If you have a loved one suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, you’ve likely experienced one or more of the following heartbreaking scenarios:
- Staying up late worrying about whether or not they’ll get home safely tonight
- Waiting anxiously in the hospital waiting room for the doctor to break the good news that they’re going to pull through an overdose
- Hearing the guilt-inducing demands for more money or variations of the “if you love me, you’ll let me be” comment
There are countless other painful day-to-day experiences one encounters when living with or loving a drug addict. Most of the time, you’re scared for them, you want to help them and you want them to change their ways but you don’t know how to get them to do so. And because you love them, you don’t want to increase the already-growing distance between the two of you—so you end up covering their tracks. Time and time again.
You give them the five more dollars that they’re begging for; you clean up the vomit in the bathroom from the night before; you tuck them into bed to sleep off an episode; you sign them out of the hospital early because they’re miserable and begging you to let them out. When does it ever stop?
First of all, it is important to know that nobody is blaming you. Addiction is complicated and painful and we often believe that we can love those around us into sobriety. However, sadly, that is never the case. As difficult as it is to hear, behaviors like giving your friend that measly five dollars or signing your son out of the hospital for early release are actually enabling your loved one to continue down his or her self-destructive path. The addicted part of their brain remembers that they can always get money from Mom with guilt-tripping tactics or that they can always rely on their best friend to pick them up no matter what hour of the night.
As part of the disease, an addict will go to any means to get what they crave—even at the emotional expense of those they love. Although they often will exhibit guilt and sorrow for their behaviors the next morning, once the cravings kick in, they’ll be doing everything all over again. Addiction is a vicious cycle and drugs will continue to fuel that one-track thinking pattern of doing whatever is necessary to get that next high.
It may be one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do, but friends and families of addicts need to let go of the notion that they can save their loved one in order for there to be any chance at real change. By doing so, you can begin to explore your personal limits and define your boundaries.
Time to Pull Away
As much as it hurts, sometimes pulling away from the addict’s vicious cycle may call for ultimatums. This can include ending a romantic relationship, cutting off the addict financially, forcing him or her to move out of the house, or taking away their child custody rights, just to name a few. By simply telling the individual to “stop doing drugs” or that “things need to change soon,” you’re just giving the addict either too broad an obstacle to conquer or too much wiggle room in which they can find ways to manipulate the situation (which they’re very good at doing). Therefore, the key is to be specific and unclenching with your boundaries. By implementing exact, time-sensitive consequences for their repeated bad behavior, the addict will then be forced to make a choice.
It is also important to keep in made that this choice is for your loved one to make alone and, as frustrating as it to watch, they may not want to choose recovery—even with all your inflicted consequences. He or she may need more time for the reality of the consequences to sink in before they take any action towards sobriety and, ultimately, it is only he or she who can decide to get out of the dark pit that has swallowed him or her up.
Finally, in the midst of caring for your loved one, remember that you are also responsible for taking care of yourself. You can’t allow your loved one to fuel their addiction at the expense of depriving you of all your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Your health is of equal importance and by doing what is best for you—even if that includes walking away from the toxic situation—you are coincidentally also doing the best thing you can do for your addicted loved one. If you or someone you know is seeking professional support, please visit our directory of counseling and therapy centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.