It doesn’t seem possible, but someone else’s addiction can make you feel as if YOU are going crazy. When you love an alcoholic or drug addict, their mistakes, lies, their addicted behaviors, and the consequences resulting from all of it can combine to disrupt every aspect of YOUR life. If you are like most people, you may have begun to feel that your entire life has revolved completely around the substance abuser – you are constantly being pulled in every possible different direction while you try to keep them alive and safe. More than anything, you feel helpless and confused about what you should – and shouldn’t – be doing. It may seem to you that nothing that you have done so far has helped at all – and now, you don’t want to things to keep going on the way they are, but you’re afraid to stop. Here’s the good news – there are steps that you can take right now to improve the situation. More importantly, there are things you need to stop doing – immediately.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Remember That Addiction is a REAL DISEASE
Addiction is a disorder of the brain, meaning the alcoholic/addict does not wake up one day and “decide” to become addicted, any more than a person with diabetes, hypertension, cancer, or any other chronic disease chooses their disease. In other words, addiction is not a weakness or a moral failing.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Get to Know the Disease
Educate yourself about the disease of addiction. To fully understand the enemy you are facing and how you can best combat it:
- Read recovery books
- Go to 12-Step fellowship meetings such as Al-Anon
- Get help from a mental health specialist or addiction professional
When You Love an Addict or an Alcoholic – Get Rid of the Guilt
Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed with negative emotions like shame, guilt, or remorse. When you live with and love with an addict, you can feel trapped by feelings of wanting/needing to protect them, and when you find yourself unable to free them from their addiction, you blame yourself. Here’s what you need to keep in mind –
- Nothing you did or didn’t do CAUSED their addiction.
- Nothing you can do will CURE their addiction
- No tactic you try will CONTROL their addiction
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Understand That you are NOT Alone
The disease of addiction is far more common than you realize – more than 24 million Americans abuse alcohol or drugs.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Don’t Waste Your Breath
You cannot bargain with or reason with or elicit sympathy from the disease of addiction. When you say anything like this–
- “Why don’t you just stop?“
- “You’re tearing the family apart!“
- “If you loved me/us, you would change.”
– They won’t even hear you. Their brain has been “hijacked” by their addiction, and nothing else matters. It has gone beyond their ability to choose or control their actions. And, if you keep nagging them with the same begging, pleading, crying, and yelling, they will shut you out completely.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Take a Look in the Mirror
One of the hardest things to do when you love a substance abuser to take a good, hard look at yourself in the part you played in their addiction. Most addicts and alcoholics have a co-dependent loved one who helps enable their dysfunctional behaviors. Do you find yourself –
- Loaning them money?
- Paying their bills or otherwise supporting them financially?
- Making excuses for their job, their school, or other family members?
- Protecting them from being arrested?
- Covering up for their embarrassing behavior?
- Cleaning up their messes?
When you do any of these actions, you are giving tacit approval for them to continue acting in self-destructive, dysfunctional ways. One of the best things you can do for your addicted loved one is to let them face the natural consequences of their own actions.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Lose Your “Superior” Attitude
When you’re not addicted to yourself, it is very easy to feel as if you are better than the addict/alcoholic. All that “holier-than-thou” attitude does is create unproductive resentment between the two of you. Even worse, you may contribute to the worsening of their addiction. Most substance abusers already suffer from low self-esteem, and if you – their loved one – make them feel even more inadequate, you just may push them to show you just how low they can go.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Get Help for Yourself FIRST
When you have spent months or even years cleaning up after and covering up for your addicted or alcoholic loved one, your own mental health may have been affected. It is entirely possible – even probable – that you now suffer from a diagnosable emotional condition:
If this is the case, it is imperative that you get professional help and support. This is not in any way “selfish”. Remember, you cannot be there for someone else – your addicted loved one or the rest of your family – if you are not there for yourself.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Don’t Be a Victim of Abuse!
The statistics about emotional and physical abuse are frightening:
- Up to 70% of domestic batterers abuse alcohol
- 20% of batterers abuse drugs
- 92% of people who commit domestic violence use drugs or alcohol on the day of the incident.
Utilize every available resource to ensure your physical and emotional safety –law enforcement, restraining orders, emergency shelters, clergy, and other family members.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Insist That They Get Professional Help
Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease – it will not go away on its own and it gets worse without timely intervention and effective treatment. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, both outpatient programs and inpatient treatment facilities achieve greater success when the addict/alcoholic participates for at least 90 days. Look into holding a professionally-supervised intervention, involving other family members and friends who get together to lovingly confront the substance abuser in an attempt to compel them to go to treatment.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Don’t Be Fooled or Manipulated
When the addiction is active, your loved one will do and say everything and anything in order to continue drinking/using. They will:
- Swear that they will cut back/quit
- Threaten to leave/move out
- Say that they will never call you or text you again
- Try to “guilt” you with all the terrible things that are going to happen to them without your unconditional support – homelessness, jail, etc.
When You Love an Addict or Alcoholic – Stand by Them
Even if you have had to detach from the addict/alcoholic or remove yourself from the situation, try to let them know that you still offer your emotional and moral support if and when they decide to get help. Substance abusers often feel alone and worthless, so when they know that someone they care about still values them and their efforts at sobriety, they have a much better chance of successful recovery.