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The Family Effect: Advice for Moms Affected by Substance Abuse

Written by Diana Clark
Published on May 10, 2017

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

Understanding Denial

Just as your loved one may refute that they are addicted, a mother or other family members can have blind spots in their perceptions as well.  Known as denial, these blind spots and other defenses abet you in sidestepping, minimizing, and explaining away events as something imagined. Denial allows you to reject absolutely what is happening in front of you.

Although denial may lead you to make decisions you later regret, it is not a character flaw.  It is a psychological mechanism your psyche employs when the truth is just too impossible to bear.  Denial is a powerful protective device.  You may need the advice and support of others to open your eyes to the things you cannot or just will not see. Although it may be difficult for you to dismantle generational family bans on  involving outsiders, I urge you to take small steps.  Only after grasping the facts can you gain insight and help change take place.

Allowing for Natural Consequences

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.

Recognizing Codependency

Addiction is described as a family disease because family members experience the chaos and dysfunction of addiction while their addicted loved one is too numb to experience it.  They live in a chronic state of stress and can become ill.  As their loved one gets sicker, they start organizing their lives around attempting to avoid the chaos that accompanies active addiction.  This loss of self-focus is codependency.

Codependency does not operate in a vacuum.  When all of the energy and resources in a family or a relationship are devoted to the needs of only one person, the others in the family or relationship are diminished. This generally results in additional dysfunction and increased resentment.  Recognizing when codependency is taking place allows you to seek help and began the process of setting healthy boundaries.

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.

By taking the time to fulfill your needs, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  You can be the best person possible for your loved one.  If you allow yourself to become consumed and lose sight of your own needs you run the risk of just adding to the stressful environment addiction creates.   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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