What To Do – And What NOT To Do When A Loved One Is Addicted
Discovering a Loved One’s Addiction.
Drug and alcohol addiction don’t happen overnight. Addiction typically occurs when people use a prescription medication like Hydrocodone or Xanax over an extended period of time, drink alcohol consistently and increasing over a period of time, or continually use illicit drugs. However, just because your loved one’s drinking or drug-using has been going on for a while, doesn’t mean that you’ve been aware of it.
Plenty of partners, spouses, parents and children find out their loved one is addicted to substances long after the initially using began. Even the most healthy, confident, independent people have found themselves in close connection with a person who is addicted. Addiction is colorblind: It knows no limits to race, economic status, marital status, gender, age or background. The same can be said for those who love someone who is addicted.
If you discover that someone in your family is addicted, you and every other member of your family are at risk for developing problems that stem from that addiction – after all, addiction is a family disease.
Leading up to discovering a loved one’s addiction, you may have experienced worries or concerns about their behavior and actions. You may have had arguments or suspicions. Until this point, you may have had an unsettling feeling about your loved one that you couldn’t shake.
Discovering a bag of cocaine or a stash of pills, hidden flasks or spoons or needles can be heartbreaking – and bring on a wave of emotions.
Most Common Mistakes.
From the moment your loved one becomes addicted, you jump onto a roller-coaster of emotion. Some moments you may feel like screaming – angry with your loved one, angry with yourself, angry at the hand you’ve been dealt. Other times, panic; Fear that your loved one won’t come home – and worried that his next fix may be his last. Then there’s the guilt and the shame – perhaps they’re the worst. How could this have happened?
The most common mistakes in confronting someone and dealing with someone who is actively addicted stem from a place of love, concern, care – and a desire to control the situation. The most common mistakes keep our loved ones sick, and our lives chaotic:
- Trying to “fix” the addicted person.
You may feel that you love your child, spouse, parent or sibling so much that it’s your job to fix them. Maybe you don’t want your marriage to fail, or to lose the close relationship you once shared.
When you love someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you spend a great amount of time and energy hoping that he will change. So, when he or she doesn’t change, you make excuses, you cover for their behavior, and take the brunt of the consequence. Trying to fix – or rescue – an addicted person doesn’t just keep you in the circle of unhealthy thinking and behaviors, it keeps your loved one drinking, shooting heroin, or eating pills. Your love and support won’t save them – but professional addiction treatment, can.
- Ignoring the addicted person.
She was late meeting you for dinner, again – clearly high and slurring her speech. You found another stash of pills in his car. Should you say something – or let it slide? Letting a loved one off the hook, lying to yourself or convincing yourself that the addiction isn’t “that bad” is a common mistake that many people make when a loved one is addicted.
Sometimes, the easiest way to deal with a problem is to ignore it. But when it comes to a progressive disease like addiction – ignoring can be dangerous and deadly. Addiction doesn’t just go away on it’s own. It needs to be dealt with professionally. Don’t believe what your addicted loved one says – only deal with the facts. If you think your loved one is using or drinking – it’s because they are.
- Losing yourself.
Everyday, we talk to family members – especially spouses who desperately ask, “Should I stay?” When you love someone who is addicted to a substance, that person – by their disease, is obsessed with drugs or alcohol. No matter how much she loves you too, if she is in active addiction, she’ll choose the substance over you. She can’t choose you. She can’t choose her job, her goals, her life. If she could, it wouldn’t be addiction. That being said, YOU have the power to do something. You have the power to take care of yourself, set boundaries, and focus on your own life – instead of trying to control your loved one. Although it will be painful, remind yourself that his addiction isn’t personal – but your well being is. The only life that you can save is your own.
What To Do Instead.
Trying to rescue or ignore an addicted loved one, or losing yourself won’t help you – or your loved one recover from addiction. Here are some thing that do work:
- Setting boundaries – and sticking to them.
Weak or nonexistent boundaries compromise what makes you, you. Without boundaries, you will be lied to, cheated on, and stolen from. Setting boundaries brings a measure of control and sanity into a chaotic situation, and will increase the chances that your loved one seeks help. Here are 7 boundaries we recommend setting.
- Getting help for yourself.
If a loved one is addicted, there is no doubt that you have been affected by the disease. For as long as your loved one has been using, you’ve been getting sick too. Drug and alcohol addiction can cause a great deal of painful and emotional stress for everyone involved. It’s time that you speak with a therapist or attend a group meeting designed for friends and family members. Doing so won’t just help you get healthy, it can set an example for your addicted loved one.
- Talking to a professional.
Just because you’re not the person who is using heroin, pills or alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t talk to an addiction treatment professional. In fact, we recommend reaching out an addiction treatment specialist prior to your loved one agreeing to get help. Being proactive, researching and developing a plan reduces the chance that your loved one will back out or have a change of heart about going to inpatient rehab.
“How did I not know? Why didn’t I see it coming? Why can’t I save them? Is this my fault? Could I have done more?” When a loved one is addicted, these thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming times. Your worry, fear, anger and obsession over your loved one can take control. Follow these tips – and get the help that you both need.