Confronting Substance Abuse in Your Family


What do you do when you suspect — or you know — that a family member has a substance abuse issue?
Confronting Substance Abuse


BanyanGlobal’s editorial director, Karen Dillon, sat down with Arden O’Connor, CEO and Founder of the O’Connor Professional Group to talk about behavioral health issues in family businesses, with a focus on substance use issues. O’Connor shares her expertise –and personal experience –on dealing with substance abuse issues, with advice on a variety of situations that are common, but often looked over, in family business families.

Confronting Substance Abuse in Your Family (Audio Only)

by Arden O'Connor

Key Takeaways:

  • There is some data to suggest high net worth families and family enterprises might actually have higher rates of substance abuse.
  • What’s “normal”? Five to seven drinks a week for both men and women is now the recommended upper limit. An average of one a day.
  • It’s not unusual for families to assume there is no problem if the individual doesn’t have any major life consequences due to alcohol or substance abuse and the business is successful. As a result, families can often turn a blind eye to brewing problems. But shielding a family member from consequences of his or her substance use can make things worse.
  • If you have concerns about a loved one, the best advice is to say something early, either personally or through another trusted loved one. But only when they are sober. If the person feels judged, they might not be able to hear what you are saying. Wait for the right moment. But don’t wait too long.
  • There’s no one right way to address it, but a good first approach might be to say “I’m coming to you out of care and concern. I’ve noticed you’re missing work. You were unkind at dinner yesterday. The interactions with our daughter are not like you.” Or whatever the situation might be. The key is to be specific, don’t speak in sweeping generalizations. Then ask if they would be open to finding them help.
  • What’s not healthy is to ignore a problem, or worse, cover it up for someone. Having the courage to speak to a loved one is an important first step. But do so with compassion and the understanding that they may not respond well at first.
  • When should you worry that a loved one has a serious issue? You may start to see changes in mood, changes in appearance, changes in activities or if your loved one is having trouble sleeping or eating. These are all signs that your loved one might need professional help. That doesn’t necessarily mean full-scale intervention, but it could mean some type of assessment evaluation or therapeutic meeting as a starting point.
  • Substance abuse can affect everyone in the family, not just the one with the problem. The person with the problem can suck all the oxygen out of the family room, causing emotional turmoil for everyone. Recognize that different family members may need to play different roles – or no role – in helping a loved one with a problem. In the best-case scenario, all family members should have access to some type of therapist or coach outside of the family system to help them work through their individual feelings about what’s happening inside the family.
  • No one is beyond help. But the longer a problem is covered up, the more difficult it can be to solve.

Time Stamps:

[1:41] Is substance abuse more prominent in family businesses than the general population?

[4:53] Substance use vs. substance abuse: What’s normal?

[6:39] How different cultures and different generations can see the issue of substance abuse

[9:57] Potential warning signs and symptoms of substance use or abuse

[13:45] How should you approach a family member who might be in trouble?

[16:08] Younger generations aren’t the only ones dealing with substance abuse. Problematic substance use can be seen in the senior generation too. How can you handle that?

[24:26] Dealing with the stigma around talking publicly about mental heath

[26:08] Lessons from real life: Arden shares her own experience with substance abuse in her family

[30:43] Rules of thumb for dealing with a family member who has a problem

[36:14] Cause for hope: The path is not always linear, but change is achievable

[38:16] How does the one family member’s substance abuse effect the other members of the family?


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