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When Addiction Hits the Family

When Addiction Becomes Personal

You found out that a loved one is addicted. You feel desperate, scared, and helpless.

Your family is in a state of shock. Nobody knows what to do. The media stories of overdoses, death, and failed attempts at recovery flood your mind. You’re terrified that your friend, brother, or wife will be the next statistic. Suddenly, nothing matters more than knowing your loved one is safe, healthy, and drug free.

We’ve all heard of tough love. What this means is being real about the situation. Confront the problem, and your loved one. If you’ve been enabling the drug abuse in any way, it’s time to stop. You may be unaware of the ways in which you’ve actually sustained the problem through your acts of love and kindness. You may have exercised patience, provided money, or looked the other way when behaviors seemed unusual. The process of addiction is a gradual one and can be unnoticed on a conscious level. Now that this information is unavoidable, do something different.

Deal With Denial:

Get treatment for your loved one. This requires willingness on the part of the addict to participate and invest in recovery. Often there is denial, anger, or blaming that occurs before an acceptance of the need for help. Stand your ground. Share your feelings about how the addiction has negatively impacted you and your relationship. Suggest that your loved one try substance abuse treatment for the sake of their own well being, and the well being of those who care for him.

Educate Yourself:

There are many levels of care and support in chemical dependency treatment. Find out about those. Begin with Detox, Rehabilitation, Partial Hospitalization, Intensive Outpatient Treatment, Outpatient Counseling, and finally AA/NA and Sponsors for support. Find providers of treatments that mesh with your loved one’s philosophies on life and spirituality, and recovery and well-being. 12 Step Programs are not the only game in town anymore. With a broadening spirituality in our culture, there are broadened approaches to recovery that are non-faith, non-religious, and empowerment based instead of disease based and the higher power model.

Get Support:

You need support too. Find a group to join. Al-Anon and Alateen groups provide “a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic recognizes the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help." Start counseling to process the changes in your life as a result of the addiction. It affects entire family systems. You need to know how to adapt to create the most supportive environment for sustained recovery and recognize triggers and cues of potential relapse.

The Action Plan:

Encourage her to get evaluated and begin a program. Stay involved as much as she will allow. Often, treatment facilities have family activities that provide education and support. This eases the burden of uncertainty and shifts the focus from fear and anger to hope and understanding. Most of all, it reminds you that you are not alone. Many people suffer the consequences of addiction in this world of easy access prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol.

Keep Perspective:

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny."

Believe in a positive outcome and continue to hold your ground.


This piece was a contribution by guest blogger, Heather Edwards, MA, LMHC, who is a therapist and life coach located in New York City. She can be reached for consultation at:


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