The World Health Organization estimates that 76.3 million people struggle with alcohol use disorders which contributed to 3.3 million deaths per year worldwide. In 2008, it was reported that 155-250 million people abuse substances other than alcohol. In 2009, there were over 37,000 deaths in the US alone where drug abuse was the primary cause of death.
Sadly, addiction affects millions around the world and not just the ones that struggle with addiction, but the family members that are desperately hoping for their addicted loved one to one day find sobriety. I have experience in this area and am sharing what worked for me so that I could keep my life manageable while dealing with an addicted loved one.
Since we do not live in a perfect world, nor do we have a cure for addiction, here are 9 things to remember when dealing with an addicted loved one. We wish this list had the secret ingredient that would lead the loved one to permanent and positive change. This list focuses on healthy ways the family member can choose to deal with their addicted loved one.
1. We Can’t Control It
I have learned this from experience – we cannot make others do anything in life. We are only responsible for ourselves and our own actions or reactions to any given situation. I tried everything – hiding keys so the loved one wouldn’t leave, withholding money so they couldn’t spend it on drugs and alcohol. I even tried verbal threats, ultimatums and shaming them for their choices and actions yet none of those things prevented them from heading right back into their addiction.
My addicted loved one still found a way to relapse or use again regardless of my actions. Once we realize we have no power over anyone else it is easier to accept the situation and evaluate what changes we need to make for ourselves.
2. We Didn’t Cause It
I spent many nights believing I had some part in their decision to go out and abuse drugs or alcohol that day or that night. Was is something I did or said? I believed that it was my fault for their actions or decisions. I put unnecessary guilt and blame on myself for believing that it was because of me that they gave into their addiction again.
It is important to remember that we are not to blame and that we did not cause our loved one’s problem with drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the addicted loved one will attempt to blame us for their actions and decisions but please remember it is not our fault. We didn’t cause it, nor can we cure it.
3. We Can’t Fix It
If we could somehow say or do something to fix our loved one’s problem with addiction, then addiction wouldn’t be so widespread. I tried everything under the sun to get the outcome that I wanted (my loved one in sobriety/recovery), but I realized that I was not going to be the one to fix them or change them.
There is a fine line between helping your loved one out of a sticky situation because of the consequences of their addiction and continuing to enable their addictive behavior. I used to be the fixer by bailing them out of jail, trying to cover up for their mistakes due to their addiction. When we finally realize that our part in trying to ‘fix’ the situation is actually doing more harm than good, we are able to make the necessary changes in our lives and focus on ourselves instead of our addicted loved one. Instead of trying to ‘fix them’, we need find out what our responsibility is going to be in terms of their addiction.
4. We Don’t Have To Take Part In It
It is common for loved ones to believe they have nothing to do with their family member’s addiction because they aren’t the ones providing the drink or the drug, but they are allowing the behavior to continue (especially if their loved one lives with them). If you have no consequences for a loved one that is living with you that struggles with addiction, you are essentially condoning their behavior and enabling their addiction to continue.
If your addicted loved one believes that their choices towards addiction is not really affecting others, why would they ever change? Once we decide to no longer contribute or enable our loved one’s addictive behaviors, we are able to create a more peaceful environment for ourselves.
What we allow in our relationships is what will continue. It is up to us to decide what we will and will not accept in any given situation or relationship regardless if that person is our spouse, boyfriend, mother, father, sister brother, son or daughter.
5. We Can Avoid Insanity
Insanity is described as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. If you have tried the same threats, fights, shaming and guilt over and over again yet expecting something to change – you are essentially living in insanity.
I lived in my own insanity for a long while until I realized I have the power to either stay on the roller coaster that was my loved one’s addiction or choose to remove myself from the chaos that addiction brings.
Many times that means leaving the relationship. Some may call it tough love but it can also be called getting out of insanity. Finally we can be at peace knowing we gave our loved one numerous opportunities toward positive change and their decision to seek out or reject sobriety is completely their own.
6. We Can Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting a healthy boundary is about protecting yourself from further chaos or emotional harm. Many times your loved one is so wrapped up in their addictive behaviors they will see a boundary as being “told what to do.” But a boundary is really nothing more than you stating what you will and will not accept. Once consequences are set up, if your boundaries are not respected, you must be ready to plan for different outcomes.
Setting a boundary is easy, but following through with the consequence is more challenging. When setting a boundary, keep it factual and to the point. Use When You choose to leave and stay out all night drinking and not answering your phone, I Feel disrespected, ignored, abandoned and once again lied to as you said this wouldn’t happen again. I Want you to explore getting into a recovery program and seeing a counselor or I will consider all of my options including leaving the relationship or asking you to leave (if your loved one lives with you).
Be firm, set a time frame and let go of the outcome. A boundary is not a “hope” that this will make your addicted loved one change, it is about protecting your own emotional health and leaving the decision up to them.
7. We Can Be A Part Of The Solution
We need to love our addicted loved one no matter what. We can still set firm boundaries and reinforce that we care about them. We can be encouraging and forgiving – addiction is a disease. We need to verbalize that they do have the power to overcome and that it’s never too late, they might just need help from a 12-step recovery program or a counselor to get there.
Many addicted loved ones feel hopeless and helpless in the middle of their addiction and by continuing to direct our anger or negativity at them because of their decisions does not help the situation. We can reinforce that we will always be a part of the solution to end their addictive behaviors. But we will not be a part of the problem any longer by enabling or accepting their choice to continue to abuse drugs or alcohol. We will always support them and remember to let them know they are still loved. We, however, do not love the choices they are making.
8. We Know It Won’t Always Be This Way
This statement comes with a preface. It might actually always be this way if you continue to allow the addictive behavior to continue if you are involved with your loved one on a daily basis. If hard decisions are made and relationships are altered in the hopes of your loved one seeking out help, it is worth it.
Many in recovery had to reach their true “bottom” where they had nothing else to focus on but themselves and their addiction. When we allow the behavior to continue by minimizing the situation or making excuses for why our addicted loved one continues to abuse drugs or alcohol, we lose.
The real truth is being a part of the continued addiction is only causing more harm than good for the addicted loved one. They could either end up in jail due to drinking and driving or worse, dead because of an alcohol related car accident or a drug overdose. Drug and alcohol addiction is a serious issue and everyone involved with an addicted loved one should take the necessary steps to encourage recovery and positive change.
9. We Can’t Lose Hope
No matter how hopeless the situation may seem it can always improve. If you feel emotionally affected by your addicted loved one’s actions, seek out help. If you feel consumed by their addiction, there are many 12 step support groups that just focus on helping the family members who are affected by an addicted loved one. When you know you are not alone and others have the same concerns and issues as you do, it helps. Once you accept that you can do nothing to make your addicted loved one sober and focus on yourself first and foremost, healing begins.
There are ways to make your life more manageable because of your addicted loved one. The key lies with focusing on yourself. Things can get better once you let go of the situation and allow your addicted loved one to find their path to recovery on their own – for themselves and no one else.