By Naami Resnick, M.S., JCS Family Navigator
You grew up, went to college, found a job, met your partner, fell in love, and settled down. Maybe you bought a house or moved around a little and had long conversations with your significant other about your hopes and dreams for the future including the family you hoped to build. Your children would be healthy, strong, athletic, and talented. Not once did you envision having to talk to your child after a police officer brought them home in handcuffs and you had to bail them out of jail. The daydreams didn’t include supporting your crying spouse, after telling them that your child is in the hospital once again.
People picture many scenarios when they plan their futures. We have a lot of hopes for our children, and it can be hard when all does not go according to plan. When addiction enters the picture, it alters the parameters drastically. Many parents must handle scary changes, often in a brief period of time. Sometimes it can feel like the child you knew has disappeared overnight, and left a quiet, distant stranger in their place. They no longer care about the things that used to interest them and you may wonder where your child has gone. You used to be able to talk to them, and now they brush by you and close the door.
Addiction isolates the people who are suffering from addiction and their loved ones. It can make families who were close and loving feel like strangers, each alone in their shame, guilt and pain. You may be embarrassed to confide in your best friend or worried about burdening your spouse by sharing how hard this is for you.
It is important to understand that you and your family are not to blame for what is occurring. As a society, we must readjust our view of addiction, and release the stigma that accompanies it. Just like we support our friends when a loved one has cancer or some other chronic disease, we need to show up for them when the illness is addiction. There are support groups, therapists, and programs, but the change needs to start with us.
- Open up lines of communication within your family. Beginning the conversation breaks down walls so everyone understands they are not alone. When family members – spouses, children, siblings – know they can talk to each other, it enhances their sense of belonging and helps strengthens bonds as you face the ups and downs.
- Confide in your support system. Remember, the people who care about you want to be there during hard times. Consider reaching out to one or two of your closest friends who you trust or talk to your rabbi or pastor.
- Talk to a professional therapist. Taking care of your mental health during this time is crucial. To be there for your family, you must be there for yourself first. A therapist can offer an objective perspective, a safe, confidential place to process your feelings, and help you develop essential tools and strategies to manage the impact your loved one’s addiction and behavior has on your life and your relationships.
- Connect to resources. Seek out Nar-Anon or other family support groups, community workshops, treatment programs, and other support services – both in-person and online. Your local health department or a human service agency, like Jewish Community Services (JCS), can help you find what is available in your community. The Family Navigator program at JCS is designed specifically to help families of individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction get the information, support, and resources they need.
Naami Resnick M.S. is a Family Navigator at Jewish Community Services.
To learn more about the Family Navigator program, contact Naami at 410-843-7460 or
JCS provides individuals and families throughout Central Maryland with a broad array of services and resources to help you live your best life. To learn more, please visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.