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The Family Effect: Advice for Dads Affected by Substance Abuse

Written by Diana Clark
Published on June 9, 2017

In May we looked at mothers dealing with substance abuse in loved ones. In June, we are turning focus onto the unique challenges fathers face in the world of recovery a share similar advice.  Being a dad and having to deal with a child or loved one with addiction is a challenge on many, many levels.  In the spirit of Father’s Day we will examine some advice for dads who have loved ones dealing with substance abuse problems.

The Trap of Expectations

One of the hardest things when dealing with a loved one struggling is understanding that you may have to make some changes as well.  One of the hardest of these changes is understanding your expectations for that loved one may no longer be what they want or the healthiest thing.  Preconceived expectations of what you want for your loved one can be counterproductive and can set up everyone involved for failure.  This may mean understanding that the traditional college experience isn’t the right launching pad or that they may need to make a career change to support their recovery.  Someone who embraces recovery rarely goes back to the status-quo of the pre-recovery days.  There dreams, goals, and desires may have changed and with that, the dreams, goals, and desires of well-intentioned loved ones need to change to.   

Natural Consequences and Healthy Boundaries

The number one reason a person with substance abuse issues needs to experience the painful natural consequences of addiction is that pain and struggle teach a brain deluded by addiction that costs of addiction outweigh the pleasure of drugs or the benefits of numbness.  For your addicted loved one, the pull of drugs may be so extreme that circumstances may need to get really painful before the painful events become enlightening.  If using drugs is a little slice of heaven that makes pain, misery, disappointment, and insecurity disappear, why stop? The only reason would be because, left to run its natural course, addiction causes such uncomfortable or painful consequences, physically, emotionally, socially, and/or spiritually.

This can be an extremely hard thing for a father to do.  There is a natural urge to want to protect your child.  To shield them from adverse feelings and consequences.  However, it is through consequences that people learn and through the natural consequences of addiction your loved one can move closer to accepting help and wanting sobriety for themselves.  This does not mean that you must abandoning your child but instead setting healthy boundaries and not shielding them from every consequence of their behavior.  

Self-Care, Self-Care, Self-Care

Dealing with a loved one suffering from substance abuse is stressful, exhausting, and you can easily lose sight of who you are and what you need in times of crisis.  This is way self-care is critical for you as well as for your addicted loved one.  Remember to take time to focus on you and get your needs meant.  This could mean doing an activity you enjoy, utilizing your support network instead of always being the support network, or just taking a few moments to try and relax and separate yourself from the stress of the day to day.  For fathers this means making sure that you are leaving room in your life for the things that you enjoy.  Whether it be a round on the golf course or just some quiet time with a book, doing the activities that help you relax mean you can handle the stress that come with substance abuse in a healthier way.  Be patient with yourself and be kind to yourself.  There is no perfect way to handle these issues.  

Diana Clark is OPG’s Director of Clinical Operations. Diana holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and is the author of Addiction Recovery: A Family’s Journey. She has extensive experience working with families struggling with addiction and has authored and facilitated several workshops. Content from Addiction Recovery: A Family’s Journey was used in this post.


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