If someone in your family is using drugs, it can cause an immense amount of stress and conflict. It’s completely normal to feel helpless, frustrated, worried and upset. The person taking drugs might be acting very erratically – maybe they’re becoming aggressive, angry and violent, or withdrawn and detached, or both at different times. You might not know how to act around them, or how they’re going to behave when you see or talk to them. Their drug use might be affecting your whole family.
There are no simple answers or easy solutions, but the following strategies can help you talk to your loved one and start to work through the issue together.
There isn’t just one type of drug dependence, but a range of degrees. It could be a mild dependency, or it could be compulsive drug use (often referred to as addiction), or anything in between. It’s impossible to say how long or how often a person has to use a drug before they’ll become dependent because it varies between people and between drugs.
It’s important to remember that the majority of people who take drugs don’t become dependent on them.
Learning about different drugs and their effects can help you understand the situation your family member may be in. It can help you weigh up the risks to the person using drugs, and the risks to those around them.
Family members are often in a good spot to help people make safer choices about drugs, and to help them access support services.
If you believe that your family member is using drugs, try to stay calm and think about how to approach them. If you stay calm and respectful it can help keep communication open between you instead of them shutting you out. Verbal or physical confrontation with them will only make the situation worse.
Resist the urge to search their room for evidence, because it will probably do more harm than good. Creating an environment of suspicion and mistrust just makes it less likely that they’ll open up and be honest with you.
Instead of accusing your family member of using drugs, try expressing your concern about how they’re acting. You want to create the opportunity for them to talk to you about whatever it is that’s going on in their life.
This can be a very difficult time for everyone involved, especially if the person using drugs isn’t ready to change. Even when they do decide to make changes it can still take a long time, and there can be lots of setbacks along the way.
Remember that the person using drugs is the only one who can change their behaviour. What you can control is how you deal with the situation. Looking after yourself is a really important part of helping the person who is using drugs, and the rest of your family.
You don’t have to deal with it alone. Consider:
It’s easier to talk to someone you trust and are comfortable with. They might already know that something is bothering you. Talking about how you feel can help get things off your chest, clarify your thoughts, and help you work out what you’re going to do. They could even have been in a similar situation themselves, or know someone else who has been.
People are usually very happy and willing to help their friends, but often have to be asked. Your friends might notice that you’ve been upset but don’t want to pry, or might assume that if you want to talk you’ll let them know.
Talking with someone outside your daily life, like a professional counsellor, can help too. They’ve talked with lots of people in similar situations and can help you learn ways to cope with the problem and the stress it brings. You’ll find professionals with experience dealing with drug problems at your local community health centre, or at an alcohol and drug treatment agency.
Some people join self-help or support groups to share their thoughts and experiences with other people who are facing, or have faced, similar problems. There are several types of self-help groups for family and friends, and each has a different style. Trying going to several different meetings before you pick one that’s right for you.
Having a family member using drugs might feel isolating and embarrassing, like no one else is dealing with these problems. Trust us that you aren’t alone. Many families have struggled, worked through, and recovered from their loved ones becoming dependent on drugs. Don’t underestimate the power of hearing other people’s stories of overcoming the same thing that you’re going through.