3. The Mental Health of the Addicted RelativeBecause addicts have variable and unpredictable moods -- from everyday lows such as feeling miserable and apathetic to full-on symptoms such as blackouts and hallucinations -- family members worry about the mental health of addicted loved ones. Discussion of suicide and suicide attempts are particularly worrisome.
4. The Addict's Education, Work or Sporting Performance is FailingThe change that people often go through in their attitude towards work and other occupational activities can be a source of worry for relatives, especially when a job is lost, they drop out of school, or they lose their previous enthusiasm for a healthy activity such as a sport. Parents may be concerned that their child has thrown away their education, that they are unstable and lack any goals in life, and that they have become irresponsible.
5. The Mounting Cost of AddictionThe mounting cost of an addiction can cause worry that the relative spends more than they earn, that they are selling their belongings, and in some cases, that they are resorting to theft or prostitution to fund their addiction.
6. The Addictive Behavior -- What They Are Doing, How Often, and How MuchThe worry about the excess of the relative's addictive behavior may be triggered by incidents such as the relative being excessively interested in intoxication, drinking or using drugs daily or constantly, shutting themselves away in their room or the bathroom to use drugs, coming home under the influence, going on binges, seeing the relative injecting, seeing marks from injecting, and worrying about vomiting and choking.
7. The Company the Addicted Relative is KeepingFamily members may worry about the change in social scene that the relative has shifted to since becoming addicted. They may be frequenting rougher places and mixing with rougher people, brought people home who made the family member uncomfortable, and mixing with or living with people who are "hardened" drug addicts.
Orford, J. et al. Coping With Alcohol and Drug Problems: The Experiences of Family Members in Three Contrasting Cultures. New York: Routledge. 2005.