Shame, guilt, worry, fear and frustration. If you have a close friend or family member who is in active addiction with heroin, Hydrocodone, alcohol or any other drug – you know these feelings all too well. These emotions are an everyday commonplace for families and individuals concerned about a loved one’s drinking or drug use. And while families provide love, concern, and willingness to help – they can also provide a way for their loved one to continue using drugs or alcohol. While family and friends have the best of intentions, their “help” is often the wrong kind. When it comes to “helping” someone who is addicted to Oxycontin or meth – you may not be helping at all. In fact, the chances are that what’s you’re really doing is enabling that person. That’s because addiction is a disease that can twist love and help into enabling. Mistaking helping the disease for helping your loved one can be dangerous – even deadly. We Want to provide families a series of steps to take when their loved one is in active addiction. These suggestions will not only help your family member, but they will also help you and your entire family.
1. Come to Terms with Reality
When you love a person in active addiction, it’s common to try to “keep the peace” or remain in denial about the situation – in a mental state where you can imagine that their drug use is just going to get better and disappear on its own. While this reaction is common, it’s not healthy for you or your loved one. Things are not just going to magically get better on their own. Coming face-to-face with reality and accepting that parts of your life may be out of control as a result of loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol will help you to see the situation for what it really is. It will also help you make more rational decisions when it comes to helping vs. enabling behaviors – giving them money for food (enabling) vs. meeting them for lunch and buying them a hamburger (helping).
2. Don’t Rescue Your Loved One
Actually helping your loved one means letting him or her experience the full consequences of his or her disease. Paying an addicted person’s electricity bill, buying them a car or giving them money for groceries are all means of financially rescuing them. Of course you don’t want them to lose their electricity, you want them to have a way to get to and from work, and you want them to have money for food – but if you provide these items for them, or “rescue” them from consequences, it is a sure-fire way to ensure that more consequences must occur before the need for recovery is realized. While you may be providing money with the best of intentions, it will always serve as a way to enabler your addicted loved one to avoid the natural and necessary consequences of addiction. You can’t love someone into recovery.
3. Don’t Make Idle Threats – and Don’t Accept Promises
Words only mean so much to an individual struggling with addiction. It’s not that your loved one doesn’t intend on keeping their promise to quit drinking or doing cocaine, or their promise to hold a steady job or to stay sober for the family dinner. If your loved one is addicted to a substance, they are powerless to their drug of choice and cannot consistently keep their commitments. By the same token, they cannot be motivated by idle threats without follow-through on action. Someone who is sick with addiction will not be motivated to take action because of a promise – or because of intimidation.
4. Don’t Accommodate the Disease
Addiction is a family disease: it will infiltrate a family’s home, their lifestyle, their relationships, and their attitude. Addiction is the only disease that will tell an individual and their family that they don’t have a disease. Addiction will progress within the entire family system, and those around the addicted individual will often accommodate its presence – without even being aware of it. Have you ever adjusted your work schedule based on when your addicted loved one would be home? Locked up valuables when they’re around? “Covered” for your loved one when they’re hungover or high by calling them out of work? Not hosted friends and other family in fear you’d be embarrassed by your loved one’s actions if they are drunk or high? These are all examples of accommodating the disease and adjusting your life to cover up what’s really going on.
5. Focus On Your Own Life — Self Care Doesn’t Mean Selfish
When someone you care about is hurting, sick or in harm’s way – it’s easy for your own life to take a back seat to their needs. When someone you love is sick with the disease of addiction, you’re often sick to your own stomach worrying about them, awake all night, cutting off relationships with your own friends, struggling at work. You no longer are participating in hobbies you once enjoyed, no longer active at church, no longer going to the gym on a regular basis. Perhaps areas of your life have taken a back seat to the needs of your family member or friend struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. Turning your attention away from someone suffering in addiction does not mean that you are selfish. Learning how to set boundaries, detaching with love and taking care of yourself won’t just take you off of the daily roller coaster, but it will also empower you to follow steps #1 – #4.
6. Learn About the Disease
With the help of denial and misinformation, the disease of addiction will only grow and thrive in your home. We’re not saying that you’re dumb for not knowing about addiction and for enabling. Maybe you haven’t seen addictive behavior before and truly don’t know what to do or how to do it. Perhaps you don’t realize you’re only making things worse. You can do better when you know better. That is why it’s important that you understand that addiction is a progressive disease and that your loved one is a person who is sick – not a person who is bad. No one is to blame for the disease and there is no shame or guilt to be had – on your part OR your loved one’s. Take the time to learn about substance addiction through reliable resources, support groups and meetings, and even a therapist for yourself. Realize that you are not alone in this experience and connect with other families and counselors who can relate. Not only will this step help you to find hope and healing, but it will also help you instate the other five steps – and in turn, will help your loved one. Admittedly, none of these steps are going to be easy for you or your family. But the consequences of enabling addiction and not helping your loved one are too deadly to continue without change. Use these tools to start the healing process for your family, and remember, help is available for you and the person struggling with addiction.