Finding Sanity 

Regain your sanity by embracing the right perspective

It is worth reiterating that alcoholism and addiction is a family disease. Although you may not be the one who is the alcoholic or addict, remember, you and your family are still afflicted.


It is important to keep reminding yourself of the three Cs:

  • You did not CAUSE it

  • You cannot CONTROL it

  • You will not CURE it


As a family member or friend of an alcoholic or addict, what should you do? Help them? Not help them? Get in their way? Get out of their way? Intervene? Provide support? Cover up? Get angry? Ignore? Be compassionate? Be firm?

After years of countless and painful experiences, we have learned that no matter what we try, our attempts of being helpful are often futile. Nothing we do seems to stick long enough to make a lasting improvement. Although we try our best, we find not only is our best not good enough, sometimes it just makes things worse. Sometimes we actually find ourselves falling into the role of being an “enabler”.


An incident I recall that may provide some perspective of what role should we play is story when my sister was frantically trying to help my niece resolve an issue. After a series of numerous question and suggestions, my niece (who was in pre-school) finally had enough and said, “Mommy it’s not your problem, it’s my problem.” And that is exactly the correct perspective you should take.


Alcoholism and addiction of loved ones is NOT your problem. Easy to say perhaps, and probably more difficult to understand what you can do than what you should not do. So what should we do? Whether your loved one who is an alcoholic or addict is facing his or her own issues it is important to detach yourself from their issues.


This is the time to “put on our own oxygen mask first” similar to the instructions you receive as a passenger at the beginning of every plane flight. We can only really control our own actions, our own attitudes and make changes to ourselves. Perhaps we can help most by learning about the disease and finding a more constructive way of dealing with the alcoholism and addiction in your family.


Focus on doing the things you can control

  • Pause and reflect:

Take a breath and pause to avoid reacting in anger or frustration or despair. It may only make matters worse. Avoid avoidance and accept that there is a problem. Find ways to overcome negative stigma or embarrassment. A loved one who is an alcoholic or addict can affect millions of people including families, relatives, and friends. It is important to remember that alcoholism or any addiction is a family disease. It is true that an addict suffers in many ways, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. But it is also worth noting anyone who is related to an alcoholic or addict can and do suffer in the same ways, or at times, even more than the addicts themselves. In fact, I’ve learned while attending an Al-Anon meeting that it is often easier to recognize there is a problem in a household by observing the behaviors of those living with the alcoholic or addict than with the alcoholic or addict them self.


  • Give yourself permission to have a decent life:

Be aware that we only have the control and right to change ourselves, not others. We have all the power necessary to learn about ourselves, ways to control our own emotions and find actions that protect ourselves and produce positive outlooks for our lives. Accept that you need to pay attention to yourself. It is not selfish. It is imperative. It is important to avoid becoming codepent - addicted to your loved one's addictive behavior - and often forget about your own needs and desires.


  • Educate yourself: 

Understand that alcoholism and addiction is a disease: Many resources, support groups and professional help are available for loved ones of alcoholics and addicts. Just like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer, a person with a substance dependency does not lack willpower or choose to be an alcoholic or addict. It is a chronic illness with roots based in genetic and environmental causes.


  • Support your children: 

Perhaps the most difficult and sensitive job as a co-parent of an alcoholic or addict is to take the time to explain the situation to your children. Even though you may create shields and pretend there is not a problem, remember, it is a family disease. Whether your child is an infant, toddler, pre-teen, teen or even an adult child the actions of the alcoholic or addicts and more importantly, your reactions, are felt by all members of your family. 

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, 18 percent of American adults grew up with an alcoholic in their home while almost half (43 percent) have dealt with an alcoholic in the family. Alcoholism is four times more likely to develop in children of alcoholics than in other families.


  • Ask or seek help for yourself:

Most believe that the alcoholic or addict is the one who should change. It may come as a shock that loved ones affected by their disease also need to change. This includes spouses, siblings, parents, relatives, friends and co-workers of the alcoholic or addict. After endless and futile attempts to help the alcoholic or addict, you may have reached the critical turning point of realizing that it is OK and necessary to seek help for yourself. You may decide that Al-anon or Nar-anon meetings are right for you. You may seek professional therapy to learn how to “detach” and start seeking your own happiness. These are ways to find help and understanding and realize that you are not along.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
— Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian)