“The point is not to focus on the addiction, but to focus on yourself to make sure you become the person you deserve to be.”
~Therese Small, How to Love an Addict
There are few things in life as difficult or as heart-wrenching as loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. When you love a substance abuser, you are bombarded constantly with negative emotions – fear, anger, shame, guilt, and resentment.
In a very real way, THEIR disease of addiction makes YOU just as sick, and makes YOUR life just as unmanageable.
Here are some coping strategies to help you as you deal with this cunning and baffling illness:
Understand That Addiction Is a Disease
Although you may not realize it at first, drug addiction and alcoholism have something in common with diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and asthma. They are all chronic diseases. All chronic diseases:
- Have both genetic and environmental causal factors
- Are not the result of moral failing or weakness
- Are incurable and lifelong
- Can be effectively managed with proper treatment, medication, and lifestyle changes
A person who abuses alcohol, is addicted to illicit drugs, or the misuse prescription medications does so because of chemical changes within their brain’s pleasure system. By the time their use worsens into dependency, then abuse, then addiction, they have lost the ability to control their cravings and behavior.
Educate Yourself about That Disease
When you come to the realization that addiction is a disease, educating yourself only makes sense. After all, if your family member had a new diagnosis of diabetes, you would probably learn as much as you can about the disease so you can help them in any way possible.
It’s the same with addiction.
When you read recovery literature and try to keep up with the latest scientific research about addiction, you inevitably reduce the unnecessary stress that you placed on yourself. You come to understand that you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it – none of those are your responsibility for within your power.
Join a Support Group for Family Members of Addicts/Alcoholics
12-Step fellowship groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Alateen, and Celebrate Recovery help friends and family members of addicts gain a deeper understanding of addiction. When you hear others sharing their personal experiences that are different, yet somehow just like yours, you will come to realize that you aren’t alone in your struggle. With that realization comes strength and inspiration that you can draw on when you are in need.
Stop Enabling Their Behavior
Do you engage in any of these behaviors –
- Making excuses for the substance abuser’s behaviors?
- Covering up for them at work, school, or family functions?
- Supporting them financially, freeing them up to drink/use?
- Lying or keeping silent to others about what’s going on?
- Losing sleep or your appetite because you’re worried about what they’re doing?
However well-intentioned, these behaviors end up causing even more chaos. With no boundaries or consequences, the addict/alcoholic is free to continue to drink and use as much as they want, because you will always be there to clean up after them.
Detach with Love
This is the OPPOSITE of enabling. Instead of protecting the substance abuser from the natural consequences of their addicted actions – arrests, jail, financial difficulties, unemployment, etc. – you make them experience the true negatives of addiction.
When you “detach with love”, you accomplish two things:
- FIRST, you’re able to focus on yourself and your family, instead of the substance abuser. You step back from the daily insanity of an addicted lifestyle.
- SECOND, you change the dynamic of your relationship with the substance abuser. Without your protection and support, they may hit the “rock bottom” that motivates them to seek help.
Intervene in Your Addicted Loved One’s Life
Left unchecked, addiction is a progressive disease that always proves fatal. If you truly want to help your suffering loved one, one of the best tools at your disposal is a properly-staged family intervention.
This is a loving confrontation between the addict/alcoholic and their closest family members and friends. Each person assembled clearly informed the substance abuser of how their lives have been negatively impacted by the addiction, and more specifically, by the substance abuser’s actions.
Each person sets their own personal boundaries and consequences that will occur if the addict/alcoholic is not into a treatment program. For each person this will be different:
- An end to financial support
- Kicking them out of the home
- Divorce/Loss of child visitation
- No longer welcome at family gatherings
None of these are meant to be vindictive or mean-spirited. Rather, they are meant to compel the person to admit they have a problem and to accept professional rehab.
Because an intervention has the potential to be emotionally-volatile, it may be best to engage the services of a professional interventionist, who can moderate and keep the process flowing smoothly.
Seek Professional Help for Yourself and Your Family
12-Step support groups are wonderful for helping you escape the isolation and loneliness caused by another’s substance. But they are no substitute for professional therapists who can help you do you with the real issues and psychological conditions that can result from living in a chaotic addicted household.
- Dysfunctional communication
- Domestic violence
- Generational addiction
Stop Making Addiction the Center of Your Universe
For too long, addiction has ruled and disrupted other areas of your life. Now, it is time to focus on maintaining normal family activities – soccer games, family dinners, birthdays, etc. This is true whether your addicted loved one is in treatment or not.
This includes taking care of YOURSELF. If you have been focusing on the substance abuser and putting their needs first, you have probably suffered:
- Increased stress and anxiety
- Unhealthy weight loss or gain
- Depression and social isolation
- Loss of appetite or emotional eating
- Problems at work
- Financial difficulties
All that needs to come to an end. When you care for yourself FIRST – emotionally and physically – you will always improve the situation. Remember, you cannot be there for someone else if you’re not there for yourself first.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
This means breaking the shameful silence that you have been maintaining. This holds true in your conversations with your addicted loved one AND with other family members and friends. Addiction is a disease of deflection, dishonesty, and denial – honesty and truth are two powerful weapons against the disease.
Here are some tips about healthy communication:
- Always be specific about what’s going on
- Focus on the PROBLEM – the disease – instead of the PERSON – the addict
- Be honest about your feelings, but only speak for yourself – use “I” statements, rather than “YOU” statements
- Remember to listen to others, as well – this is how you have a real dialogue
If all else fails and your sincere effort at improved communication falls short, you can always avail yourself of the services of a professional family therapist to help mediate difficult issues in a healthy manner.
Loving an alcoholic or addict is not easy, and there is no one-size-fits-all perfect solution. But if you take the above suggestions, you WILL find your life is better, whether or not your loved one is clean and sober.