When a loved one uses

vtdainfo. 2010. Family tree.

There is a lot of judgement and shame connected to substance abuse. Substance abuse and addiction affects not only the users themselves but their loved one’s as well. It’s hard to admit or talk about addiction, whether in a past or present sense. It’s equally hard to talk about the problems of substance abuse of a loved one.

Parents often get blamed for the misbehaviour of their children, even if their children are already grown up. Spouses can see their significant others as an extension of themselves and carry the burden of their behaviour. Children try to protect their parents and reflect their parent’s behaviour in something they should or shouldn’t be. These are all human ways to react in order to keep up with cultural norms. And our society and culture support these ways of thinking by passing judgement on substance abusers and their loved ones.

“I must have been the happiest child in the world, until my father died tragically when I was 10 years old. My mother smothered her pain in liquor after the funeral and reminded us drunk, how we children didn’t understand, that her husband is dead. She doesn’t have anything anymore. I myself thought then, that we are somehow responsible for everything, so we tried to make up by cooking and cleaning” (Uhri.2011).

The discussion around substance abuse should be more overt and supporting, within the family as well as in the society. When a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s important to talk about the feelings and effects of substance abuse, such as fear and worry, without passing blame or threats. Substance abuse is not a private matter, since it affects the people close to the user (Läheisen huoneentaulu. N.D).

“-The drug use of one person affects on average six of his/her family members. Therefore, in a city of the size of Tampere, we’re talking about 3000-4000 people, says social therapist Sinikka Sjögren” (Tuominen S. 2015).

The shame related to the substance abuse of a loved one causes stress and anxiety. Even though it’s not a private matter, it is a personal choice and responsibility, that shouldn’t be carried by others. It’s also important to let go of feelings of guilt, since the motivation to stop always derives from within and can only be supported by outsiders. No-one can become sober on behalf of another (Läheisen huoneentaulu. N.D).

When we worry about the wellbeing of our loved ones, we often forget the wellbeing of ourselves. Pursuing happiness and enjoying life might seem difficult, when a loved one is struggling with his/hers. However, we are all equally important and have our own lives to live. Taking care of ourselves is also the best way to stay supportive for our loved ones.

“-Many family members live with the issue all on their own. Because of shame, the matter might not be discussed even with friends or relatives, let alone at the workplace. All energy goes into worrying and into helping the loved one suffering from substance abuse, whereupon resources run dry, says Ron Furman, executive director for Tukikohta ry” (EEST.2019).

Often substance abuse starts to dictate the relationship between the user and his/her loved ones. The feelings of hurt and love contradict each other. Although, it’s important to establish boundaries, recognize and accept the feelings of hurt and disappointment, it’s also important to acknowledge and cherish the love and affection we have for the person struggling with these problems. We can and are allowed to love and appreciate a person, without enabling or condoning their behaviour.


EEST. 2019. Päihdeongelmasta kärsivän läheiset tarvitsevat tukea: häpeä kuluttaa läheisten voimia. Accessed 5.11.2019. https://www.sttinfo.fi/tiedote/paihdeongelmasta-karsivan-laheiset-tarvitsevat-tukea-hapea-kuluttaa-laheisten-voimia?publisherId=65867755&releaseId=69857451

Läheisen huoneentaulu. No date. Päihdelinkki.fi. Accessed 5.11.2019. https://paihdelinkki.fi/fi/oma-apu/laheiset/laheisen-huoneentaulu

Tuominen S. 2015. “Huumemaailmasta valuu myös perheeseen pahaa” – läheinen kaipaa tukea. Accessed 5.11.2019. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-7766897

Uhri. 2011. Äitini-alkoholisti. Accessed 5.11.2019. https://paihdelinkki.fi/fi/tarinat/lue-tarinoita/alkoholi/aitini-alkoholisti

Vtdainfo. 2010. Family tree. Accessed 5.11.2019. https://www.flickr.com/photos/vtda/4300716354/

Suurin osa Showcasen blogeista on toteutettu osana Laurean opintojaksoja. Koko koulutustarjontaamme voi tutustua nettisivuillamme. Tarjoamme kymmenien tutkintoon johtavien koulutuksien lisäksi myös paljon täydennys- ja erikoistumiskoulutuksia sekä yksittäisiä opintojaksoja avoimen AMK:n kautta!

8 ajatusta aiheesta “When a loved one uses”

  1. Great post on an important matter! Loved especially the quotes from people in these situations. When a loved one is struggling with these issues, it’s hard to know if what you’re doing is right or wrong. When you love someone you want to do everything you can to help, but then you worry if your actions are in some way enabling the use. It’s an impossible situation for everyone in it and I think there should be more discussion about all the help there is also for the loved ones. Everyone reacts differently whether it’s anger or the huge feeling of responsibility and all in between. All reactions are as important and there should be somewhere to voice them out to. Within the family you might not be properly able to. Thank you for choosing this subject!

  2. Thank you for choosing this topic! Unfortunately, this topic is familiar to me. For substance abusers close one, maybe the most difficult situation is when one can’t see the problem itself. I think, there should be more low-threshold and expert for experience services for adult substance abusers. Also for the abuser’s close ones, should be more peer support groups and services.

  3. Thank you, Cecilia, for this. I liked the facts as well as the personal side you brought to this blog. It’s not an easy thing to talk about but it should be. The shame, blame and the hurt should stop already. The best way to stop it is to be able to talk about these things. It is sad how common substance abuse problems are. The ones helping are usually left alone with no one to turn to and get sick themselves. This shouldn’t happen. The whole family should be helped as a whole, not just the person dealing with the substance abuse problem. This society has stayed quiet for too long. It’s time to raise our voices and deal with this in a more accepting and loving way.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I’d say most of us are affected in some way of the problems of substance abuse. Either as a problem of our own or someone we know. Yet the tabu around it as an individual problem stands strong. I guess it’s easyer to pass judgement than compassion. As you, I also hope a turn in attitudes towards understanding and support.

  4. Thanks for your post Cecilia. It was a really interesting and touching topic. A substance abuse is not only affecting to the user, it affects the family, surroundings, everything basically. We should have more help available for the close one´s of a substance users. I have seen how for example a child´s substance abuse affects to a parent by causing mental health issues.

    2018 I participated to a small course called: Päihdeongelmat, tunnistaminen ja puheeksiotto, organized by Ehyt ry ( Ehkäisevä päihdetyö). It was meant for voluntary workers and the close one´s of substance abusers. There was a person who was a substance abuser before and he was telling his story and it was really touching. Also there participated some parents and spouses who had a close one´s with a problem.

    Then we had some conversation and ideas how to talk about the problem in a family. It lasted for six hours and it was really interesting. I learned so much from it. Though the course was in Kajaani, if there is anything like that available in Helsinki area, I recommend going, not only to learn from it but also already to practice some ways to support the close one´s of a substance abuser.

    – Hene

    1. Thank you for the comment and for a very good tip! Sounds like a very beneficial, easy access and low treshold course, that could be useful for both previous users, loved ones and e.g. social service students. I hope I will come across something similar at some point, I would like to attend.