Recent research, released last week by the Allen Carr Addiction Clinics, highlighted the growing trend of empty nesters exhibiting varying levels of addictive behavior when their last child leaves the family home. Indeed, 40% of middle-aged parents admit they increased their smoking, drinking or gambling in the year after their last child left home.
John Dicey, Worldwide Managing Director & Senior Therapist at Allen Carr comments "There's a wonderful sense of freedom when parents realise they have more time and sometimes money for themselves. Having said that - it's often combined with a natural sense of sadness and loss. It's great for parents to let their hair down and celebrate their new-found freedom and the findings in the study merely act as a wake-up call for some who may find themselves sliding towards addiction."
The study unveiled some worrying trends indicating levels of addictive behavior amongst a significant number of those parents surveyed. For example, 68% of people admitted they somewhat concealed how much money they spend on their vices, whist 13% admitted lying to a family member about their habits! Some even went as far as secretly mixing alcohol into soft drinks at home and borrowing money to behind their loved ones back to secretly pay off gambling debts!
Here, John Dicey outlines some tips advising people what to do if they are worried about a family member, or indeed if they think they are starting to struggle with an addiction.
5 Top Tips to establish if you are beginning to struggle with an addiction
DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM?
Take stock - is this normal behavior? - If you are concerned you may be
developing an addiction, ask yourself if your approach to the substance or behavior is normal. A drink with colleagues after work every now and then might be perfectly normal, whereas sneaking vodka into a can of coke while watching TV with your wife probably isn't. Most smokers are quite aware that they are addicted but the more subtle aspects of addiction can be involved with issues such as gambling, spending, and alcohol. Do you borrow money to gamble? Do you conceal the amount you gamble or the frequency with which you do it from your loved ones. If you identify frequent measures you take to conceal your behavior from colleagues, or loved ones, or friends then you are certainly exhibiting addictive behavior. It's a clear sign that you have a problem. Talk to a friend about it if you can and consider whether you need to find specific help or support.
Don't deceive those close to you - Do you lie to your family about
your smoking, gambling, drinking, or spending? Is that pretty much the only thing you lie to them about? If you feel the need to deceive loved ones it's a clear sign that deep down you know you have a problem. The lies within families have the potential to get bigger and are the first step in all of the emotional and financial problems that addiction can cause. Recognising you are doing this at an early stage is key to avoiding issues with addiction. With gambling for example you might be able to pull back from the brink and delete the bookmakers app or stop visiting the casino website. If you struggle to do so, try to confide in a friend and seek specific help and support.
Live within your means - having to borrow or steal money to feed an
addiction is a clear indicator of addictive behavior. It might seem obvious if it's gambling debts that you're funding - but "junk spending" on shopping sprees can be just as troubling but for some reasons less obvious. We're not talking about an occasional fib about how much a dress cost - we're talking about persistent, frequent deceit. It can be hugely embarrassing to admit extreme, out-of-character behavior such as stealing - so if you feel you can't talk to a friend, do talk to someone. The Samaritans service is incredible and confiding in someone, even a kind stranger on the telephone is the first step in getting back to your old self.
Tell someone - the common thread across all our advice is to talk. It can be such a lonely place to discover that you are beginning to struggle. Often your family will have worried about you for some time before you yourself realized you had a problem. They may or may not have asked you questions before, but confiding in someone close to you about your concerns will allow you to move forward with some much needed support. Generally - as soon as you start looking for support you'll find it.
Remember that addiction is essentially 'a fear' - most people who have beaten an addiction recall being petrified of how they would cope with 'life without' their particular drug or behaviour. Addicts view the downside of becoming free as being an anticipated sense of desolation and loss. It often never occurs to them that desolation and loss is exactly what they will experience if they carry on with their behavior - not if they stop. Once an addict gets their head around the fact that they've been conned into thinking that consuming a particular drug or engaging in a particular behavior gives them some kind of benefit - whereas the truth is the complete reverse - they manage to change and become free with absolute ease. There ceases to be a downside.
5 Top Tips if you are worried about a family member.
DO THEY HAVE A PROBLEM?
Suggest other activities not related to their vice - Addicts, and
particularly empty-nesters, often develop problems when they have an abundance of time with nothing to do. If you are worried about a family member's smoking/drinking/gambling etc., suggest spending time in environments where they will struggle to indulge in the activity. Their reaction, level of resistance and the reasons for their reluctance will help you deduce quite how much of a hold the issue has over them. Smoking is easy to identify. Real alcohol problems similarly so. But gambling and junk spending can be more difficult to identify, If you have a fear that they are addicted to something - a drug or a particular behavior then try to talk about it to them. Don't be surprised if there is initially huge resistance to the idea. Understand that this is based entirely on fear. Fear of what the drug or behavior is doing to them, fear of getting caught, and fear of what life will be without the drug or behavior. Of course both these fears are caused by the drug or behavior. They cause the problems, they don't relieve them.
Avoid lecturing - whilst it might be with the best of intentions, avoid
lecturing your family member about their behaviour. If someone in the family is drinking at a worrying level or smoking at all, they are likely aware of the money they are spending and the potential damage to their health. Lecturing people for these reasons is only likely to drive secretive behaviour and does nothing to understand the motivation for their ongoing indulgence. Be kind. Understand how fear is involved in their behavior. Don't push it but offer to help and to find help.
Try to empathise and inspire - an empty nester displaying addictive
behavior might be doing so because of loneliness (they feel they've lost their child) or simply because they've become demob happy and have begun to burn the candle at both ends. Sometimes a kind word and a suggestion of doing something different can make all the different. The chances are that the empty nester hasn't been to a football match, or the theatre, or the cinema, or played a round of golf, or spent an afternoon browsing in a bookshop for years - even though those activities used to be their favourites. Rekindle a lost passion or hobby or find a new one. Having an empty nest and independent children is a reason to be happy and to celebrate rather than something to fear.
Realise you can't do it alone - Whilst at Allen Carr we would always suggest
not lecturing, you do need your family member to be willing to change. You can be as supportive as possible, but the person has to want to change. Lecturing is only likely to push them away, but just try to be prepared for the moment when the person relinquishes and asks for help. Be there for them and help them find support.
Reinforce the positives - Addiction leads people to prioritise their addictive
behaviour or drug above anything else. If you are worried about a family member, simply reinforcing all the non-drug related aspects of their life can be enough to bring about a realization in the person. Whilst there will always be time where outside help is the only answer, reinforcing life's positives can often allow people to take stock, see the bigger picture and put the brakes on their addictive behaviour.