An addiction destroys families as much as it destroys individuals. Living with an addict is both heartbreaking and exhausting. Family members are torn between how to help the addict and how to avoid being sucked into the addict’s world. Here are some helpful suggestions that I have found over the years of working with addicts and their families. I hope they can help you.
Things you can do for the addict
- Behave exactly as you would if your loved one had a serious illness. What would you do if they were diagnosed with heart disease or cancer?
- Educate yourself on addiction and recovery.
- Try not to accuse or judge. Avoid name calling. This is a difficult time for both of you.
- Provide a sober environment that reduces triggers for using.
- Allow the addict time to go to meetings.
- Understand that your lives will change. Do not wish for your old life back. Your old life to some extent is what got you here. You both need to create a new life where it is easier to not use alcohol or drugs.
- Make sure that you both have time for fun. People use alcohol and drugs to relax, escape, and as a reward. The addict needs to find alternative ways to relax, escape, and as a reward otherwise they will turn back to their addiction.
- Do not enable. Do not provide excuses or cover up for the addict.
- Do not shield the addict from the consequences of their addiction. People are more likely to change if they have suffered enough negative consequences.
- Set boundaries that you all agree on. The goal of boundaries is to improve the health of the family as a whole. Do not use boundaries to punish or shame.
- If you want to provide financial support, buy the goods and services the addict needs instead of giving them money that they might use to buy alcohol or drugs.
- Recognize and acknowledge the potential the addict has within them.
Things you can do for yourself
- Take care of yourself. Living with an addict is exhausting. You also need time to recover.
- Avoid self-blame. You can’t control another person’s decisions, and you can’t force them to change.
- Do not work harder than the addict. The best approach is to not do things for the addict, but instead to be an example of balance and self-care.
- Being a caretaker is not good for you or the addict. Understand that there is only so much you can do to change another person.
- Ask for help. Talk to a professional. Go to a support group such as Al-Anon. (More support groups are listed below.)
- Do not argue or try to discuss things with the addict when they are under the influence. It won’t get you anywhere.
- If at all possible, try not to be negative when dealing with the addict. That may only increase their feelings of guilt and push them further into using.
The three C’s of dealing with an addict
- You didn’t Cause the addiction.
- You can’t Control the addiction.
- You can’t Cure the addiction.
Helpful links for family and friends of addicts
- Al-Anon.org For family members of alcoholics.
- Nar-anon For family members of addicts.
- Gam-anon For family members of gamblers.
- Coda.org For co-dependent individuals.
- Adultchildren.org For adult children of alcoholics and addicts.