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Addiction, Brain Disease and the Family Part II

When it comes to family relationships, there is probably no other more confusing situation than when and addict or alcoholic is put into the mix.

Within our culture, our natural reaction to a loved one who is struggling with a problem is to lend our full support and help with the problem. As I have said before, this can be the equivalent of throwing gasoline on the fire when an addict is involved.

Enabling is a term that gets tossed around quite often in the area of addiction and recovery. Often it leaves a bad taste in some people mouths because, quite often, it is seen as an admission of guilt on behalf of the family member who is doing their best to help their loved one with an addiction and keep the family together at the same time.

No small task.

Enabling is easier understood as any behavior that keeps the addiction and the addict safe and sound and allows the addict to continue their activities unquestioned. I don’t like thinking in terms of black-and-white but when it comes to enabling it is very simple: if things are not getting better then you may be enabling the alcoholic.

Several ways people enable are:

  • Giving an addict money that they may use to buy drugs
  • Cutting them some slack and ignoring it when they use drugs after promising they’d quit
  • Calling an addict’s boss to say they’re ill when they’re really absent from work due to their addiction
  • Taking care of responsibilities for the addict: housekeeping, running errands, paying their bills, child rearing, etc.
  • Bailing them out of jail
  • Rationalizing or making excuses for their bad behavior

If you have to lie in order to assist someone else, you’re probably enabling, not helping.

After a period of time another behavior may begin to show: Codependency.

Codependency is best understood as becoming enmeshed or intertwined in another person’s daily activities that the individual sacrifices their own personal goals, needs and wants. Ignoring the problems that their loved one is facing and pouring all their energy into basic “survival” mode, the codependent will suffer by sacrificing their needs, their health and their self-esteem in order to “take care of” the addict or alcoholic.

That may seem rather bleak.

The good news is there are a variety of solutions for families dealing with an addict.

One way is changing the way you deal with the addict on a regular basis.

Boundaries: Boundaries are an understanding of what your limits are and what you will and will not tolerate from a loved one, family member, employer, stranger, etc.

Bottom Lines:  Much like boundaries, bottom lines are a clear definition of what is acceptable. It is also be an understand between that if a boundary is crossed, what consequences the person who crossed the boundary will face. An example of a clear boundary and bottom line is a parent who takes the car keys away from their daughter for driving under the influence and being informed in advance that the removal of the car would occur if she was caught coming home intoxicated after driving.

Threat:  A threat is a forceful attempt to change a person’s behavior by using fear. Threats promote unhealthy family relationships and increase anxiety. In many cases, people use empty threats to get the other person to change. I say empty threats because many times the person is unwilling to follow through of the threat. You can threaten to take away your child’s car for driving drunk and then not take the car away if it occurs.

Sounds simple. Yet when families are squaring off with an addict, the choice can be difficult and not seem so clear cut.

The key to boundaries and bottom lines is you need to be sure that you are willing to go through with the consequence once the boundary is crossed. If not, it will only be a simple threat and addicts and alcoholics can handle threats quiet well. They are in precarious and dangerous situation on a regular basis by the nature of their daily activities to get the substances they need. A wife or father wagging their finger at them is just not going to cut it!

Al-Anon/Nar-Anon:  There are several community-based support groups available for loved ones dealing with an addict or alcoholic. Al-Anon is the sister group to Alcoholics Anonymous and Nar-Anon is the sister group for Narcotics Anonymous.  Both groups are free to the public and have many chapters across the country. Their main mantra is the Three Cs:

  • You didn’t Cause it
  • You can’t Control it
  • You can’t Cure it

Both groups are run in similar fashion with members telling their stories of how they deal with and overcome adversity when dealing with an addict or alcoholic. The most positive thing about these groups is an understanding you are not alone!  Addiction is an isolating condition and knowing there are other out there struggling with the same issues as you is empowering. By listening to others stories of how they deal with this issue of a day-to-day basis can give hope.

You can also check your local directory of faith based groups in your area as many places of worship have their own groups and processes to assist family with addiction as well.  Remember you are not doing something that is easy. You are dealing with a sick person. And you don’t need to do it alone.

Frank Say

Professional Recovery Intervention and Family Therapy
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