Family of those affected by addiction: help and self-help

Addiction is stressful for the relatives of those affected. Family and friends suffer in situations like these. They shouldn’t carry this enormous burden alone. Sometimes they need support too.

21.03.2023 Nina Merli 3 minutes

Family members of those affected by addiction suffer too

They might live under the same roof as someone who is addicted to alcohol or be struggling with their teenager’s gaming addiction: in Switzerland, roughly 500,000 people have a family member who suffers from addiction. As family of someone struggling with addiction, they share in the suffering, but in most cases cannot do anything to change the situation. This powerlessness is frustrating.

Family members can feel sad, helpless, and often develop feelings of guilt or shame: they find excuses to avoid social contact and become more and more withdrawn. All of these factors can trigger mental health problems – the supporters become those in need of support.

Support for the family of addicts

Professional support and self-help groups are known to have a positive impact on the family of those affected by addiction. In addition to psychologists and doctors, family members also have access to addiction counselling centres. Counselling is free in many cantons.

Family suffer from stress-related illnesses

Families of people affected by addiction rarely seek professional help – and if they do, it’s often very late on. The consequences can be dire: studies show that family members are at an increased risk of suffering stress-related illnesses – such as sleep problems or depressive states, with consequences as far-reaching as suicidal thoughts.

On a physical level, this can lead to nausea, high blood pressure and other complaints. These symptoms show how enormous the stress can be on the inner circle of a person with an addiction. It’s well worth seeking professional help early enough before you have reached your own limit. 

Tips for the family of addicts

As family of someone struggling with addiction, you want to help, but it’s important to keep sight of your own needs, too. This is a difficult, but important process. 

Addiction coach Michel Sutter has been clean for 12 years. Today, he helps people affected by addiction and their families. In the video, he talks about what he advises affected families and friends to do – and why they should also get professional help for themselves.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Accept that your relative’s addiction is an illness. 
  • Choose an opportune time to talk and address the problem. 
  • Indicate that you will support them in their fight to overcome addiction, but that the responsibility is theirs. 
  • Set boundaries.
  • Give children impacted by addiction the opportunity to talk to someone about their concerns and suffering without fear of betraying their family or exposing the parent in question.
  • Seek professional help for yourself and don’t wait too long to do so. 
  • Take a break and do something for yourself. 

What you should avoid:

  • Do not assume any of the afflicted person’s obligations.
  • Don’t tell the affected individual what to do, ask questions instead.
  • Don’t judge the affected person, talk about your own feelings instead.

It’s not easy to identify an addiction problem. The line between consumption for enjoyment and problematic consumption is fuzzy. Those who suffer from addiction often consume in secret. Potential signs of an alcohol addiction might include drinking more – because ever greater amounts of alcohol are required to feel the same effect. The person affected might also neglect interests and hobbies.

Behaviour patterns of alcoholics

The effects of alcohol addiction can be very stressful for family of those suffering from alcoholism: aggressive behaviour, outbursts of rage right through to domestic violence are the potential consequences of alcohol addiction in relationships. Social withdrawal is another potential indicator of addictive behaviour. Those suffering from alcohol addiction will often deny or play down the problem. Irritable behaviour towards the partner or children is another common sign.

Tips for the family of alcoholics

Monitor your own alcohol consumption and reduce it, if necessary. If you feel your partner is drinking too much, try to talk about it. Wait until your partner is sober before talking to them. Show your willingness to help but remain firm: stress that they need professional help. Contact a counselling centre or specialist self-help group if you can’t see a way forward or feel overwhelmed by the situation.

Support for the family of alcoholics

For more addresses, see “Support for family” further above.

Can coke change a person’s personality? How do you identify the behaviour of someone with a cocaine problem? What are the key signs?

Behaviour of cocaine addicts

With regular consumption, the behaviour of a cocaine addict can become more and more anti-social: the person shows little empathy for their fellow human beings – especially their relatives. Those suffering from a cocaine addiction are often restless and irritable. Symptoms of a cocaine addiction might also include a reduced sex drive or social withdrawal.

You can find out more about cocaine addiction and drugs in this article:

Drug addiction: the effects of cocaine and more

Tips for the family of cocaine addicts

Like alcohol addiction, a cocaine addiction is very individual and not easy to recognise. Professional organisations or self-help groups can provide tailored support.

Support for the family of cocaine addicts

For more addresses, see “Support for family” further above.

Addicted to a mobile phone? Mobile phone addiction isn’t yet classed as clinical addiction. But smartphones are a permanent fixture in our day-to-day lives. With children, young people and teenagers, digital consumption can often get out of hand. The situation can be challenging for parents.

Nomophobia symptoms

If someone is restless or irritated if they forget their mobile phone or their battery is dead, they probably have a problem with mobile phone use. The term nomophobia is also used in this context. This coinage is derived from the term “no-mobile-phone-phobia”. Typical symptoms associated with nomophobia are: withdrawal symptoms, such as nervousness and anxiety, stress when the mobile phone is switched off, the feeling of being lost or “naked” when the smartphone is not accessible, desire or craving for the mobile phone.

Nomophobia: am I addicted to my mobile phone?

Tips for the family of mobile phone addicts

Try to talk to the affected person and share your concerns. As parents, but as a partner too, it’s important to lead by example. The following tips may be helpful when it comes to prevention or helping the individual get back to unproblematic use: restrict your own screen time, ban the mobile phone from the bedroom at night and selectively define digital-free time where you all consciously forego using your mobile phones. For children: install apps that control or limit mobile phone time.

Tips for the family of mobile phone addicts

For more addresses, see “Support for family” further above.

For parents in particular, recognising that their children have a gaming addiction can be very stressful. Progressively worsening school grades can be a sign of a gaming addiction.

Gaming addiction symptoms

The symptoms in children and adults are similar in this respect: where a gaming addiction is present, those affected often lose interest in hobbies or friendships and neglect important tasks. Having to forego gaming and have limitations imposed in this regard can lead to severe reactions. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially defined gaming addictions as a medical condition. 

How to identify other signs of computer game addiction and the consequences of the addiction:

How does time spent in front of a screen affect our health?

Tips for the family of gaming addicts

Parents that recognise symptoms of a video game addiction in their child should try to talk to the child and tell them they are worried. Set rules of play together. Gradually reduce the time spent playing games. Remind your child of their hobbies from before. Do something together. Since gaming addictions are problems that should be taken seriously, there are now specialist treatment programmes – addiction counselling centres can provide you with information about them. 

If your partner is affected by a gambling or gaming addiction, an initial talk to air your concerns can help. Expressed positively, you can encourage your partner to address the issue as a team.

Help for the family of gaming addicts

For more addresses, see “Support for family” further above.

Whether alcohol, online gambling, shopping, porn, cocaine or heroin: whatever the form of addiction, it affects victims’ family, friends and acquaintances too. Get support if someone with whom you have a close relationship is suffering from addiction and you’re suffering as a result. You shouldn’t carry this enormous burden alone.

Addiction Switzerland

The experts from Addiction Switzerland provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article. The independent charitable foundation is the national competence centre for prevention, research and knowledge transfer in the field of addiction.

Read more

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From the effects of alcohol to the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal: our article tells you more about the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.
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