Imagine someone in your family was diagnosed with a life-altering disease. Its reach wouldn’t just impact that one person. In many ways, the entire family would suffer.

Addiction is this type of disease.

How addiction affects the individual

You may have heard other people talk about substance abuse as a disease. Because of addiction’s stigma, this is a relatively new concept. But addiction is a real disease. It’s even defined as such by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Substance abuse is a disease that affects the brain. Different drugs work in different ways, but they all impact the brain’s reward center. Essentially, they rewire the brain to think it needs the drugs for survival. And when addiction is extreme, this may be true.

Addicts experience intense cravings for drugs or alcohol. Their cravings are so intense that it’s difficult for them to control. At first, an addict is acting on impulse. They may even think they have control. But over time, they will need their substance of abuse to stave off physical withdrawal symptoms.

Their need for drugs and/or alcohol becomes so all-consuming that they’ll stop at nothing to get them.

How addiction affects families

Substance abuse will often affect a family even before everyone knows about the problem. When a person falls victim to a substance of abuse, their behavior is the first thing to change. Whether it’s your parent, child or sibling that’s addicted, you’ll notice the change. And you’ll worry.

At first, you may think this person is dealing with depression or mental illness. Addicts tend to exhibit many of the same symptoms, including erratic behavior, social withdrawal and moodiness.

Next, your relationship with this person may begin to suffer.

Addicts are known to lie and manipulate to get their way. This can cause major strain on any relationship. You may begin to feel like you’ve lost this person that you care so deeply about.

And once addiction is out in the open, the family will likely spend every waking moment worrying that their loved one will overdose. Dependence on drugs puts a severe emotional strain on everyone who loves the affected person.

How families survive through substance abuse

Addiction is one of the most difficult things for a family to overcome, but it’s doable. In fact, families who overcome substance abuse together often come out stronger than ever.

But there are a few things to keep in mind:

Everyone must have patience

If you’ve never been through addiction and recovery, there’s no way you can understand the struggle. Your loved one will undoubtedly go through many ups and downs before he or she gets sober. This is not a reflection on you. Be as supportive as you can, but understand that there will be times when you need to step away and regroup. Ultimately, your addicted family member is the only one who can complete treatment.

Education is vital

If someone you love is suffering from addiction, the best and most helpful thing you can do is to learn about substance abuse. This is the only way you can come close to understanding your loved one’s struggle. Continue learning throughout the process. And don’t stop when it comes to researching treatment programs. There are so many available options. Some rely on tried-and-true methods while others utilize new-age therapy techniques. One isn’t inherently better than the other, but there may be on that’s better for your family.

Each family member is responsible for only themselves

Depending on your family dynamic, you may feel responsible for your loved one’s recovery. You aren’t. Understand that you are in a supporting role, and the rest is up to your loved one.

Still, this can be a stressful time, so be sure to take care of yourself. If you need a break, take one. Your family member needs the best version of you to support them through this.

Substance abuse is a very difficult issue for families to overcome, but with support and patience, it is possible.