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It’s Not Either/Or … Your Health Counts Just As Much

father on phone upset daughter passed out on bed

A parent wrote me recently that it felt like he had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from having lived through his son’s active addiction and relapses.

The Mayo Clinic lists a number of events that can cause PTSD in people who are susceptible.  Being a family member of someone with an alcohol or drug problem isn’t one of them, though an extreme life event is.  The events family members live through when someone they love is addicted can be terrifying. Fear and disruptions in your life can be severely detrimental to your health. 

Let’s look at some of the signs of PTSD:

Negative changes in thinking and mood*

  • Negative feelings about yourself or other people
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event(s)
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Changes in emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms):

  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened

*reprinted from

Do some of these symptoms describe you? It’s important to get help for yourself if your thinking or feelings have become dangerously tangled up with the stress around a Loved One’s addiction problems.  Talking to someone can improve the situation. 

Go to the Supplement, and under Treatment/Resources -> Treatment Resources, we provide the link to Psychology Today’s directory for therapists, along with other directories. It’s a good place to start. 

I know that the situation with your Loved One might feel urgent, pressing, dire. And yet, until you find a semblance of peace and wellbeing, you simply won’t be effective in helping them. As the authors of Beyond Addiction** remind us, “It’s not either/or. You don’t have to choose between your self-preservation and his….When you help yourself, you help your Loved One.”

Are there barriers keeping you from getting help? Tell us what they are in a comment.

** Beyond Addiction – A Guide for Families: How Science and Kindness Help People Change; Jeffrey Foote, Ph.D, Carrie Wilkens, Ph.D, Nicole Kosanke, Ph.D.


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Listening to pod cast #21 and Annie says that maybe the parent should also be in recovery, what specifically does that mean? I am educating myself on SUD and treatment plans and CRAFT and SMART but I am not sure what it means for me to also be in recovery.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Hopefull23,

      On your journey as a family impacted by Substance Use Disorder (SUD), you might hear others refer to their own recovery. Claiming families are also (or should be) in recovery, similar to their Loved One with SUD, has become a controversial topic. I would encourage you to focus on the strategies and skills that CRAFT has to offer, it’s those newly learned and practiced tools that are going to strengthen your response and interaction with your Loved One.

      From your comment, it sounds like you are really digging in and working on understanding and implementing CRAFT. As I see it, the goals of CRAFT are:

      – to help influence and direct your LO into treatment,
      – to create a better relationship with your LO,
      – to improve overall health and wellness for the family, and
      – to reduce use in your LO.

      Focusing your attention on these goals is the most important aspect of aiding your LO through SUD and your own personal healing.

      I hope this has helped. It is wonderful to hear from family members taking positive steps towards improving their personal situations.

  2. Thank you for the reminder that it’s not an either/or. I love the book and how it helped me to understand my son and myself better.

    I recently heard somewhere something to the effect that by practicing self-care, we model for our Loved One what a good life looks like. It struck me that I need to regain my life. I know I’ve been consumed with my son’s addiction and it’s taken a toll on me not only physically and emotionally, but also with my life. I’ve isolated myself from friends and the things I enjoy. I’m focusing on on self-care – one step at a time, but I’ve noticed a huge difference with the small steps I’ve taken so far.