Addiction is messy! While it clearly impacts the addicted person, (whether it’s food/sex/alcohol/drugs/gambling/nicotine, etc.) many times the family feels the impact even more. When living with someone’s addiction, it is important to look at ourselves and how we can continue to love and support them without being responsible for their addiction or behaviors. It’s important to remember we didn’t cause the addiction, we can’t control it, and we as family members can’t cure it. That’s hard to hear, but it’s true.
Let’s explore the various ways in which loved ones can help the person with addiction in their life.
- Be careful not to encourage the addictive behavior – It’s normal to love our families very much and want to help them. Sometimes, however, our unconditional love blinds us. We would do anything to remove their pain and take away their addiction, but we need to see the situation as it is. We need to stop making excuses for our loved ones and stop bailing them out of trouble. Our loved one has made decisions, and they need to deal with the consequences. If they don’t have to face the consequences, they won’t see the problem.
- Realize your limitations – We cannot fix our loved ones’ problems. While our loved ones didn’t cause their addiction, addiction is something only the addict can change. Yes, they will need help with recovery, but they have to want the help. This is a realization that can be hard to accept, especially for those who like to fix everything. Addicts need to have a desire and wiliness to change. We can’t make it happen, but we can support them as they do it.
- Detach with love – Cutting all ties with our addicted loved ones should be a last resort, but interaction boundaries need to be set. We need to avoid becoming overly involved in or overly focused on our loved ones’ addiction. We need to leave the communication lines open, but only to a certain extent. Letting our loved ones know we support them, but not their addiction is essential. It should be clear that we are waiting should our loved ones decide they are ready to get help and ready for a change, but life cannot continue with their addiction. We need to care for the addict, and not take care of the addict.
- Help yourself – Having a practicing addict in our lives can be painful and frustrating, and detaching with love can sometimes be more than we can handle on our own. Our loved ones’ addiction may have overtaken our lives, but it is important to go on living. Groups like Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, Nar-Anon, Parents Anonymous, and other similar groups can help us deal with codependency and learn how to love our addicted loved ones without getting caught up in the chaos. It is important for us to learn that what others are doing, thinking or even feeling is none of our business. What is our business is what we are doing, thinking and feeling. It’s really hard to live with addiction, and a Twelve-Step program can help us focus on ourselves in a healthy way, taking us out of codependency and thus giving us our lives back.