When a loved one becomes addicted to a substance it is impossible to know how to help them. Even if you have struggled with addiction yourself, showing love for a family member, partner or friend who is struggling with an addiction can be difficult and confusing. Showing love for someone who has an active substance abuse or dependency condition must look different than showing love for someone who is in recovery or free from such a condition. Too often we give into addicted loved one's requests and pleadings and believe we are helping them by continuing to provide them with support to continue their destructive lifestyle. We mistakenly believe that if we say no or cut them off in any way that we are signing their death certificate. Maybe we recognize our enabling behaviors but fear that our loved one has become dependent on them and will not be able to survive without our continued support. The truth is, showing love and offering help by continuing to support someone in their active addiction is putting them at the highest risk for death.
The following steps must be taken in order to avoid continuing being part of your loved one's demise.
Stop enabling them but do not stop telling them you love them. You never have to stop telling them all the ways you love and care for them but you do have to stop giving them money, paying their bills, taking on their responsibilities, lying for them, and living with them while they commit a slow suicide. This is putting a stop to enabling behaviors but also willingly communicating that it is out of love for them and your desire to see them become well. They may say or do things that are hurtful but you do not need to do or say hurtful things in return, you must only follow through with putting a stop to the enabling behaviors.
Set clear and consistent boundaries. Once you have stopped your enabling behaviors you must not return to enabling your loved one to be active in their addiction again. If you have them move out you cannot invite them back in until they have followed through with what they said they would do (become engaged in treatment, attend 12 step meetings daily, etc). Setting firm boundaries will prevent your loved one from manipulating you to return to supporting their addiction.
Provide them with resources for helping themselves and be supportive when they put effort into getting treatment and working on their condition. Give them contact information on local treatment programs, NA or AA meetings, give them literature on 12-step meetings, give them self-help books, and remind them about emergency services they can utilize at any time. Work on returning some of your support to them when they make an effort to heal themselves. For an example, offer to help out with a responsibility of theirs so they have time to go to a meeting, or allow them to continue to live with you as long as they are engaged in an outpatient treatment program.
Hold your loved one accountable for their behaviors and promises. Holding your loved one accountable for seeking treatment and putting effort into their recovery means you may ask for proof of treatment engagement, 12-step meeting attendance, and overall transparency in their daily life before trust is repaired in the relationship. It also means that you will ask for a certain period of time to pass while the person is pursuing a recovery orientated lifestyle before you let your guard down.
Affirm their positive behavior by being more present in their lives during the times they are putting effort into working on their recovery, and excuse yourself from their life when they are not. This doesn't mean that you empower yourself to control them or judge them, it means that you recognize when it's time to protect yourself when they are active in their addiction, and enact boundaries that distance yourself from their destructive behavior
Put yourself first. This one is counterintuitive because when we really love someone we want to put their needs first. In healthy relationships that kind of love is returned and therefore both individuals get their needs met. When you have a relationship with someone who is in active addiction they do not have the ability to return love and care that they are given. Loving someone with an active addiction can be emotionally, physically, and financially draining. Therefore, it is vitally important that you put yourself first when loving someone with an active addiction because otherwise you won't get what you need to be well enough to take care of yourself, then what good are you to anyone right?
Seek support. Following the steps mentioned above is not easy and you will need support. Consider attending Al-Anon meetings, found in almost every populated town or city. These meetings are meant for individuals who have loved ones struggling with addiction. Meeting people who know first hand what you are going through is invaluable. Consider seeing a therapist; loving someone with an addiction can be an emotional rollercoaster and somewhat traumatic at times. Many individuals benefit from seeing a therapist that can help follow through with the steps mentioned above.
I hope this article was helpful. Catalyst Counseling of Connecticut, LLC will be hosting a support group for individuals who have loved ones who are suffering from an addiction. The support group will be offered this upcoming Wednesday April 20th from 6:45pm-7:45pm at Catalyst Counseling's center in Burlington. For individuals who have not attended groups at the counseling center before, your admittance will be free, for all others the cost is $35.00. The group will be facilitated by a licensed drug and alcohol therapist. Contact Kelly at Kelly.Taylor@CatalystCounselingCt.Com if you would like more information and are planning on attending. Coffee, tea, and infused water will be available for attendees and a light refreshment will be served.