Nearly 23.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol – and for every person who is addicted, there is – at the very least – one other person who loves them.
Addiction has a way of complicating everything it touches, including love. It can blur the line between helping and hurting, loving and enabling. Addiction can convince us to do things we’d never imagine we’d do, like covering for our loved ones when they miss a family gathering or ignoring telltale signs of drug use – just to keep the peace.
Addiction can also cause families to sacrifice the things most important to them.
Sacrifice can come in two different forms: Healthy and unhealthy. Healthy sacrifice allows us to let go of what doesn’t work in order to embrace what does work – or what works better. On the other hand, unhealthy sacrifice is often well-intentioned but doesn’t yield results. While helping and giving are character strengths, sometimes our best intentions give way to dysfunctional helping and giving. The solution to the dysfunction isn’t to stop helping – but instead to set boundaries.
Are you sacrificing any of this things in your loved one’s addiction?
Have you ever sacrificed your own happiness in order to try to make your loved one happy? Depending on your situation, your answer may not be an obvious “yes”. In fact, often times, sacrificing our own happiness can be subtle. You may believe that by making your loved one happy, you’ll automatically be happy, as well. You may begin to think more about your loved one and their happiness than the things that matter to you. You may not even notice that you’ve put aside all of your values and beliefs in order to make him or her happy. You may feel a sense of responsibility for his or her happiness at the expense of your own.
More often than not, it’s easy to identify health changes or issues in those who are actively addicted. Whether it’s weight loss or weight gain, tooth decay or gum disease, liver cirrhosis and so on. However, for family members of those in active addiction, the health effects may not be as apparent. The damage associated with a loved one’s addiction can impact physical, mental and emotional health.
If you love someone in active addiction, your mental and physical health have been affected by substance abuse in at least one of the following ways: sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, reduced concentration, changes in weight, and overall increased physical health complaints.
The pain and mistrust of addiction can wreak havoc on a family – and that havoc isn’t restricted to the relationship with the addicted person. In fact, when a loved one is addicted, relationships with other people in your life may suffer. Family members may distance themselves from one another physically or emotionally – in order to avoid the pain of what’s really unfolding in their home. With the time, energy and focus of the family being directed towards the addicted person, it’s easy to grow apart from one another, argue, lie, or even become physically aggressive.
The person using drugs or alcohol isn’t the only one who cuts their future and aspirations short. Family members of those in active addiction may redirect their life focuses based on their loved one’s drug or alcohol abuse. The family member may restrict his or her own activities, work schedule or social engagements in order to ‘supervise’ their loved one – and try to control their behaviors and actions.
In addition to career and family aspirations, a loved one’s addiction may also negatively impact the financial aspirations of the family. Far too many families are forced to face the decisions of bankruptcy, foreclosure, spending life savings or retirement savings.
Continuing to put your loved one’s life before your own may feel noble to you. However, believing that you will find love, happiness and fulfillment by putting your loved one first and yourself last isn’t necessarily healthy. Rescuing others from having to deal with or take responsibility doesn’t address the root problem. You will continue to go around in circles trying to put out fires, prevent crises and not upset or disappoint others for the rest of your life – without any real resolution.
As a parent, spouse or close family member, you may truly feel that you’d give your life for your loved one. However, there is a fine line between sacrificing in order to bring changing – and always being the person who sacrifices, or feeling forced to make a sacrifice.
The five points above have something else in common: None of them are transferrable. It is physically impossible to bottle up your happiness, health, family, aspirations or life and give it to someone else. No matter how much you want to and no matter how hard you may try.
It is, however, important distinguish generosity or healthy giving from codependency. Healthy sacrifice promotes well-being for your loved one and you. Unhealthy sacrifice – or codependency – fosters dependency that can become a repeated pattern, difficult to break.
If you find yourself sacrificing any of these things for an addicted loved one, it may be time to consider self-care, meetings for families of addicted people, or professional therapy or counseling. We’re here to help you make that vital first step.