Addiction affects families, not just addicts and alcoholics. As a family member of an addicted person, you are faced with a host of unpleasant situations and emotions. Here are four things to remember.
- You are not the reason that your loved one abuses substances, regardless of how much the addict tries to convince you otherwise. This is such a critical fact that it bears repeating — you are not the reason your family member drinks or takes drugs. The addict in your life abuses substances because he or she has developed a disease of addiction.No family situation makes a person use mind-altering chemicals. Conflicts, breakups, financial difficulties, and personality clashes, while certainly being unpleasant, do not force someone to abuse substances. The disease of addiction drives him or her to use. If your loved one didn’t suffer from addiction, he or she would have a different coping method for unpleasant events. Unless you are pouring drugs or alcohol down someone’s throat, the chemical abuse is not your fault.
- You cannot cure the addiction, no matter how much you love your family member. No amount of talking, begging, reminding, or helping will solve this problem for the addict. In fact, helping can easily cross the line into enabling, and that may actually prolong the addiction behaviors and deter recovery. Your family member will have to tackle the addiction. You can love and support a person, but you cannot make him or her live a life of sobriety.
- Addiction is completely out of your control, as much as you may wish otherwise. People can become consumed by covering up misdeeds, attempting to manage an addict’s access to the chemical of choice, trying to prevent the addict from driving while using, and making excuses to employers and extended family. Unfortunately, none of these work in the long term. Misdeeds will be exposed or repeated, the addict will gain access to the substance or find a way to drive, and employers and family members will eventually tire of excuses and see the problem for what it is. You could expend enormous amounts of energy battling someone else’s addiction, but you will never control it.
- You always have choices, regardless of your situation. Do not allow yourself to feel trapped in another person’s addiction. You make big and small decisions every day that impact your own well-being in the face of another’s addiction. Big decisions may involve things like continuing or ending a relationship, refusing to allow a teen or adult child to live at home, making alternate care arrangements for small children, or finding a different job. You have the option to make major life changes.
Small choices can also have a big impact on you. You can choose not to engage in an argument, to go for a drive if the addict is using at home, or to join a support group for families of alcoholics and addicts. You can release your expectations of the addict and thereby release your disappointment and resentment. You can choose honesty with friends, relatives, and co-workers. Instead of making excuses for an addict or evading questions, you can say “you’ll have to ask him/her.” You can attend a gathering alone or leave a party if substance abuse is making you uncomfortable. You can release your emotions with a cathartic cry. You can choose to smile, to be grateful for good things, and even to be grateful for the growth you achieve during hard times. You are affected by someone’s addiction, but you don’t have to be trapped in it. Make choices that are good for you.
Addiction is a huge challenge for the addicted person and for the family. Maintain your own well-being in the face of another’s addiction by letting go of the fear that you are somehow to blame for this, the pressure to fix the addiction, and the attempt to control the addict’s behavior. Make choices that are right for you, and begin to feel release from the weight of your loved one’s addiction.