When a Loved One Has an Addiction

Do you have a person in your life, someone you love… a spouse, a sister, a brother, a daughter, a son… a parent perhaps…who is struggling with an addiction to the point where it is affecting you? You are not alone!

Many people live stressed out, worry-filled lives due to someone else’s substance abuse problem.

Have you heard the term enabler?  Perhaps co-dependent? These terms are some of the labels sometimes applied to person who is strongly impacted by a significant person’s addictive behaviors, who also finds that their own sense of well-being is becoming more and more impacted by their loved ones actions and that their sense of peace and security hinges on how much the loved is (or isn’t) drinking or drugging.

These terms are used in other contexts as well, and what I am writing can be applied to them as well, but for now, I would like to address those whose family members use of substances has created turmoil and worry, to the point where you are the one seeking recovery on behalf of the addicted one, seeking solutions for them to get well.  Not only because you are well-meaning and love them, but because you strongly feel that your life will become happier, more serene, and less stressful if they get clean and/or sober.

And this is one of the hallmarks of co-dependency: an obsession with a loved one… worrying and thinking about them, feeling anxious, checking up on them, sometimes calling or texting incessantly.  Also, there is the common characteristic of trying to fix them or control them… “if they would only go to detox, rehab, etc (you fill in the blank) then… I can move on with my life… be happier, more at peace, I can stop worrying”.

So, what is so wrong with this… why shouldn’t I worry and obsess about my loved one… look at what a mess he/she is making of their lives!

So, what is wrong with that?  Well, if I am basing my happiness or experience of good feelings as a result of another person’s behaviors, what he/she does or doesn’t do, then I am giving away my power.  That person has the power to “make me feel” happy or worried, sad or peaceful based on what actions he or she takes.  That means I have “externalized” my feelings, as opposed to being able to manage my feelings internally.

What do I do when the way I make myself happy is to control your drinking?  Well, a common characteristic of co-dependendents is people pleasing.  They think “If I make you happy, then you will love me so much, you will quit drinking.” I would like to ask you, respectfully, “how is that working for you so far?”

Another characteristic of co-dependents is to “rescue” the drinker or drug abuser.  They bail them out of jail, pay for rehab over and over, even sometimes give them money so that they can buy their substance of choice.  Some people believe this is healthy behavior… that they are saving the drinker or drug addict from some troubling or dangerous experiences.

However, there is an error in thinking in most cases, when people rescue.  When we rescue an addict, we prevent them from experiencing the consequences of using and drinking… they never get to feel the truly bad feelings needed to be able to say ” I am done using… this is terrible… it is not worth it anymore.”

Once the “light comes on” for the rescuer, than this is where most enablers or co-dependents will finally look at the fact that they themselves have a serious problem… they can recognize they are as addicted to trying to people please, rescue, or control the addict in their live as much as their addict is addicted to their substance of choice.

What happens when a rescuer stops rescuing?  Many feel tremendous guilt… and the obsessive thinking continues, as they image the worst… “catastrophizing” I call it.

What is there left to do?  What is the next step?

Working with an experienced licensed addiction counselor who has experience with the dynamics of the families living with a loved one suffering from the disease of addiction will give you a safe place to express your worries and concerns, your anger, your sadness.  More importantly, you will re-learn self-care… how to have healthy self care instead of unhealthy obsession with controlling another’s uncontrollable behaviors.

You can learn to let go… let go of a situation that you cannot control or manage, and begin to heal.. regardless if your loved one finds recovery or not.  You will become a model of healthy functioning, healthy self care, and begin to internalize a range of healthy coping skills to manage your emotions and thoughts when you become dysregulated.  You will learn that you can love the addict in a way that allows you to continue to grow and to experience the positive feelings this life has to offer, regardless of what the addict does or doesn’t do.

I have over 25 years of experience working with not only addicts and alcoholics, but also their loved ones, suffering on the sidelines, as the user continues in a downward spiral.

Please call for a free 15 minute phone consultation and we can discuss your situation and explore the possibilities of  you beginning the journey to wellness, peace, and serenity.

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