Living with an Addictive Disorder

Reading time: 8 min

Addictions are a chronic disease with possible relapse. In other words, while the patient is not taking the drug, they can live a normal life, probably with habit changes that promote a healthy environment and they will have to pay particular attention to certain high-risk situations.

Practical tips for daily life that are fundamental for preventing relapse include:

Cannabis, pills and syringe crossed out

Abstinence. This is probably the “best medicine” since, when achieved, it substantially improves the person’s quality of life in various areas: work-related, personal, family, and social life.

Correct blue and green pharmaceuticals

Taking the medical treatment correctly. When a patient takes the wrong medication or stops taking it on their own initiative, there is the risk of feeling unwell or having a relapse. Despite this, if the patient is not taking the medication correctly or has doubts about whether they have to take a drug, the best thing to do is to be honest with their doctor and tell them, because it is the best way to find a safe solution and avoid any confusion or the unwanted effects of some drugs.

Person standing next to a sign saying "bar"

Avoiding high-risk situations. Situations, people, and places that are associated with the use of the drug are dangerous in view of possible relapses. For this reason, the patient must be attentive, observant, and protect themselves against these situations, or prepare responses to address them if they cannot be avoided. Examples would be going to a bar for an alcohol drinker, or having a party with friends who take cocaine.

Person sleeping in bed

Sleep enough hours. Rest is very important to well-being and having enough energy to maintain healthy habits. Each person, depending on their age and personal situation, has different sleep and rest requirements. Proper sleep hygiene is essential for a good quality of life. For example, maintain bedtime and wake-up routines.

Food pyramid

Eat a balanced diet. Taking care of the eating habits is especially important in these patients, as they often have unhealthy habits.

Person looking in the mirror

Self-observation. Correct self-observation is the best way to prevent relapses. Pay attention to whether you are more irritable, tired, or anxious, and in which situations you give yourself clues as to whether you are at risk of relapse. Self-knowledge is therefore indispensable in protecting and taking care of yourself. And observing people nearby is also important to help prevention.

Cannabis, pills and syringe crossed out

Do not take other toxic substances. Using other toxic substances, even if you have never used or abused them in the past, is a risk factor for relapse. It has been shown that using, even once, increases the chances of relapsing into addiction, as it activates the footprint that the substance has created in the brain and may reawaken the desire to use.

Strikethrough coffee

Be careful with coffee, tea and caffeinated drinks. The effects of coffee on sleep (insomnia) last for approximately eight hours. It is therefore recommended that you stop drinking coffee no later than 4pm. And in no case should you drink more than 3 or 4 cups of coffee (or doses of caffeine) per day. Watch out for the caffeine in things like colas and energy drinks.

Woman seated in Yoga position

Get away from the stress. Try to reserve time for yourself every day and do activities you enjoy, always in a relaxed way. Do an activity that helps reduce your tension (moderate physical exercise, reading, painting), and try to put problems into perspective.

Emotional support between two women

Listen to people you trust. Find a family member or friend who can act as a point of reference. Normally, people who live with those suffering addiction can detect a high-risk situation more clearly. If this person makes warning comments, it is important to pay attention to these, even though you yourself may not be aware of the issue, and ask for professional help in case of doubt.

Person with a positive tic that represents acceptance of the disease

Accept your illness and try to learn to live with it. Denying the disease only makes it worse. You should remember that a person who has had an addiction can always have a relapse, and accepting this risk is the best way to prevent it.

Addictions and work

The fluctuations and relapses related to the disorder may raise questions about how you should deal with this situation in the work environment. It should be clear that health comes first, so take into account stress and work schedules (avoid night shifts). Apart from these considerations, the disorder does not limit work during periods of stability.

On the other hand, there is always the question of whether this information should be shared with superiors or colleagues. Health-related information is a personal matter, so everyone can decide what they want to say and what they do not want to say about it and, in no case, is there any obligation to explain that someone has a certain illness.

Addictions and family

The family plays a fundamental role in all aspects of life, particularly mental health. It is, therefore, a good idea for your close family to be aware of the situation and understand about the disorder. It is also very important that they learn how to detect the onset of a relapse and how to act if one occurs.

Here are some practical tips for placing barriers between the patient and substance use:

Alcohol and tobacco in a house

Keep toxic substances, and objects related to their consumption, out of reach in the home. This can be more complicated with legalised drugs than with illegal ones. For example, for a person with an alcohol addiction, having wine or beer in the fridge at home or a cupboard with spirits in it does not make abstinence easier. Or for a smoker, having lighters and ashtrays in sight does not help their treatment.

Two people talking and one talking louder

The family should try to avoid conversations and discussions when the patient is intoxicated, given that the state in which they find themselves makes it difficult to assess reality objectively, and this will only increase the discomfort of both the patient and their family. It is advisable to postpone any conversations and important decisions for moments of greater stability.

Ambulance with siren or light on

If a situation arises that may pose a risk to the patient or others, call the emergency services before attempting any other course of action.

Emotional support between two women

Listen to the patient, ask how they are doing, even if the answer seems obvious or you feel that they do not want to talk. Sometimes, it is only necessary to find the right moment to create a warm atmosphere so that the person can open up and express themselves if something is not right. It is always better to ask positively and openly: How are you? How is it going? Instead, asking about the substance use tends to generate mistrust and tension. Have you been drinking? Do you want to use? You haven’t been smoking again? These are examples of questions that cause tension and alienate the sufferer.

Person touching another person's back, emotional support

Dialogue. Remember that a person with an addiction has a disorder and does not act out of a desire to cause harm, but because they are an addict. This can help the family member stop feeling guilty and responsible, and reduce their anger or frustration if they are frequently affected by and involved in the patient's problem. This view also facilitates communication with a family member who has an addiction, by helping them understand in some way what is happening, and allowing them to provide support in a healthier way for the whole family.

Family with a positive tic representing acceptance of a family member's illness by the family

Acceptance. An addiction sufferer is a chronic patient who needs long-term medical and psychological treatment and, often, lifelong monitoring. It is normal for the family, particularly if they share a house, to be greatly affected by the disorder. Encouraging the patient to continue their abstinence, being as supportive as possible, and taking care of oneself can help generate a better family environment. Accepting everything that the disorder entails can help you live with it more easily and foresee possible obstacles to remedy it as soon as possible.

Addictions cause rifts between family members. Being able to tackle the problem together as a team facilitates recovery and helps improve the family dynamics more quickly.

Substantiated information by:

Antoni Gual Solé
Clara Oliveras Salvà
Hugo López Pelayo
Magalí Andreu
Mireia Graell Gabriel
Pablo Barrio Giménez
Silvia Mondón

Published: 16 September 2019
Updated: 16 September 2019

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.


Receive the latest updates related to this content.

Thank you for subscribing!

If this is the first time you subscribe you will receive a confirmation email, check your inbox

An error occurred and we were unable to send your data, please try again later.