“To love an addict is to run out of tears.”
~Sandy Swensen, author of The Joey Song: a Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction
It may seem impossible, but it really can feel like someone else’s addiction is driving you crazy. When you love drug addict or an alcoholic, it may seem as if their mistakes, their lies, their self-destructive behaviors, and the consequences of what you believe to be their choices are all combining to destroy your sanity and your life.
More than likely, you feel that your whole life has begun to revolve completely around the other person because you are pulled in 100 different directions trying to keep them safe, out of jail, off the streets, and alive.
Most of all, you feel confused and helpless about what you should do (or shouldn’t do) next. Everything that you have done so far hasn’t seemed to help, but you are afraid to just sit back and do nothing.
Luckily, there are some things that addiction professionals say that you can do to help your situation. Just as importantly, there are some things that you need to stop doing.
- Don’t let yourself be caught up in emotions like “shame” or “disgrace“. Addiction is much more common than you might think, affecting approximately 24 million Americans over the age of 12. Virtually everyone knows and loves someone who has a problem with drugs or alcohol.
- Do learn everything you can about the disease. Read books, attend support meetings, and talk to professional addiction specialists who can help you understand exactly what you are up against and how to deal with it.
- Don’t nag. Everything that you might want to tell the addict – “Why won‘t you stop“, “You’re destroying the family“, and that old favorite, “You would change if you loved me” – they have already heard elsewhere or told themselves. If you keep haranguing them with the same continual worn-out message, they will simply shut you out and stopped hearing anything you have to say.
- Do take a look at yourself. This may be hard to hear, but you probably play your own part in the vicious cycle of addiction and codependency. If you loan them money, clean up their messes, and shield them from the consequences of their own actions, then you are part of the problem.
- Don’t preach. When you love an addict or an alcoholic and you don’t share the disease of addiction, it can be far too easy to adopt a “holier-than-thou” attitude and act like you are somehow better than the addicted person.
People with addiction disorders usually already have issues with low self-esteem, and if your words make them feel inadequate, they will often become determined to show you just how bad they can be.
- Do remember that addiction is a disease – an actual brain disorder. An addicted person does not choose to become addicted, any more than a person chooses to be diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, or any other malicious and chronic disease.
- Don’t try to “fix” or control the other person. No matter how hard you try, you cannot control another person. The sooner you accept this reality, the better your life will be – immediately.
- Do try to work on yourself FIRST. It may be that you are codependent and that your actions enable the person to stay addicted. It is also likely that your months and years of covering for and cleaning up after your addicted loved one has negatively affected your own personal serenity. Remember, you cannot be there for someone else if you are not there for yourself. “Caring for yourself” is not the same as “selfish”.
- Don’t fall for empty promises or manipulation. When the disease is active and in charge, the addicts will do anything and everything to keep on using. They will promise to cut back or quit, they will threaten to leave, and they will bemoan their terrible fate if you stop helping them. It’s all lies fueled by the disease.
- Do insist that they go to treatment to get help. Addiction does not go away on its own, and most people lack the ability, resources, and support to overcome the disease by themselves. Both inpatient residential treatment facilities and outpatient programs offer higher success rates when the individual attends/participates for 90 days or more, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Don’t put yourself in (or stay in) a situation where you can be abused physically or mentally. Up to 70% of batterers abuse alcohol, and up to 20% abuse drugs. 92% of assailants use alcohol or drugs on the day they commit an act of domestic violence. Use every resource available to ensure your safety – other family members, clergy, law enforcement, and emergency shelters.
- Do stand by the addicted person if it is humanly possible. Even if you have to remove yourself from the situation – for your physical safety or your mental well-being – try to let the addicted person know that you still offer your moral and emotional support. An addict/alcoholic often feels worthless, so when they learn that someone still values them and supports their efforts at sobriety, they have a better chance of success.
The most important thing to remember about dealing with an addicted person is that you are not alone – there are all kinds of resources that are available to you. Take care of yourself first, focus on your own serenity and well-being, and one way or another, the situation will improve.
When you change the personal dynamics of the dysfunctional relationship between you and the substance abuser, you are also forcing them to make a change. When your life has become unmanageable due to alcoholism or drug abuse on the part of someone else, almost any change is for the better. Give yourself a chance for joy and peace, no matter what the alcoholic/addict does.