How to Love an Addict

Addiction. We’ve made progress over the last decade.  The stigma is decreasing and we are openly discussing it.  Once upon a time, if your parent, spouse, or child suffered from alcohol or drug abuse, it was the family secret.  Now, I talk to people every day who are open about how addiction has afflicted their lives.  Perhaps it’s because loved ones are dying due to this disease?  Perhaps it’s because as individuals we are becoming more aware of our own dependencies?  The fact is, it’s everywhere, and the proof is in the increase in substance abuse providers popping up daily.  The proof in in the number of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings one can find on any given day.  The proof is in our county jails and the proof is in the ache of our own hearts, especially if you’ve ever loved an addict.

As a an addictions professional and expert in prevention, I’m often asked, “How do I help my child….my friend….myself?”.  There is no shortage on research, books and articles on this subject.  Resources from support groups and treatment centers are plentiful, yet lovers of addicts are always left feeling hopeless and frustrated.  I wish there a was Wiki- How to Love and Addict Guide and one could just follow the prescribed 10 steps on Voilà your loved one is healed and the family is on the road to recovery!

The truth is there is not one thing any one of us can do to help our loved one stop using alcohol and drugs but there are many things we can do to help our loved ones not use alcohol and drugs.  Confusing?  Contradictive?  Yes!  Just like addiction.

Here are my- 3 steps to helping your loved one suffering from the Disease of Addiction:

  1. Set up boundaries- this is an individual process and a mental health professional can assist you in establishing these boundaries that are unique to your situation.  Boundaries might include limiting assistance: house, food, money, transportation and even termination of the relationship.
  2. Only give what you have to give-     Many families will invest countless hours and  thousands and thousands of dollars in services for their loved ones.  If you have the resources and the individual is open to treatment, than by all means provide the help.  If providing these resources is a detriment to your physical or emotional wellbeing, than it’s not a healthy decision.  Remember that helping isn’t always helping.  Sometimes it’s called “enabling”.  Enabling is a term every addict lover needs to understand.  In addictions, enabling is the act of making excuses, stopping the bottom of falling out for the addict and leads to an obsession surrounding the addicts behaviors.
  3. Get a therapist-  For yourself!  Loving an addict is a long, difficult and painful road and sometimes doesn’t have a happy ending.  Guilt, shame and desperation are often many of the “rest stops” along this journey.  A Therapist can provide ongoing education and empowerment to you as you come to terms with the fact that in the end, everyone makes their own decisions in life and ultimately we are all powerless.  If you don’t have the financial resources for a therapist, there are many helpful on line support groups.

If these steps sound cold and heartless to you, than it’s likely you are in the middle of your own situation, feeling desperate to help someone you care about.  If you read these steps  and you agree, it’s likely that you’ve been through this and have come out the other side.  Sadly, the other side has many possibilities and it’s that reality that keeps family and friends spinning round and round doing the same behaviors, hoping for different results.  They call that insanity, by the way.

If you want to help your alcohol or drug addicted loved one, ask any recovered addict.  No, seriously, ask them!  They will tell you when they were using, they were not behaving nicely.  They would lie, they would steal, they would manipulate to get their needs met and they were incapable of loving you because they couldn’t love themselves.  They will tell you that all that “helping” was really “enabling” and prolonged their need to get help for themselves.

Unfortunately, there is very little we can do to help the addict other than love them through prayer and hope all the while, taking care of ourselves so if they become ready for a better life, you are able to receive them.  How do you love an addict?  Love an addict, by loving yourself at all cost.

Note to the readers:  This blog is my personal and professional opinion as it relates to helping adult addicts.  If you have a child whom is suffering with addiction issues, consult a professional immediately for advice.

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