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My Loved One is an Addict...What do I do?

If you are one of the 46% of Americans in close relationship with an addict, you’re not as powerless as you think. Read on…

National Recovery Month

Based on my 20+ years working with addicts, not one of them ever said, “I always knew I wanted to be an addict when I grew up.” Nope. Not one.

The truth is, nearly all future addicts start their illustrious drinking and drugging careers with something nearly all of us do: experimentation. Let’s get honest, who of you reading this has never had an alcoholic beverage in your life? If you have ever consumed an alcoholic drink, then yes, you have tried or “experimented” with drug consumption.

Remember, alcohol is, in fact, a drug. Alcohol is a drug that people drink.

There are a host of risk and predictive factors that contribute to the how’s and why’s people become addicted. (Click here for a brief overview). But at the weekend high school party where everyone is getting loaded, no one can say for certain which ones of those teens will become addicted. But some of them definitely will.

Maybe one of those future addicts was you. Or your spouse. Or your parent. Or heaven forbid, your own child.

If there is an active addict in your life, there’s no doubt you feel powerless, resentful, anxious, worried, exhausted, guilty, ashamed. Maybe even a bit hopeless. The first thing you need to know is, you are far from being alone. Think about it: nearly half of us have had a family member or a close friend who suffers from addiction. Half. 46%. It’s the “hush hush” disease that so many of us have and so few of us are willing to talk about.

So let’s call BS! on this thing and let’s talk about it!

The paradox of truth: it is often painful. But if we let it, the truth will always set us free.

Helping an Addict

There are a series of steps that loved ones can take to “help” an addict toward the path of sobriety. I say “help” in quotes because so much of what I’m about to suggest will feel completely counterintuitive and won’t feel like “help” at all.

If you continue reading, there is a good chance that you will get mad or feel panicky or find reasons why you can’t do such-and-such and explain away all that I’m about to say. That’s ok. I’ve worked with addicts and their families for 20+ years. I know the drill. I know that family members are in just as much denial of their codependency as addicts are in denial of their addiction. Yup! I said it. “Codependency”, “Denial”, and “Family Members” all in the same sentence. Ouch! That’s sting #1. But remember, the truth usually hurts. But if we let it, the truth also sets us free.

If you’re still interested in getting free, keep reading.*

(Please note, the following is a general summary. There are many factors that influence any one person’s experience that a summary cannot adequately address. It is recommended that you seek help from an addiction-informed professional for your individual and family needs.)

Step 1

Admit that your loved one is an addict, and that all you have tried to do to help is not working.

This means that you the helper need your own help. This is because you are up against a Force that is no respecter of persons. In medical terms, this Force is called the “Disease of Addiction”. Like all other classified diseases, Addiction is chronic, progressive, self-caused, and has genetic risk factors. Left untreated, addiction is fatal.

For the record, “self caused” means that addiction developed in the addict’s brain all by itself. Bad parenting, a history of trauma, a poor choice of peer group, and other mental health disorders do not “cause” addiction. The aforementioned are risk factors for someone becoming an addict, but in and of themselves, they do not “cause” addiction.

Step 2

Get your own help.

This means:

  1. Getting educated on addiction. Resources at SAMHSA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse are good places to start. Knowledge is power.

  2. Getting educated that addiction is a family disease. This means that all members are affected by the disease, even though the actual disease may only reside in the identified addict’s brain. Family members need to understand that they cannot cause, control, or cure addiction. Family members can, however, contribute to the continuation of addiction through their own codependent, enabling, and rescuing behavior. Enabling and rescuing behaviors are the Force’s “food supply”. When the Force loses its “food supply”, this creates a window of opportunity for the addict to seek help. (This can get ugly. More on that later.) The most effective way for a family member to help their addict get sober is to get help for themselves. Therapy with an addiction-informed therapist and self-help groups such as Al Anon or Codependents Anonymous are great resources for help.

  3. Accept that you cannot make the changes you need to make in your own strength and by yourself. I have never ever ever heard of a family member ceasing their enabling and rescuing behavior without outside support. So go back to the previous paragraph, click on the links, read the articles, go to the meetings, and set up an appointment with an addiction-informed therapist. Oh, and by the way, SoulSpring Counseling has a few of those.

Step 3

Keep Going!!!

You didn’t ask for a family member to be an addict any more than the addict desired to become one. But here you both are. If you have made it this far, if you are going to meetings and to therapy and continuing to learn about addiction, my greatest plea and hope is that you will not give up. If you are making changes to stop tolerating the addict’s poor behavior, to stop funding it, to stop lying and making excuses for it, I promise you it won’t be easy. I can’t even promise you the addict will get sober. I cannot promise you that your loved one won’t die from this disease. (I know. This does suck.)

But, I can say that by following these suggestions, your hope for serenity, peace, and healthier ways to cope with life will greatly increase. And you have a real shot at serenity, regardless of the choices your addict makes. When you change and you stay changed, The Force that has hijacked your addict’s brain will throw every manipulative, guilt-invoking, scare tactic-ing, tantrum-throwing, promise-making, etc etc etc move in the book to put you back in your codependent place.

The Force needs its food supply, and until you got help and made changes, you were a link in that food chain. When the Force in your loved one’s brain is starving and you are no longer an easy target to meet that need, this is an opportunity for your loved one to get help. When you stop your enabling behaviors, your loved one gets uncomfortable. And when your loved one is uncomfortable, your loved one is motivated change. When this happens, it’s best to be prepared.

Step 4

Take a stand and have a plan.

It may take months or even years of your own change before your addict is uncomfortable enough to make their own changes. But by that time, you will have made solid progress in your understanding of the disease and family disease of addiction. You will have a support network through your 12 step groups. And the addiction-informed therapist you have come to trust can guide you through the next steps. You will need additional help to create an environment whereby your addict may be motivated to go to treatment. If you can afford it, resources such as an interventionist or the Marchman Act may be useful tools to assist your loved one to go to treatment. Your therapist will have a list of treatment centers available for you to contact, and most reputable treatment centers can help walk you through the process as well.

SoulSpring Counseling recommends treatment centers that intentionally include family members in the addict’s treatment. If you are invited to participate in your loved one’s treatment, do it! The more the family is involved in an addict’s treatment, the more likely the addict will stay in treatment and will stay sober after treatment. We also strongly recommend treatment centers that are well-informed to treat both the addiction (we love the 12 steps!) and psychiatric disorders. Most addicts are dually diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and/or other mental health disorders. A reputable treatment center is well trained to address both.

Step 5

Stay on your own recovery journey, one day at a time.

If your loved one goes to treatment or doesn’t go, stay on your own recovery journey. If your loved one relapses a number of times, stay on your own recovery journey. If your loved one gets sober, stay on your own recovery journey. If your loved one does not survive this disease, please, by all means, stay on your own recovery journey. The only power, the only control that you have in this process are the choices you make.

*Not to be confused with the 12 steps of recovery.


SoulSpring Counseling therapists are qualified therapy professionals who are dedicated to helping you evaluate and make choices to live your life in peace and freedom. You can’t control the events and people around you, but you can control how you respond. Let us help.

You can’t control the events and people around you, but you can control how you respond. Let us help. Just give us a call. (561) 223-8203.


Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Wynne Stallings for her contributions to the content of this article.


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