There are few things more heart-wrenching than watching a loved one struggle with active substance abuse. As a behavioral disease that warps thinking beyond one’s control, the person you know and love is being muted by a process that hijacks their value system and makes securing their next fix the top priority. Addiction is nefarious in the way that it seeks to maintain homeostasis as a matter of survival, even though the behaviors are wreaking havoc on the person’s wellbeing and the health of their family members around them. Unfortunately, only the addict or alcoholic themselves can make the choice to pursue recovery. This beleaguering truth causes many family members to develop codependent relationships with their addicted loved ones. For codependent family members to retain their own health and emotional safety, certain habits must be reined in.
This proves difficult for parents in particular. When your child suffers with active addiction, it’s tempting to catch them with a feather pillow every time they fall. But there is a fine line between being supportive and enabling. The latter can actually cripple their progress toward recovery. Each person’s situation is different, and you may want to consult an addiction counselor about what to do. For example, is it okay to allow your son to live at home if he is actively using and lying about it? At least he isn’t out on the streets, right? Our staff is available by phone 24/7 to answer these sorts of questions: 833.433.0448
It feels really defeating to keep tabs on loved ones experiencing active addiction. Just when you think they’re doing better and rebuilding their lives, they drop out of school and are back out on the streets. Or they show up at a family event nodding off, clearly too high to have even driven there safely. Maybe you’re trying to maintain composure as they straight up lie to your face. Whatever it may be, these are all just symptoms of their disease. It’s not a reflection on who they are deep down. Remember: your goal right now is separating the addict from their addict behavior.
Addicts usually do some pretty hurtful things to maintain their habit. Sometimes it’s as blatant as stealing from your wallet. But more often, it’s some type of emotional manipulation to get what they want. Addiction is a family disease. All too often, active sufferers use their personal relationships with others to gain access to resources. More money, a place to stay, a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs. Don’t take these behaviors personally. They are suffering and need you to maintain boundaries.
To manage your relationship with a person who has a behavioral disease, you must maintain strict boundaries. Separating an addict from their addict behavior requires a mixture of empathy and impartiality that many find difficult. Our hearts and our heads pull us in opposite directions, but the solution lies somewhere in the middle. Avoid enabling, but also maintain hope for the future. Many addicts do recover. If you need more specific guidance, discuss boundaries with a mental health professional. Al-Anon group meetings offer an environment for affected family members to find support as well.
Most often, there’s a small window for addicts who are ready to get help. Stages of change shift and their resolve to admit into treatment weakens if left too long. So if they say they’re ready, it’s important to jump to action immediately. Have treatment options ready for them. Otherwise, that window may close.
There are many other coping skills for navigating relationships with loved ones struggling with an active addiction. Some of these can be learned in groups like Al Anon and Nar Anon, which are support groups for family members of alcoholics and drug users (respectively). These groups can be immeasurably helpful in feeling understood and learning some of the skills listed above.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for a substance abuse problem, our counselors are available 24/7 by phone: 833.433.0448