Change is not just for the addicted

Living with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is not easy. The addictive behavior of a loved one can have a huge impact on the lives of family members

If your husband, wife, son, daughter, father, or mother is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the negative effects are by no means confined to the person with the addiction.

You might feel as if you are taking the situation more seriously than your loved one, and that can be frustrating. You might believe that you have tried everything, and that nothing is working. You may have decided that it's time for something to change.

The addictive behavior of someone who you love, or are close to, can have a tremendous impact on your own well-being, and that of everyone else in your family.

You've probably tried everything you can think of to help your loved one, and to manage the situation in your home. As a consequence, you may have simply added to your stress and reduced your ability to cope.

However, while your intentions were to help your loved one, and to bring stability to your home, your efforts may have unintentionally prevented your loved one from facing the consequences of their actions and reduced their motivation to change.

As much as you want your loved one to change, you cannot force them to stop their addictive behavior.

When dealing with someone in your family who is actively addicted...
  • Don't lecture, preach, threaten, or make emotional appeals, as your loved one is aware that what they are doing isn't right. Although they may not show it, the feelings of guilt are probably there. Increasing these negative feelings can drive a wedge between your loved one and yourself, and actually make recovery more difficult.
  • Don't become your loved one's therapist. Even if you are a therapist, you're too close to the situation for objectivity.
  • Don't try to deal with your loved one's addiction while they are under the influence.
  • Don't let your loved one control the conversation while they are under the influence, as arguments will be unproductive and divisive.
  • Don't lie for your loved one to cover their behavior, as this simply protects them from the consequences of substance abuse.
  • Don't take over your loved one's responsibilities unless it's required for your own safety or well-being, or that of your family. Keep in mind that protecting an addicted person from the consequences of their behavior simply enables the addiction.
  • Don't give your loved one money while they are actively using.
  • Don't accept guilt or responsibility for your loved one's substance use or behavior. Actively addicted people will often try to blame everyone but themselves, so don't let yourself be manipulated into taking it upon yourself.
  • Don't become part of the chaos.
  • Don't surrender your own needs or happiness, as this won't help you and it won't help your loved one.
  • Don't lie to keep your loved one's addiction a secret from other family members and friends. You don't need to tell everyone you know, but neither should you isolate and deny yourself potential sources of support.
  • Don't obsess over your loved one's addictive behavior at the expense of your own needs or that of other family members.

If your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, of course you want to bring about change. While you can't force your loved one to quit the addictive behavior, neither are you entirely helpless in the matter. First, do no harm, and this might be accomplished by not engaging in the behaviors listed above.

Change doesn't happen overnight. Change is a process and, while it may be difficult, it can result in making life more manageable.

While the addicted person is responsible for their own recovery, prayer and hope aren't the extent of your role as a family member or friend of someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Your role as a family member or close friend may involve...
  • Do ensure that your loved one knows that there is help available whenever they are ready to accept it.
  • Do learn about addiction, so that you can understand and appreciate the challenges your loved one will face in recovery.
  • Do be approachable, in that you don't place yourself in a position of conflict or nagging, but that you demonstrate a knowledge of addiction and a willingness to listen and learn.
  • Do your best to make your loved one aware that the addiction does not define them, and that you may hate the disease, yet love the person.
  • Do provide accurate information when asked.
  • Do set boundaries, avoid becoming an enabler, and remain tough and firm in the face of manipulation.
  • Do be sure that you are there for other family members who may depend on you.
  • Do engage in self-care so that you are healthy, happy, and whole.
  • Do seek and participate in a support group for family and friends of people who are addicted, as such a group may help you achieve the other objectives listed above.

None of this will be easy. Change is very difficult for people who are addicted, and changing the way that you approach a loved one who is addicted will be difficult, too.

Just as it is unrealistic to expect someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol to give up their addiction easily, don't expect perfection from yourself, either.

Show your loved one that you are making an effort to understand their addiction, and take positive steps to learn about addiction and recovery.

Your loved one's bad behaviors define the addiction, not the person. It is helpful to get away from the practice of thinking of your loved one as a drunk, an alcoholic, a drug user, or an addict. Alcoholism and drug addiction define the disease, not the person. It's more than a matter of mere semantics, as the words we use to describe a person effect the way that we think of them, and the way in which they view themselves.

You may not be able to push your loved one into recovery, but you can try to understand what your loved one is going through, and gain trust. This can be the first step in opening the door to effectively helping them become ready to start on the path to recovery.