If you have an addict with an on-going addiction problem in the family, you quickly find out that the addiction has robbed you of any good relationship that might have existed before addiction became a part of your family. In most cases, the addicted person becomes a completely different person from the one you used to love and respect. It’s very difficult to love someone with a fully developed addiction.
Addiction makes addicts impossibly difficult, rude, hurtful, untrustworthy, angry, aggressive and selfish. Their addiction makes their own needs, dominate everything they think and do, to the exclusion of everything, and everyone else, including their family. It’s because their bodies and brains have been hijacked by the need to care far more about trying to supply their addiction with what it craves, than about anything else – including you. This will damage even the strongest of families.
They might still care about you a great deal, but now they find they care even more about their extreme need to obey the cravings of their addiction. And a fully developed addiction demands to be satisfied on a regular basis. It is even more demanding than you are, and must be obeyed.
Unfortunately, you and your family have become a relative side issue in their priorities – pushed to the edges of their lives by the powerful take-over needs of their addiction. You could be described as collateral damage – a casualty of war – the war that rages inside the minds of everyone with an addiction. This is very hurtful to loved ones, and difficult for anyone to deal with.
Their Addiction Is Not Your Fault
If you discover that you have addiction in the family, it’s vital to your own well being that you don’t feel responsible for what the addicted decides to do. You can try to do what you can to help them, but don’t expect miracles – your best efforts may well be ignored or resented. See Part 1 Family Rejection: The Addict’s View. You can encourage, threaten, persuade, and plead with them to get help, but it’s never ‘your fault’ if they refuse to take your advice.
Many addiction families find it useful to contact their local family support groups, or get in touch with family counseling services. Sometimes a self help group can give you the moral support that you need in these difficult situations. Your local doctor should know how you can contact the relevant services in your area.
If you are trying to help someone with an addiction, you have to take care to look after your own well being, as well as theirs. Even if they continue to destroy their own life, don’t let them destroy you, and your family as well. That doesn’t help anyone.
Abandoning An Addict To Their Fate
Depression, anger, and even violence, can result from an addict’s sense of powerlessness, guilt and humiliation. Then, it is very difficult for their family and friends to stick by them, and some families cannot cope, and reject the addicted person completely. That’s an understandable and normal human response, but if family and friends abandon someone with an addiction, they make the addict’s predicament even worse than it already is.
The addicted person becomes more isolated by this social rejection, and their situation becomes even more hopeless. The other negative consequence of family rejection is that the addicted person spends all their time with other addicts in similar circumstances. The addiction in the family drives a wedge between family members, because each side cannot understand the other.
When dealing with someone in denial about their addiction, it doesn’t make sense at all to someone without an addiction – unless you understand the reason for their denial, and why they fight to maintain the psychological denial of their true situation. See part 1 Denial & Family Rejection 1: The Addict’s View
From the addict’s point of view, their family and friends don’t understand what it’s like to have an addiction – but fellow addicts understand exactly what it’s like, or else, they don’t care. This might make the addict feel more psychologically comfortable, and make it easier for them to feed their addiction ‘in peace’, but completely abandoning an addict, makes a bad situation even worse – for the addict.
It’s understandable that at some point, you might want to give up on your addicted family member completely, and abandon them to their fate. By that stage, the situation may already be too late to rescue your relationship with that person.
But if, at some point before that stage, you draw a line in the sand, and deliver some sort of ultimatum such as: “I’m leaving you, and taking the kids, but if you go and get help I’m prepared to give you another chance” – this may in fact be the turning point that causes the addict to finally face reality. See What Will It Take Before You Ask For Help
The Difference Between Abandoning Someone & Withdrawing Support
If addicted people are abandoned by their non-addicted family and friends, and mix only with fellow addicts in the same predicament, they don’t have to endure the accusations, the pleadings, the guilt, and the reprimands about their addiction. But, if they are only interacting with fellow addicts, they increase their chance of continuing with their addiction, and becoming worse. There is also the increased risk of being exposed to violence, prostitution and disease.
These are difficult social and personal problems to solve, but there are many people trying to solve them – to reach out to give help and support to this group of people who really do need it – to help the family and friends of people with addictions, as welll as to the addicts themselves.
You can still ‘support’ an addict who rejects you physically or emotionally, by letting them know that if and when they are ready to face up to the truth and decide to get help, you will still be there for them. You cannot force them to do anything they are not ready to do, but if you leave the door open, there is still a chance that at some point they will be ready to come back to you, and get help in turning their life around.
The Difference Between Providing Support & Facilitating Addiction
There is a difference between supporting a person close to you who has an addiction, and always giving them what they need. Sometimes, people who are close to an addict MUST say ‘No, not any more’.
Addicts put a great deal of pressure on those around them in order to get what they need. If you ‘forgive’ them again and again, or lend them money because they look so desperate, it may make you feel less distressed, and it might buy you a bit of breathing space…until it happens again….and again. Giving an addict what they ‘need’ because you are under pressure is not helping them – it’s facilitating their addiction and ‘allowing’ them to continue.
You can make it clear that if they get help, the door is still open, and at the same time, also refuse to give the addicted person what they say they need.
It’s important to remember this:
If that person then comes to harm in some way after you have stopped ‘making it easy’ for the addict to continue with their addiction – i.e. facilitating their addiction – that is never your fault.
Any bad consequences are not because of your refusal to continue to keep making it easy for them. You did the right thing. You were helping this person to beat their addiction by putting extra weight on the side of pressuring them to get help.
Everyone makes their own decisions and is responsible for their own decisions. If that person refuses to take up your offer to help them to get the help, that is their decision. And they are responsible for any consequences of that decision. Any bad consequences are not because of your refusal, they are the result of the addiction, and the choices made by the addicted person – not by your refusal to help them continue with their destructive behavior.
Of course, it’s not easy to refuse them what they so desperately need, but giving in to their threats and pleadings is not really ‘helping’ them at all. You are being put under a great deal of stress, and you will probably need your own support systems to maintain your own mental and physical health.
Professional Family Support
The families of addicts are always under a great deal of stress, and at risk of mental or physical health problems themselves. It’s important that your first priority is to take care of yourself and any children you may have. If you think you need it, get professional help for yourself and your family – before you become collateral damage – even if the addicted person refuses get help for their own problems. Your first responsibility is to yourself and your family. Someone else’s addiction is never your fault.