According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in the United States, 17.6 million people, or one in 12 adults, abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. An estimated 13 million Americans abuse illegal drugs, and approximately seven million Americans abuse prescription medicines, such as narcotic pain medications or anti-anxiety medications. Addition impacts not just the addict, but family and friends as well.
Read more about addiction
Read more about substance abuse
Read more about alcoholism.
Help For Those Who Love An Addict
There are a number of things you can do as someone who loves an addict, if you are also an addict, or if your friend (or loved one) is in a relationship with an addict.
Remember that addiction is not something that you can control. Instead, you can control how you approach and react to the situation.
DO understand that addiction is a disease. Addiction is not a choice or a moral failing on the part of the addict. The addict is not capable of "just stopping," even if he or she desperately wants to. Addicts can no more choose their way out of addiction than a diabetic can choose their way out of diabetes. However, addicts CAN choose to treat their disease.
DO understand that you are not the problem, and your loved one's addiction is not your fault. The addict does not use because you made him or her angry or upset, or because you "drove" that person to it, or because you did something wrong. The addict uses because he or she has the disease of addiction.
Recognize your own ENABLING and CODEPENDENT behaviors, and make a commitment to STOP DOING THOSE THINGS that enable the addict. Don't make it easy and comfortable for your addicted loved one to continue feeding his or her addiction. Also, enabling isn't helping the addict. It is keeping that person sick.
The addict will continue to REPEAT BEHAVIORS until he or she has treated the disease. They will promise you otherwise, with the best of intentions, but they will continue to use until they treat the underlying issue -- the addiction.
Addicts almost always cannot get better with help, and you can't give them that help. You can help support them in treatment and recovery, you can love them, but you cannot be their sole recovery system.
DO urge your addicted loved one to enter a reputable treatment program as soon as he or she admits that there is a problem, with medically supervised detox if needed. Once the initial treatment program is completed, DO insist that your loved one seek follow-up peer support from a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Private therapy may also be helpful in addressing emotional issues or trauma that can trigger the addictive behavior.
DO encourage your addicted loved one to seek an evaluation by a qualified professional, particularly one specialized in treating addiction. This can be done in addition to any other support and treatment. Many addicts have underlying mental illness that they are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. A correct diagnosis and non-narcotic medications may be needed, and can greatly assist in recovery. Conversely, some addicts who appear to have serious mental illness may actually see those symptoms improve dramatically once they become clean.
DO understand that if your loved one is not willing to seek treatment, it is very important that you resist the temptation to enable their addiction "until he or she is ready." As difficult as it may be, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to separate yourself from the addict, allow him or her to experience the consequences of his or her behavior, and to finally "hit rock bottom." It is then that the addict may at last be able to admit the problem and ask for help.
In some cases, your addicted loved one may never seek treatment. If that happens, you need to be prepared to separate from him or her permanently. Remember: you cannot save the addict and you cannot fix them. Only when the addict is ready to get help, can you make an impact. You can try everything in your power to help them and it will not make a difference. You are powerless against their disease of addiction and can only control your behavior and your actions, not those of the addict.
DO take care of yourself and your emotional health. We often forget that in the home of an addict, the whole family is sick, not just the addict. Consider individual therapy including therapy for any children in the household. Family or couples therapy may be helpful down the road.
DO remember that families and loved ones of addicts often need peer support too. Al-anon and Nar-anon are available in many areas, and are a place where you can connect with other families and individuals who understand what you're going through. Alateen provides a safe place for teens to get support and share stories with peers of their own age group.
DO give yourself permission to feel angry and sad that your loved one has the disease of addiction. These are natural feelings for anyone who loves an addict. You can love the addict and hate the disease.
If you are a co-addict, it is essential that you get help for your own addiction prior to or at the same time as your addicted loved one. Even if you don't use the same drug or if you think you're "not as bad;" even if you drink to excess or abuse medication "for stress" or "just on weekends," you still have a problem. You cannot support your addicted loved one in their recovery if you are using, and they cannot remain in recovery for very long if they are constantly exposed to someone who is using.
If A Friend Or Loved One Is In A Relationship With An Addict:
This can be a tricky situation and must be handled with care. However, the same principals noted above apply.
DO offer support and empathy. People who love addicts are often isolated from family and friends because of the addict's behavior.
DO read up on addiction so you understand more about addiction including its causes and its treatment. The Al-anon website is a great resource for information.
DO understand that the addict is not a bad or weak person; they have a disease.
SHARE information and resources you may have that can assist the addict's treatment. For example, you may know of a good outpatient treatment center, or the name of a good therapist.
DO understand if your loved one or friend can't attend certain events because they are early in recovery and don't want to be around the temptation.
DON'T play Doctor Google, suggesting treatment or advice - you are not expected to be a professional and an expert in this field.
DON'T EVER offer drugs or alcohol to someone in recovery. Seriously. Just don't. They can't have "just one." NOT EVER.
