When a family member is struggling with substance use, it can have an enduring effect on the whole family. Unfortunately, these effects are often not addressed by professionals, as they tend to focus on the individual with addiction. This is an important time for the family to come together.
It can be so very difficult to watch your family go through hard times and feel limited in your ability to help. However, grandparents can play an important role. Often the relationship between a child and their grandparent is like none other. Educate yourself. Communicate to your family your concern and interest in helping. Stay close by making frequent contact, whether via email, texts, phone calls or visits, just to check in. This sends the message that you’re there for them. Offer support through what grandparents are best at — unconditional love. Sometimes, young people will talk to a grandparent about things they can’t or won’t talk to a parent about. If your grandchild discloses their substance use, try to listen without judgement. Offer reassurances that you still love them, and know that they are strong enough and wise enough to make better decisions moving forward.
Be supportive — if they are using substances, it would be helpful to understand why. Make it clear that you’re there for them, and are willing to help them with any problems they’re having. If your grandchild confirms their substance use to you, you will have to tell their parents. Explain this to your grandchild and offer to talk to their parents together. Sadly, individuals with addiction will sometimes, out of desperation, turn to family members to continue using substances. To protect yourself and your loved ones, make sure you are keeping your medications inaccessible. Medications should be kept in a locked medicine cabinet or lockbox, and counted periodically to make sure that none has been taken. Medicine prescribed for a particular illness or injury should not be kept for later use.
Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open and talk freely and often to other family members — especially the parents — to make sure you are all on the same page, and are addressing this disease as a family. This will also help you to understand how the parents see your role in the situation. Respect the wishes of the parents in terms of the level of your involvement. It is not helpful to get involved beyond the level where they are comfortable. You can offer your support just by being a non-judgmental, listening ear.