LOVE. It is a universal human need and a construct that can be hard to define. Countless movies, songs, books, TV shows and various forms of art are focused on this topic- as it is one of the most powerful and sought after emotions that we experience. We all have ideas about what it looks like to love someone and what it feels like to be loved. Some of these expectations are created by our family and culture of origin, emotional needs, romantic fantasies and desires.
While there are not “rules” for loving a romantic partner, child, friends and family, there are some common patterns. For example, many parents believe that showing love to their young adult child involves showing love through verbal expression, some form of protection, contributing to their sense of happiness, giving emotional support, providing shelter, paying for material needs, etc. However, if this young adult child is struggling from a substance use disorder (SUD), the way that a parent demonstrates love should change dramatically. Parents are not taught that showing love to their child changes form when an addiction is involved. Many parents may find these changes painful, confusing and frightening. Some of these changes can involve: using their emotional connection as leverage to encourage sobriety/recovery, setting financial boundaries, allowing natural consequences to occur, not trying to make the young adult “happy” nor to fix substance related problems. Fear determines many of the choices that parents make when they are dealing with a child’s SUD. However, operating from an emotional place of anxiety or trying to prevent all negative consequences can lead to an unhealthy family dynamic and actually worsen the SUD. “Loving” someone with an addictive issue can be counterintuitive.
Learning how best to love someone with an SUD is not generally information that parents or loved ones would learn unless they needed to. However, understanding family systems and addiction and how best to love those struggling with and SUD is a crucial part of the recovery process for both individual and their family members.
The In-Home Addiction Treatment Institute is training addiction professionals to deliver a family education program that will enable family members to engage in a parallel recovery process along with their loved one. So often, addiction treatment focuses primarily on the individual with the SUD. This can create a barrier for a comprehensive recovery process when they return home or try to maintain sobriety in their home environment.
So, in the spirit of love this week, be mindful of the ways that you are caring for your loved one with an SUD and be open to learning new ways to love!
By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC