Help A Family Member Who Is Abusing Alcohol Or Drugs
Someone in your family has a problem with
alcohol or drugs. What can you do to help?
You might think that an alcohol or drug problem belongs to the person who
is drinking or taking drugs. But if a family member has a problem, then you
have a problem too.
Families operate as a system in which each family member’s behavior
affects every other member’s behavior. The abuser’s behavior affects all
family members, producing painful and difficult feelings in response. At the
same time, the other members of the family — unintentionally — develop
patterns of behavior that make it easier for the problem drinker or drug user
to continue their substance abuse. This behavior is referred to as enabling.
Here are some examples of enabling:
- Denying that there is a problem, or dismissing the problem as a small
- Rescuing the abuser from the consequences of his or her alcohol or drug
use, such as by “calling in sick,” covering up for a broken promise,
or lending money.
- Taking over the abuser’s responsibilities, making allowances,
forgiving unforgivable behavior or to continue trying to be loving and
caring in the face of abuse.
- Reinforcing alcohol or drug use by participating in occasions where it
All of these behaviors allow the abuser to keep using alcohol or drugs
in destructive ways. Enabling allows the alcohol or drug abuse to progress
to a more serious stage and worsens the prognosis for a successful
Family Members Can Do
Believe it or not, your best chance for helping your family member who is
abusing alcohol or drugs begins by changing yourself. Below are suggested
guidelines to help:
- Learn as much as you can about the drug being used, alcoholism,
addiction, treatment programs and the recovery process. Alcoholism/drug
addiction is not caused by lack of willpower or moral decay. It is a
- Get help for yourself from a health professional who specializes in
alcoholism, drug addiction and related issues. Ask your employee
assistance program for a referral, or look in the yellow pages under
“drug abuse” or “alcoholism.”
- Join a self-help group for families of drug abusers,
such as Al-Anon, Coke-Anon, or Narc-Anon.
- Stop enabling. Stop rescuing the abuser from the consequences of his or
- Try to get the abuser to get treatment. Work with a health professional
to plan a way to intervene in your family member’s alcohol or drug use.
- Once your family member is receiving treatment, remain involved in their
treatment. Continue to show that you are concerned about their successful
- Take good care of yourself and expect a difficult period. Becoming a
drug-free family takes effort, time and patience.
- Continue to focus on getting better yourself, no matter what. All
interested family members need to join together in an effort to create
healthier lives for themselves, even if the abusing family member chooses
not to get help.
Remember, your OEA is here to help you with your personal,
family or work-related concerns. If you or a family member needs help,
call an OEA
© 2003 Office of Employee Assistance/Florida International University.