When it comes to the course of action of your loved one’s addiction it’s important to remember that you did not CAUSE it, you can’t CONTROL it, and you can’t CURE it. Only they can decide to to take the necessary course of action to change their life and break the cycle.
Should they demonstrate a willingness to journey down a road to recovery there are many paths to take. Methods could involve therapy, rehabilitation, or step-work programs such as “The Twelve Steps” which is implored by Alcoholics Anonymous and other support programs of the like.
Is the Addict active in addiction?
If the addict in your life is still active in their addiction, you should be aware of what NOT TO DO, and what you should DO instead. This includes substituting your historically codependent or counterproductive actions for behaviors that are healthy and conducive. The following list of recommendations will also serve a baseline for your interactions with the addict, and at the very least a guide for effective communication.
- DO NOT: treat the addict like a child, a subordinate, or less than human. Consider this person as if they are suffering from a disease like cancer. Remember to hate the disease but not the person. They are both sick and struggling.
- DO: take care of YOURSELF and remain TRUE to yourself. Stay abreast of what your needs may be. Self-care will strengthen you, and you’ll need the strength to educate yourself on the disease of addiction. Education is imperative, as it will help you understand what the addict is going through, and shed light on some of your own repressed or angry feelings. You will find that coping with your feelings and resentments becomes easier once they are acknowledged.
- DO NOT: check up on the addict to see how much they are using, drinking or gambling. Taking that action can be extremely alienating to the addict, and might end up hurting you. There is no need to inflict extra damage on the relationship, or let their addictive behavior be the cause of another fight. Protect yourself and remember they have their journey in life, and you have yours.
- DO: what you can do to avoid behavior that is hurting your ability to get what you want out of life. If you find yourself obsessing over someone else’s addiction, then that is not healthy. You may feel repressed and become disinterested in what you would enjoy under other circumstances. Instead of letting a preoccupation or depressive funk consume you, opt to take a walk, do some stretching, listen to a guided meditation, or start an organization project you’ve been putting off. There are endless options of things to do that don’t require too much commitment but do serve a positive purpose.
- DO NOT: nag the addict about their addictions and never argue with them while they are intoxicated or high. Nagging the addict can be another cause for alienation, and might even swing into an argument that can be potentially dangerous. You may want to express your displeasure, but the likelihood of your loved one (a) retaining the information, (b) showing genuine remorse, or (c) not becoming angry, defensive, or at worse violent, is very slim when they are under the influence. When someone is under the influence you cannot expect them to be rational or accountable, and if that’s the case engaging in the situation is not worth your time and energy.
- DO: set boundaries and make sure you are not enabling the addict’s behavior and harmful actions. Often we think we are helping our loved one by rescuing them or lying for them when in fact we are doing just the opposite. This is a form of codependency that perpetuates the vicious addiction cycle and puts a major strain on your relationship. By rescuing them you do not give them the dignity to fail and to be held accountable. It is ok to have compassion, but if a loved one uses manipulation tactics and false promises to save them from a bind or to get what they want, then the buck stops here. Draw the line and allow your integrity to take lead. If you don’t participate as an enabler, you will be free from future feeling of guilt and remorse associated with the act of enabling.
- DO NOT: lecture, fight, or yell at the addict. It’s expected to have pent up anger and other strong emotions, and they certainly deserve to be expressed and heard, but consider your audience. Also, consider what a lecture or a fight will accomplish? Pick your battles and chose wisely.
- DO: Focus on yourself and that things that make YOU happy. If you want to share your experience to an understanding and empathetic audience you may benefit from Al Anon Family Groups, Nar-Anon, Gam-anon, or other meetings specifically targeted to families of alcoholics and addicts. Even if you chose not to speak and just listen, you will find solace in the fact that you are not alone.
Maintain allegiance to the course of action
By maintaining allegiance as best you can to the above recommendations you are sure to the best of your ability you are sure to see a shift in your situation. Although the addict may still be active in their addiction, and demonstrate less than flattering behavior, your actions and inactions can turn the dynamic around. Your relationship improves when you can wholeheartedly say you are no longer perpetuating their addiction by enabling them or egging on a fight. Once we accept that life is filled with things we cannot control–and in this case that includes a loved one–and we make a plan of action that includes setting boundaries, life becomes much easier to deal with. Remember to KEEP THE FOCUS ON YOURSELF.
Experiencing guilt and regret
We may not realize that addicts do experience feelings of guilt and regret. Although their lies, deceit and destruction may have pushed us to the brink of insanity, their intention is not really to use or hurt us. An addict has a one-track mind, and that’s the commonality of the disease, no matter what be the vice. Our hurt feelings are the by-product of their illness, and when you assess it that way, it feels much better to not be petty and take the high road.
Abstain from reminding
Accordingly, you should abstain from reminding the addict of the times they screwed up, or failed with family, friends, jobs, and so on, as it will only makes matters worse. When you are yourself are hurting, laying out such egregious facts may feel good in the moment, but before you do, ask yourself: What result do I expect from these words or how will the other person respond?
Does putting someone down who’s already quite down by listing their failures ever really lift them up, or cause a 180 degree change? Most likely not. When an addict is put down or feels less than worthy, their first course of action is to escape, and will soon be reaching for their vice of choice.
The need to threaten
You may feel the need to threaten the addict, or to take an action against them for various reasons. If you’re living together you may threaten to leave, or if they’re using illegal substance you may threaten to call the police. When you feel this way ask yourself if you actually mean what you are intending to say, is it instigation, or are you trying to cope with your own anger and spite? Much like the story of the boy who cried wolf, empty threats are useless, and when made repeatedly they eventually have no bearing at all. Do not threaten action unless you are 100% COMMITTED to following the course. Threats made out of anger and frustration cost us respect and often backfire because we don’t follow through.
The dignity to fail
It may come as a surprise, but when we allow our loved ones the dignity to fail it can be one of the best things for them. By now, you hopefully have come to terms that their choices are out of your control. It’s not easy to sit by as spectator when they perhaps are getting arrested or losing their job, but it could be the wakeup call they need. If you chose to bail them out, cover, or lie for them you’re potentially putting them further back from the help they so desperately need and keeping the whirlwind cycle of codependent craziness alive. Remember, you’re doing no good “rescuing” them from the consequences of their actions, and your job is not to “fix” their problems. The first step in most “Twelve Step” recovery programs is admitting to being powerless to the addiction and how it caused life to become unmanageable. Although it’s hard seeing someone we care for hit that place of rock bottom, once they have a realization similar to “Step 1” the only place to go is up.
If now, at this very moment, your life feels unmanageable we encourage you to keep coming back to this site for support, inspiration, strength, and courage.