What Not To Say To Someone Who Loves an Addict:
“I never understood what you saw in (addict) in the first place.”
“Addiction is not a disease, it’s a choice/excuse.”
Don’t blame the loved ones of the addict. Don’t suggest that if he or she “tried harder” or did certain things differently, the addict would magically stop using.
Don’t tell the addict’s loved ones that the addict could stop using their drug of choice if they “really wanted to”.
“Addicts are all worthless losers.”
“(Addict)’s drinking doesn’t seem that bad to me. Aren’t you exaggerating a little?”
“Maybe if you didn’t nag all the time, (addict) wouldn’t have to go out and get high/drunk.”
“Oh, come on, (addict) can have ONE beer or glass of wine or joint.”
“You’re no fun anymore since (addict) went all straight and narrow.”
“Have you heard about how food allergies/unbalanced chi/car air fresheners are actually the cause of addictions?”
“Hey, did you see that commercial for Passages Malibu? That guy was an addict for ten years, and now he’s not!”
“My dad/hairdresser/cousin’s best friend quit cold turkey 20 years ago and hasn’t touched a drop since. You just have to have willpower.”
“I’d never stay with a drunk/junkie/addict.”
“I can’t believe you left (addict). She or he is TRYING, after all.”
Co-dependency And Enabling:
Enabling and codependency are terms that are often used in addiction treatment and recovery circles, but what do those terms mean, exactly?
Let’s explore them in more detail.
What is Enabling?
Simply stated, enabling means doing things which allow the addict to continue his or her harmful, destructive behavior without experiencing the negative consequences of that behavior. Some examples of enabling include:
- Calling in sick for an addicted loved one who is too hung over from drinking, or too ill after drug use, to go in to work or school.
- Buying alcohol for an addict so that they will stay home, telling yourself it’s better than the addict going out to get drunk and getting stopped for DUI.
- Purchasing alcohol for an addict for any reason.
- Overlooking illegal drug use by the addict in your home.
- Giving your addicted loved one your own prescription medication.
- Filling prescriptions from several doctors for your addicted loved one without informing the doctors that they are duplicating medicines, and that you suspect your loved one is abusing the medication.
- Bailing a loved one out of jail repeated times for drug possession, DUI charges, or other legal troubles resulting from their addiction.
- Allowing an addicted loved one to continue to live with you or stay with you, despite the addict stealing, lying, being abusive, or otherwise causing trouble for you and other members of the household.
- Excusing an addicted loved one’s abusive, rude or unacceptable behavior to others. Downplaying serious incidents that occur while the addict is using.
- Denying that the addict has a problem, or telling yourself, “It’s not that bad.”
What Is Codependency?
Codependency usually goes hand-in-hand with enabling, as the behaviors are almost identical. While their intentions are usually good, Codependent persons frequently have trouble establishing and maintaining any healthy relationship, unconsciously choosing to focus their attention on those whom they feel they can "rescue."
Read more about codependency.
Codependent persons also find it difficult to say no to others’ requests - not just from their addicted or dysfunctional loved one, but at work, school, volunteer positions, or in other relationships.
Similarly, they may choose to remain silent or not stand up for themselves when their addicted or dysfunctional loved one picks a fight or is even abusive, in order to “keep the peace."
Sometimes, the Codependent person is also a Co-Addict who struggles with an addiction of his or her own; for example, the spouse of an alcoholic may abuse prescription drugs.
Codependent individuals regularly have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for the actions of their addicted or dysfunctional loved ones, feeling that the other person will not survive without them, or that no one else can care for their addicted or dysfunctional loved one properly.
Paradoxically, even though they may feel resentment at being in the position of caretaker, or express a desire for someone to help with their responsibilities, the Codependent person frequently comes to crave the sense of importance and control they receive from caring for their addicted or dysfunctional loved one.
In order to have the best chance at breaking the cycle of addiction, it’s important for the family and friends of the addict to recognize their own patterns of enabling and codependency, and seek help and support to learn to set boundaries and have healthy, loving relationships.
Additional Pages On Band Back Together:
Additional Resources About Loving Someone With Addiction:
Al-Anon – “In Al-Anon, members do not give direction or advice to other members. Instead, they share their personal experiences and stories, and invite other members to ‘take what they like and leave the rest’—that is, to determine for themselves what lesson they could apply to their own lives.”
Nar-Anon – “Nar-Anon is a twelve-step program designed to help relatives and friends of addicts recover from the effects of living with an addicted relative or friend. Whether the addict is using or not, Nar-Anon offers hope and recovery to all people affected by the addiction of a loved one or friend.”
Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization – “Adult Children of Alcoholics is an anonymous Twelve Step, Twelve Tradition program of women and men who grew up in…alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional homes. We meet with each other in a mutually respectful, safe environment and acknowledge our common experiences. We discover how childhood affected us in the past and influences us in the present.”