How to Deal With the Shock that Comes With Finding Out a Loved One is Using

When you find out someone you love is using drugs or abusing alcohol, it’s alarming. It’s shocking. It’s confusing. It’s heartbreaking. This person that you love is hurting himself, and you have questions – lots of them.

  • How did this happen?
  • Why is he doing this?
  • Why doesn’t he stop?
  • Is this my fault?
  • Can I help him?
  • Why won’t he talk to me?

When someone is abusing a mood-altering substance, it’s tough to get straight answers, much less have a meaningful conversation. He may be so wrapped up in using that he has let go of some responsibilities. He’s out of money. His partner, friends, and other loved ones may be upset with him. He might be having trouble at work or school. He needs help, but he might not be ready to stop using. So what are you to do if the decision to get well belongs to him? It’s time to get selfish. It’s time to let go a little and take care of yourself. You cannot face this without a level head, and wearing yourself out trying to help him will only bring you down too. Here are some important things to remember.

Pain comes with the territory.

When someone struggles with drugs or alcohol, they very likely also struggle with mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, grief, or trauma. Poor mental health aggravates and perpetuates substance use, and substance use aggravates mental health. So lost in this cycle, shame and desperation drive him to speak and act out of character. Those around him, particularly those who he’s closest to, including partners, children, parents, and other family and close friends, feel the brunt of his words and actions.

Your loved one’s substance use is not about you.

Your loved one’s substance abuse is not your fault. It is not your problem to solve. People turn to drugs and alcohol for many reasons, and no one sets out believing they will become addicted. Love, patience, compassion, and resources are, of course, at the forefront of your mind right now. But his choices, and the unfortunate consequences they may bring, belong to him. You might feel anxious. You might dread the sound of the phone ringing or a text coming through. You might feel fearful, guilty, angry, confused, resentful, exhausted, hopeless, sad, and depressed. You might experience poor concentration, physical symptoms, changes in weight or appetite. This is emotions turned inward.

It is not your job to fix him.

Even if you wanted to. Even if you’ve tried. Even if you love him more than anything, it’s up to him to get well again. Find resources for him and be ready to offer them when he asks, but he must want to be well in order to recover.

Take care of you.

Self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health. You take an active role in protecting your own wellbeing and happiness, particularly in times of stress. Self-care starts with you. You initiate it, and you decide when your needs have been met. Put yourself first, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Protect and nurture your self-esteem, your health, and your sanity as much as you protect your belongings. Find a community support group for people who love someone who abuses a substance (Al-anon and SMART Recovery for Friends and Family are two of the many options out there). Find things you enjoy doing and make a commitment to yourself to participate in those activities.

If you need help navigating this difficult time, or your loved one is considering treatment, please reach out to Wasatch Crest. We can help.

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