When family members or loved ones abuse drugs, it affects everyone around them. Their addiction can have tumultuous emotional, psychological, financial, and environmental effects on the family and friends who care about them the most. Here are some things to keep in mind, as well as some suggestions, on how to support friends or family members who are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse.

Understanding that drug and alcohol addiction is a disease

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that addiction is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behaviour, leading to an inability to control the drug or medication use— whether legal or illegal. Drug misuse is not fully due to a lack of willpower, or an underlying mental health issue like depression and anxiety. An addicted person needs to be supported as a person with an illness, and not amoral or emotionally crippled. 

Coping with a drug-addicted family member or loved one

1. Remove shame and guilt, break social stigmas: Family support can help to reveal factors that are preventing the addicted person from seeking help. Often, this can include feelings of shame, secrecy and isolation, all of which keep them quiet, restrict their self-worth, encourage them to lie and hinder relationships. Help your loved ones release feelings of shame by insisting that they “let go” and “be kind”.

2. Opposite of addiction is belonging: Help the loved one talk about their struggles. Make a family group chat with constant messages of support, schedule regular family meals, get together with friends and, most importantly, show confidence in their abilities towards de-addiction. Addicts who are socially connected in community find it easy to recover than addicts who are recluse, research says. Both digital and physical social support is effective. Patients who report having united and supportive families also had little mental, psychological, and substance abuse issues after commencing their treatment. This is crucial in keeping up the motivation for the treatment.

3. Support them to go for screening and early intervention: Screening is a process that aims to identify the presence or severity of a condition using tests and other procedures (World Health Organization). A health care professional in a clinical setting can do this.

4. Support them in their abstinence process: Understand their reasons for drug misuse and support them during their phase of giving. Read through some potential reasons below.

Potential reasons behind addiction:

1. Recreation: People use substances to have fun and often do not realize that their use is problematic, as many of their friends may use substances in the same way.

2. Peer pressure: Substance use can occur in response to the influence of an individual’s peer group. This may be against the person’s natural inclinations, and they may feel pressured to participate despite not wanting to.

3. Loneliness or boredom: The social control hypothesis suggests that the absence of caring friends or family may lead people to neglect themselves and engage in unhealthy behaviours. The feeling of isolation is a major source of unhappiness; people who either isolate themselves or who feel isolated from their family and friends, often use substances to escape from reality.

4. Self-medication: Many addicts report that they use substances to manage underlying problems such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, or other emotional problems. In these cases, people may believe that solving their underlying problem will solve their substance use problem. However, data indicates that even when the underlying psychiatric disorder has been resolved, if the person has developed an addiction, it will not usually resolve.

5. Show patience with relapse: Relapse can happen and it’s okay. The patient should be encouraged to try again. Fully knowledgeable families, peer groups, and communities, as well as spiritual, emotional, and social support organisations can prove to be good support systems against relapse.

6. Seek help for them and attend sessions with them: Give them concrete assistance by looking for psychological counselling help, buying them recovery books, browsing through useful websites with them, and finding community resources for them. If needed, be available for a family session with them as well: this can be highly useful in a situation like this.

How and where can we find help in Hong Kong?

  1. Psychology and counselling: Look for a therapist trained in knowledge about addiction services and well versed with evidential based interventions.
  2. Self-care: Start talking to a trusted friend or family member. This is a crucial starting point for seeking your support.
  3. Community resources: Here are some of the most effective and wide-reaching help points in Hong Kong:
  4. Alcohol Anonymous Hongkong offers a twelve-step program to help individuals overcome their addictions. Their detailed contact with their telephone number can be found at http://www.aa-hk.org/
  5. Hong Kong Government offers valuable information and services at the following two websites: https://www.gov.hk/en/residents/health/addictions/ and https://www.ha.org.hk/hadf/en-us/Drug-Education-Resources.html
  6. Hong Kong Government Narcotic Division offers help at https://www.nd.gov.hk
  7. Saint John’s Counselling Service is based on Queen’s Road in Central Hong Kong, and they offer reasonably priced help and advice to drug users.
  8. Drug and Alcohol Rehab Asia is based in Thailand and is one of the most respected treatment facilities in Asia. It has outpatient as well as residential facilities and can be contacted for more information in Hongkong at https://www.thecabinhongkong.com.hk
  9. Cocaine Anonymous is another 12 Step program. This group has regular meetings on Borrett Road.

 

If you or someone you know would benefit from professional mental health support related to addictions, please reach out to book an appointment with Ms. Ritu Verma here. Ms Ritu Verma is a registered clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience, specialising in addictions, children and adolescents.