A struggle with addiction and mental health disorder affects more than just the individual who is diagnosed. Friends and family members may feel continually stressed, guilty, or helpless while watching a loved one grow more distant and distressed. There may also be feelings of anger or frustration that this person will not change the negative behaviors, and there may be a temptation to avoid the loved one, entirely.
While it is important to set healthy boundaries between yourself and a person who is acting destructively, abandoning a loved one to his or her own misery rarely produces a preferred outcome. Whenever possible, it is better to arm yourself with accurate information about effective interventions and to take whatever steps are within your power to offer a lifeline.
Recognizing Drug Addiction
When addiction starts with someone close to us, we can end up feeling blindsided. It is often only after the addiction has resulted in something drastic that we utilize hindsight to find the clues of its existence. There is a tendency to playback scenarios which should have tipped us off to the fact that our loved one was getting into a bad situation, and there may be the tendency to want to kick ourselves for not acting sooner.
While it is important to realize that this experience of feeling shocked to realize that a loved one is in addiction is common, it is also important to note that there are often signs that can tip us off ahead of time. People in addiction will often begin to lie about their whereabouts and activities, will begin to act in erratic and unpredictable ways, and will start to neglect responsibilities. They may begin to withdraw from social gatherings, and there may be a host of excuses for why they always seem to be out of money.
Depression can also take a long time to recognize. It can creep up slowly, and it can successfully be hidden from others by putting on a happy act. The number of successful comedians who eventually reveal that they’ve experienced a long battle with depression can attest to this as fact.
A person who is depressed will lose the ability to find joy in activities which once brought pleasure. He or she may not find thoughts of the future to be hopeful, and may spend a lot of time ruminating about failures and missed opportunities of the past. A person in depression may experience crying spells, and may turn to unhealthy habits – such as sleeping too much, overeating, or engaging in other forms of excessive escapism – as a means of trying to distract from overwhelming feelings of despair.
When mental disorder and drug addiction are intermingled, it can be difficult to discern the root of the problem. It often becomes a chicken-and-egg scenario, where the mental illness is contributing to the desire to use drugs, and the drug use is making the symptoms of the mental illness worse. Because of this interplay between addiction and disorder, professionals have increasingly emphasized the importance of treating both angles, simultaneously. A person experiencing both depression and substance abuse will be assigned a dual diagnosis. Someone seeking treatment for dual diagnosis will often receive help from a team of specialists, including those trained specifically in substance abuse disorders and those licensed to provide mental health counseling.
How to Help
It is important to recognize that a decision to change comes from within the individual, and people are not likely to make lasting changes as a result of the outside imposition of ideas and expectations. Even with that being the case, making it known that you are there to support your loved one in making that change can be pivotal in assisting a person with addiction and depression to take steps toward finding freedom.
Start the Conversation
The first step toward healing often occurs as the result of someone pointing out the problem. It is the nature of drug addiction to want to minimize, ignore, or lie about the issue. Even friends and family members may be reluctant to say anything about it, often out of fear that confronting the issue may make things worse. While it may be true that your loved one with a co-occurring disorder will be upset at being confronted with the elephant in the room, remaining silent on the issue is not going to facilitate the much needed change. Upsetting someone with the truth is much more beneficial than doing nothing about a problem.
Extend Empathy and Encourage Accountability
There is a difference between understanding a problem and condoning a behavior. Often, those who struggle with addiction and mental health issues will struggle with feelings of being misunderstood and misconstrued by their loved ones. Finding ways to validate the experience of depression and the struggles of addiction while simultaneously remaining firm on the expectations that you have for your loved one’s recovery can be a tricky balancing act. Through remaining humble, asking for forgiveness when missing the mark, and modeling healthy interactions for your loved one, you will be planting seeds of hope that things can, and will, get better.
Seek Your Own Support
When a friend or family member is suffering, it is natural to want to put our own needs aside in order to direct all energy toward helping our loved one to get better. It is important to remember that your own mental health and wellbeing is just as important. Avoid the temptation to push your caregiving past the point of what is healthy. The overload of stress as a result of neglecting your own needs while helping others is known as caregiver burnout. You will be of much better service to your loved one if you are active in setting appropriate boundaries and are practicing adequate self-care. Consider obtaining your own therapist during this time, or look into joining a support group for family members of those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
Psychology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/enlightened-living/201001/change-happens-the-inside-out
Medline Plus – https://medlineplus.gov/dualdiagnosis.html
Very Well Man – https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-behavior-modeling-2609519