Helping an Addicted Loved One

David Lisonbee, twintowntreatmentcenters.com

How do you help arrest a loved one’s decent down the destructive path of alcoholism and addiction? Is this the best time to address these problems? Can you pretend that everything is fine and that everyone is happy? Are you motivated by a benevolent care for your family or is self-defense or evening the playing field the goal? Are you acting from a place of concern and love, or are you reacting from the fear and pain of past injuries?

First take a look at yourself. Gauge your readiness for the task. Evaluate the present likelihood of success. Be realistic since all of these motives, both constructive and destructive are likely and legitimate.

I hope that this note provides you some helpful thoughts and strategies. It is normal to resent the very person you are striving so hard to help. Their behavior has harmed you and others for a very long time. Your anger, fear, and anxiety stem from constant anticipation of threat from the person who needs your help. You may have once relied upon for help yourself. Now they cannot be trusted. They have become unpredictable and unreliable. Repeated traumas have reinforced beliefs, ideas, feelings and behaviors that push your emotions out of control. You must protect yourself before becoming useful to anyone.

Even though the causes of addiction are innate and biological, continued regression versus recovery boils down to personal choice. The practicing addict is immersed in a world of immediate rewards and the avoidance of pain and emotional turmoil. Their reactions to you are constantly colored by their psychological and physical relationship with a chemical. That chemical has become centered and all-important in their life.

You can blame yourself. You can blame them. You can blame the chemical. Blame simply magnifies pain- your pain, their pain, our pain.

Set ground-rules or boundaries for yourself and keep them. If you react out of resentment or pain, you have become ineffective or destructive. Stop yourself and retreat.

Remember that you can only control your behavior. When you attempt to control others including addicts, you are acting to increase your pain, anger, resentment and fear. You set yourself up for failure. The futility of your actions result in worsening results. Stop!

Aggravating old problems and creating new ones does not improve the situation for anyone though this may feel natural at this point in your relationship.

Denial and rationalization are defenses which serve to maintain the status quo. Change is uncomfortable and creates fear, fear of the unknown. Accepting the reality of a situation is first stage of recovery. You must accept that you may lose your addicted loved one before you set out to help them. They must somehow arrive at the reality of their problem. Arousing their defenses defeats the purpose and blocks progress.

Rather than entangling the person’s drug or alcohol use/ inebriation, conduct any and all conversations while they are sober. During the holidays or weekends, these conversations will necessarily be made well before events and usually early in the day.

Draw a line in the sand that if the person drinks or uses, you will not associate with them during their use or while they appear under the influence. If you find them using or under the influence at your place, ask them to leave. If you are elsewhere, you leave. Make the agreement simple and hold to it.

When the loved one wants to engage or reengage in a relationship with you, set the expectation that they have to be sober and doing something to maintain that sobriety. Don’t step into the trap of accepting quick-fixes and temporary reprieves. If your loved one comes to realize that their relationship with you is important, they will allow you to hold onto your expectations.

Raising your voice, making threats, recalling shaming events are likely to arouse defensiveness in the addict and motivate even more chemical use. The chemical is used to avoid such situations and the emotions encountered from them. Set ground-rules about what you will tolerate and hold to them. Place accountability and responsibility back on the addicted loved one. Parenting creates childish behavior. Anger creates fights. Guilt creates shame.

Rather than submitting to the well-known and self-defeating habit of looking to blame, notice what is happening inside, and remember the routine and its consequences. Realize that your insides don’t feel well and seek more constructive remedies. Step away from the situation, go to an Alanon/ Coda meeting, talk with someone, write it down, change your focus, listen to different ways of viewing or thinking about the situation, but take action for yourself. Do what is uncomfortable- take the long-term solution. Take care of yourself and your loved one will do what they need to do.

Balancing work, home, leisure, recreation and physical exercise are essential toward maintaining resilience and to build energy from which action can be taken. Isolation, boredom, fatigue, frustration, anger are often results of encountering addiction in a loved-one. Realize when stress becomes greater than stress reducing activities. Seek social support, exercise, meditation, healthy diet, supportive social relationships, spiritual practices, rest…

Find a mutual support group, a treatment center, a professional therapist or an interventionist. Accepting the help of another contains potent medicine. Collaboration creates unity and connection. Addiction is the lonely disease for all effected.

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