Your loved one’s addiction has presented problems for all of you. Your family life has probably been deteriorating steadily as the addiction has progressively grown worse. Whether you are the spouse, parent, or sibling of an addict, it is definitely affecting your life adversely. Do not despair—there is hope! Professional help can assist you in dealing with the overwhelming challenge of having a loved one with an addiction.
Your family member has a disease that makes her truly believe that she absolutely must continue her using or addictive behavior in order to live. To ask an addict to stop using or acting out is similar to asking a person to stop breathing. In the addict’s mind, the addiction is the only thing in the world that allows her to live life and be comfortable in her own skin—despite all the negative consequences of the addiction. The disease makes her unable to help herself. She must seek qualified professional guidance to help begin the difficult process of recovery.
The family needs to learn to come to terms with this reality. No amount of suggestions, coaxing, or even threats will convince most addicts to seek treatment. Typically, only when the addict reaches rock bottom (an experience which differs for everyone) will she finally agree that she needs help. That being said, certain forms of intervention can be implemented to speed up the process of the addict recognizing her need to seek treatment. In a sense, the idea of an intervention is to “bring the bottom up” before nature brings the addict to the bottom. These interventions must be formulated with the guidance of a professional who is knowledgeable in the field of addictions. Often, the intervention will cause a great deal of anger, and knowledge of how to properly respond to it is almost as important as knowing how to deliver the intervention.
As important as it is for family members to seek support to help themselves through this very difficult situation, counselling is also their only hope for being able to help the addict. Families are definitely not the cause of the addiction, but they certainly do things that enable the addiction to continue. The family’s role in the process can be compared to the role of oxygen in a fire. While oxygen does not cause a fire, it nonetheless enables the fire to exist. The family’s well-meaning behaviours often unintentionally help the addict to continue her destructive lifestyle.
If you have a family member who is an addict, your enabling behaviours are fueled either by your desire to do what you feel is best for him, or by the feeling that you absolutely cannot handle another confrontation and blow-up—both perfectly understandable responses. However, as long as the family continues in this path, the addict will not stop using. The stopping of all enabling behaviours is a crucial prerequisite for him to seek help. Because you truly love this person, recognizing, and then ceasing, all enabling activities can be quite difficult. You need education, guidance, and someone to “hold your hand” as you learn how to help the addict in effective ways.
Another important aspect of this counselling is helping to restore the communication and trust between the addict and the family which has been damaged during this struggle. They will all need to learn how to set boundaries between one another and how to become comfortable enforcing them.
Every family that has an addictive member is faced with very difficult decisions. I am sure that you can relate to some of the following questions that I have been asked:
“My son has been arrested for dealing. Should I bail him out? I am petrified that something will happen to him in jail.”
“We have small children at home, and our son’s behaviors are very inappropriate. Should we ask him to leave?”
“My partner has a serious drinking problem. I am afraid that if I threaten to leave, she will get so depressed that she may kill herself. But I cannot keep living this type of life. What am I supposed to do? I am so confused.”
“I just found out that my 15-year-old daughter is doing drugs. What do I do?”
“My husband spends every evening drinking in his work shed. I don’t want to have a fight, so I just ignore it. Then I feel guilty. How do I help him?”
“We decided that our daughter can no longer live at home with us, so we set her up in an apartment. We are concerned that if we do not give her money for rent, she will end up in the street. Death or jail will shortly follow. What should we do?”
“My son wants to come home for the holidays, but I am sure he will be drunk or high. Can I tell him not to come?”
These are just a sample of the many difficult and painful questions for which no answer is easy or pleasant. You need professional guidance both in making these decisions and in coping with your personal suffering.
I truly understand the difficulties and struggles that you are facing. You deserve help.