Helping your Addicted Loved One ~ 3 Things You Can (and Can’t) Do
Families trying to help a loved one struggling with addiction may get a lot of mixed messages. “You’re the single greatest influence and person in my life! The addict may proclaim.” And although its often true. There are “three Cs” of addiction recovery you as a family member must accept:
- You didn’t cause it,
- you can’t cure it
- and you can’t control it.
What You Can’t Do
#1 Make them quit.
Although you may want to but you cannot force someone with a substance abuse problem to quit. Even if forced into treatment involuntary, you can’t make someone get clean and sober or change.
Often in attempts to help we over help; by giving them money, telling them what to do and trying to lift them up, but they have to commit to it. The most difficult yet most helpful thing you can do is let go. Recognizing as much as you love someone, you can’t control them or the situation, and you accept will have to accept your lack of control, so your loved one can face the natural consequences of their actions.” When they can do this, they will gain insight into their behaviors, use and then can decide to work towards change and recovery.
#2 Do the work of recovery for them.
Every individual will have to find their own way, their inner strengths, resiliency and reasons to recover. If your loved one attends treatment, you can’t do the work of recovery for them or doing so may not prevent a relapse(s), you can’t tell them what they need to work on despite your best intentions. Every individual must find what will work for them, work their program of recovery, find and take the necessary actions steps. Even if you see the relapse signs you can’t always do something about it. Addiction is powerful, cunning and baffling, it hijacks the brain, leading people to hide, lie and manipulate to maintain their substance abuse. Many can say they want to get well but there is simply no logic in addiction, the addicted person must do their own work to recover.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t and can’t mind someone’s journey to recovery. You can be a participant in their healing, but from arm’s length. For many, even those who maintain their recovery long-term, relapse is a common part of the process. It’s not unusual for those struggling with addiction to need multiple episodes of treatment. Someone can go to meetings, have a sponsor and be highly involved in AA but still relapse. The person must be willing to reach out for help to stop it and continue to work to overcome problems on a daily basis.
#3 Accept behavior that violates your boundaries.
To avoid enabling, healthy boundaries are a must and need to be set in good way. Once you’ve verbalized or demonstrated your boundaries, allowing them to be violated can perpetuate your loved one’s addiction and diminish your credibility.
Stating and owning your boundaries is how you help! Say what you mean and mean what you say otherwise, if you don’t follow through with consequences when someone violates one of your boundaries, you risk enabling but when you hold firm you can assist the addict to learn how boundaries work.
Boundaries can be basic — as Brene Brown defines boundaries “its what’s okay and what is not?” It can be that simple. For example, if residing in your home, your addicted loved must be clean and sober to continue to do so. If the boundary is broken, calmly say, “We talked about this and this doesn’t work for me” or “I love you but I won’t do this again” and then follow through with the consequence as you have defined it …. Is drinking or using okay in your home? If the answer is NO, hold firm to your boundaries which may mean disengaging for a period of time, or indefinitely.
For some people struggling with addiction, experiencing the consequences of their substance use is the only way they’ll recognize the seriousness of the problem and get help. As difficult as it is, you don’t have the power to fix it. Only they do.”
What You Can Do
#1 Get educated.
Learn about addiction — the signs, the treatments, the relapse triggers, how unresolved trauma contributes to the use — and talk and establish your own supports and keep the communication open with your addicted loved ones. Of course, education is no guarantee of healthy choices, but it can be a powerful tool in preventing substance abuse and finding a way into recovery for all involved.
If your loved one attends treatment, continue to be a source of support and accountability post-ttreatment, when cravings and triggers heighten the relapse risk. Your own supports may be a trusted other or Al-Anon group but they will assist to keep you grounded and focused on your own wellbeing.
#2 Take care of yourself.
An essential lesson for family is the importance of being good to themselves, regardless of whether your loved one is doing well or not. As you learned from educating yourself you must make healthy decisions for yourself as you can’t control another person. And you must in order to have any hope of being able to support and encourage your loved one.
For some people, groups like Al-Anon provide a safe place to get education and fellowship with others who are facing similar struggles. Others prefer seeing a counsellor privately or joining another type of support group; you will need to decide what works best for you.
Often there’s a lot of pain and grief involved when you love someone with a substance abuse problem. Your other family members and friends may not grieve in the same way as you and may have their own ideas about how to handle the situation. Families typically have difficulty understanding it at first, but if you seek help from others, yours and their healing can begin.
#3 Talk about it.
Talking about the problem can be healing and liberating for all involved. Breaking family rules of no talk and no feel are crucial part of the healing process. A person with a any type of addiction problem may be reluctant to reach out and ask for help, and if they do you may have difficulty or not know how to help but an open dialogue is your best opportunity to be there for them and can help you sort out what is happening.
Being open will also assist in establishing trust and to work on rebuilding or repairing the relationship, without judging, or blame. Most addicts are full of shame, guilt and remorse over their use. Sometimes you may have to step back, you take time to process what you may have learned which is normal and okay to do.
Nothing is more limiting to anyone’s healing than shame. Part of overcoming the struggle is to talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you realize everyone has a story, everyone has been affected by addiction in some way. Sharing how you feel can be releasing and the first huge step to wellness.
The realities of addiction are painful. It’s hard to hear that a loved one’s life is at risk and you can’t fix it or change it but is up to them to do. But once you accept certain realities, you may discover that there’s empowerment beyond the helplessness and endless worry. The above are the steps you can take to help yourself and your addicted loved one.