Caregiving for Substance Use Disorder: How an Employee Caregiving Benefit Can Help

Caregiving for a family member with addiction or substance use issues can be extremely challenging for the person providing support. Feelings of worry, concern, and helplessness can cause depression, loss of focus at work, and many other health issues.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that around 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder, and the research shows, this has a devastating physical, mental, and socio-economic consequences not only for patients, but also for their families.

If you are supporting someone suffering with substance use disorder, you may not immediately recognize yourself as a caregiver. Caregiving for someone with substance use disorder can include:

  • Reassuring the person using substances that it is ok for them to seek professional help
  • Taking the care recipient to medical appointments
  • Collecting medications and prescriptions 
  • Arranging attendance at therapy and support group meetings
  • Managing safety issues for children or other family members
  • Spending time and arranging enjoyable activities with the person suffering from addiction

It’s important for caregivers to recognize caregiving will involve both supporting the person they care for, and additionally feeling some impact from the addiction on themselves and their family. The impact is felt in practical, emotional and financial ways – with the emotional effect for many being the most difficult to manage.

There’s a lot of stigma and secrecy around addiction, so it may be harder to ask for help in these circumstances, but it is essential that help is available for the caregiver, as well as the care recipient.


The Experience of Caregiver Stress of Caring for a Relative With Substance Use Disorder

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Caring for an individual with addiction can create a perpetual cycle of anger, shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems within the family.

A study on substance use disorder, treatment, prevention and policy analyzed the experiences of twenty one caregivers looking after a family member with substance use issues. The authors of the study found four main themes that caused struggles for the caregiver.

  1. Living in dread and despair
    Many caregivers lived with the daily fear that their loved ones would die from overdoses or chronic substance use. While most accepted that their loved one’s death from addiction-related causes was inevitable, they never felt fully prepared for this outcome. 

  2. Grieving the loss
    The loss of the relationship between the family and the relative with a substance use disorder issue was frequently mentioned as a significant consequence of the addiction.The caregiver is often unable to maintain the relationship dynamics needed to support sound healthy co-existence with all members of the family.

  3. Living in perpetual crisis
    Caregivers experienced a state of perpetual crisis caused by use, neglect, and the demand for care that many found overwhelming. Addiction often created a toxic environment, which led to family breakdowns and disintegration. 

    Addiction fueling family crises was something almost every participant in the study had experienced. Supporting the family member suffering from substance use disorder meant that the care they provided became a full-time job, taking responsibility for many aspects of their loved one’s lives. This included providing financial support, meeting health care costs, and assuming the parental role to their grandchildren or grown children. The long-term impact of taking on this caregiving role was impaired health and burn out for the caregiver.

  4. Mitigating the impact of substance use disorder in the family
    Participants expressed a lack of understanding of how exactly addiction issues impact the wider members of a family. Families wanted resources to help them make sense of their experiences and provide options for dealing with the emotional impact of addiction. Caregivers said that they could not find educational resources to help increase their knowledge about addiction, the  impact it has on individuals , and the possible treatment options. 

Family First's Care Experts have decades of experience providing resources and access to clinical services that can help substance use disorder caregivers navigate these four stages and support themselves and the person with addiction issues. 


Looking After Yourself as a Substance Use Disorder Caregiver

Caregivers spend a lot of time focusing on someone else, but looking after their own wellbeing is vitally important.

In the ‘State of Caring 2019′ report, caregivers rated their ‘happiness’ level at 4.7 out of 10, compared to a population average of 7.5 out of 10.

There are many ways to combat the emotional toll caregiving takes on a person, including providing expert-led caregiving support like Family First. For example, many caregivers find talking to friends or in a support group can help to relieve stress and gain insights into healthy coping mechanisms. Others find counseling and talk therapy with trained professionals to be helpful. 

Finding time for physical health, relaxation, and downtime is another essential part of taking care of preventing burnout when caregiving for a loved one with addiction or substance use issues. 

How Family First's Employee Benefit Can Help Substance Use Disorder Caregivers

Understanding factors that shape caregivers' experiences are vital to the development of self-care strategies. Family First can help by enabling caregivers to better care for their loved one with clinical expertise and connections to the best services for their situation. In this way, caregivers can avoid having their caregiving situation effect their family lives, mental health, careers and work-life balance. 

In addition to helping caregivers better support their loved one, Family First help caregivers better look after themselves by providing resources, advice, and mental health support such as connections to support groups, literature, and online platforms.


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