Loved Ones of Substance Abusers

Many of us have heard the following phrase often, but haven’t given its meaning much thought – “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then help those around you.”  In essence, this phrase is saying that if you pass out due to lack of oxygen, how are you going to be able to help anyone else around you? But, what does this common airplane safety phrase have to do with being the loved one of someone struggling with addiction or substance abuse?

It may seem illogical or even selfish, but finding a way to help your family often starts with getting help for yourself.  Even more difficult to understand is that this is important, regardless of whether or not your loved one seeks treatment or professional help themselves.  Again, how can you be a support for others if you have run yourself into the ground?

One of the biggest obstacles facing recovering addicts is maintaining the desire to change. For family members and loved ones, this means going through the constant ups and downs of recovery and relapse.  Unfortunately, this cycle can go on for years and years, which can be extremely exhausting for loved ones.  I work to support those individuals through all of the ups and downs that go along with being a friend or family member of a drug addict or alcoholic.

Similar to addiction, codependent relationships follow a devastating  pattern. Codependency manifests when an individual is unable to put themselves first; when others’ needs affect you so strongly that you become preoccupied (and some may say, obsessed) with controlling the other person’s behavior.  These behaviors lead to poor self-esteem, shame, depression, and anxiety. Over time, the effects of codependency can take over your life, similar to addiction.

Much like Alcoholics Anonymous, Codependency Anonymous is a program of recovery where participants share their experience, strength, and hope to find harmony where there has been unrest in your relationships with yourself and with others. Codependents Anonymous ( identifies some of the following patterns and characteristics as an aid in self-evaluation and recognition of codependency.

Codependents often:

  • have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
  • minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
  • perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
  • lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
  • think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
  • mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
  • have difficulty making decisions.
  • judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough.
  • do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons.
  • seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than.
  • have difficulty admitting a mistake.
  • are unable to identify or ask for what they need and want.
  • are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
  • put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
  • are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
  • suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
  • pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.

If you’re struggling with the ups and downs of your loved one’s addiction, or if you’re struggling with issues of codependency, give me a call so that we can make a plan to get you back to putting yourself first. You deserve to get your life back, and you shouldn’t have to do it alone.