How to Help an Addict in the Family
The disease of addiction doesn’t just affect the addict; it impacts all members of the family. If you have lived with an addict for any length of time, you know that the hold drugs or other substances have had on your loved one have caused extreme turbulence and unpredictability for your whole family. The stress that you have experienced can be compared to having a major trauma every day, such as a plane crash.
Many families of addicts are consumed with hurt, anger and blame. If you’re like them, you may be urging the addict to get help. The problem with that way of thinking is that the addict isn’t the only one with a problem. Every member of the family has been damaged by the disease of addiction. Family members may have suffered neglect, abuse, financial hardship, shame and a world of other painful experiences. Just because the addict gets sober doesn’t mean the family is OK. Those who love an addict may still be experiencing many uncomfortable feelings, including anger, depression, rage, bitterness, panic disorders and fear of the future, to name a few, and these feelings may persist long after the addict gets clean and sober.
It’s not your job to fix the addict. Your job, once you have been directly or indirectly affected by addiction, is to heal yourself. Some of the most important coping skills you need to learn so that you can heal include the following:
Powerlessness — You are completely powerless over alcohol and drugs, and you are equally powerless over your loved one’s choice to use or not to use. There is nothing you can say or do that is going to change the addict’s compulsions. Admitting and accepting powerlessness is the cornerstone of all recovery from addiction.
Detachment — Emotional detachment is a skill that those who love addicts need to learn in order to protect themselves from turmoil. Detachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you are learning not to get sucked into the drama and learning not to keep doing the same dance steps that help keep everyone sick.
Avoid Enabling — Family members of addicts may not be aware of how their own behavior sometimes makes it easy for the addict to stay sick. For example, continually bailing an addict out of financial messes that he creates gives the addict an easy out. Although you can’t control whether he chooses recovery, you can learn to recognize your part in making it too easy for him to ignore the consequences of his actions.
Avoid Becoming Reactive — You aren’t responsible for the addict’s disease or his recovery. You are responsible for your own life, and the one thing that you can control is your own reaction. When you are reacting to the addict’s choices, you are wasting energy that could be better spent on yourself.
Keep the Focus on Yourself — Keeping your emotional balance depends on putting your focus on yourself. You may have to continually remind yourself of this any time you find yourself obsessing about the addict’s behavior.
Forgive the Addict and Yourself — Addiction is a disease, and the addict is not a bad person. You may have done things you are not proud of because of the extreme amount of stress you have been dealing with. Both you and the addict deserve your forgiveness and love.
Keep Practicing — You’re not going to have the skills needed to keep your emotional balance overnight. Learning these skills will take time and practice. Remember that recovery is a journey, not a destination. Both you and the addict may have setbacks on your recovery path. Keep trying. Keep practicing. Things will get better, and even if they don’t, you and your ability to cope with the things you can’t change will get better.
Ask for Help — You may feel overwhelmed and alone, but you aren’t. Many people have been in situations very similar to the one you are in. Ask for help from friends, family, religious leaders or psychotherapists. Get involved in family therapy or Alanon.
Remember to take care of you.