Living With an Addict

Last Modified: November 5, 2019

For the friends and family of addicts, seeing a loved one deteriorate can be a tough experience. Emotions like anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness become a familiar part of life. Love is tested and raised hopes are often dashed. 

Drugs and alcohol can turn your favorite person into someone who takes advantage of you, lies to you, hurts you with their words and actions, and possibly puts you in harm’s way. Give-and-take relationships become very one-sided. And there’s a fair amount of grief and trauma involved when you feel like you’re losing someone to substances. This distress extends to not knowing how to pull your loved one off the proverbial edge.

It’s not easy to love someone whose dependency renders them incapable of choosing you over a substance. Loving an addict can mean agonizing over possible overdoses or calling the cops when things get out of hand. It can mean spending nights in hospitals, visiting homeless shelters, and driving around potentially dangerous places for hours after responding to an SOS. 

One of the most difficult things to do is to figure out how to navigate relationships with substance abusers. How do you balance being there for someone in desperate times, with taking care of yourself and your other responsibilities? How do you draw boundaries without pushing someone away? 

Go for Counseling and Attend Support Groups

Counseling tackles the questions posed above. Seeing a therapist, especially one well-versed in addiction, can make a positive difference. Counselors can help you to establish boundaries if the addict in your life continues using. They might advise you to get your loved one to sign agreements about unacceptable behaviors and their repercussions. When you want to stage an intervention, guidance is on hand.

Counseling can allow you to prioritize your health so that you don’t literally become sick with worry. There are limits to the number of sacrifices you need to make. Therapy can assist you with reframing guilt and self-blame.

CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) techniques are popular for convincing addicts to seek treatment. Concerned significant others (CSOs) are taught how to use their knowledge about their loved ones to motivate them to get clean. They’re also given information about conflict management, positive reinforcement, safety precautions, and skills for dealing with their own anxiety. 

Talking to a professional or a free support group can also relieve some of the burdens that come with the social stigma of substance abuse. It’s not unusual to find that counselors are in long-term recovery. The first-hand experience can provide you with authentic insight and actionable strategies. 

Family support groups, both online and offline, are also uniquely placed to offer resources for various challenges. Addiction can run in families and it’s not uncommon for there to be more than one addict in a family. Co-occurring mental health issues are also common. Whether you’re the child of an addict or the spouse of one, conversations with others in similar positions can help you feel less alone and better equipped to deal with the situation.

Do a Balancing Act

A key aspect of CSO therapy is the idea that the user is ultimately responsible for their actions. Creating a temptation-free environment and administering drug tests at home is reasonable. So too are rules prohibiting bad influences from coming to your home and social gatherings. But trying to supervise every facet of your loved one’s life is not sustainable. At some point, you will have to let go and trust.

When trust is broken, maintaining distance can become necessary for all parties. The harsh reality is that addicts sometimes have to plumb the depths of their addiction before they’re willing to accept that they have a problem or that they need to commit to quitting. And this process can be too painful to watch at close quarters. Taking a step back is not indulgent self-care—it’s a means of staying sane.

Helping Versus Enabling

Helping in this context refers to taking action to get your loved one back on track. The goal is independence and self-control and this can be achieved through supporting the person’s steps toward recovery.

Enabling is short-term problem-solving that can feel helpful but is actually harmful in the long-run. Not surprisingly, parents are susceptible to enabling because of their protective instincts. This devotion of energy and finances can cause resentment in non-addicted children. 

Here are some ways that addicts are enabled by CSOs:

  • Paying their debts
  • Bailing them out of jail
  • Driving them around
  • Babysitting for them
  • Housing them
  • Making excuses for them at work
  • Not sticking to set boundaries

Damaging behaviors have consequences. Addicts need to experience these consequences in order to recognize that they can’t keep making destructive choices. But tough love doesn’t mean you can’t show love at all, and it doesn’t mean cutting off lines of communication. Clarify that anytime your loved one wants to go to treatment, you will be there for them.

Exercise Compassion

We use the word exercise because maintaining your composure and having compassion for an addict can be hard work. Logical arguments fall on deaf ears. Promises are broken. The word Latin origin of the word compassion means ‘suffer with’. The friends and family of substance abusers certainly suffer from users and have to do a lot of forgiving. 

Make an effort to express concern with empathy rather than anger. The latter is natural, especially when substance use endures. But it shouldn’t be your default mode or your loved ones will completely isolate themselves from you when your involvement can help them recover. 

Addiction is an illness. Recognizing this is crucial to maintaining compassion. A comforting look, touch or other affectionate action treats the shame associated with substance use and its sources. It moves the process of healing along by reducing negative emotions in the user. Learning about addiction so that you can understand what your loved one is going through is one form of compassion. 

Self-compassion is another. Take care of yourself by eating and sleeping when you need to. Exercise and meditation can ease stress, and so can venting to trusted people. If you don’t nurture yourself, you will be too exhausted to do anyone else any good.

Be Present During Recovery

Addiction is a disease without a cure, but one that can be managed. Getting an addict to agree to treatment is a major accomplishment. But once there’s buy-in, your support is integral to the success of any rehab program. 

You can send care packages, attend family therapy and receive calls when your loved one wants to chat while living in sober homes. Having a strong social network goes some way in reducing triggers, and preventing relapses. Friends and family offer accountability and provide compelling motivation to stay sober. 

Feeling like you’re key to someone’s recovery can be a lot of pressure. It can also require commitments of time and money. These issues need to be worked through and can be discussed in one-on-one therapy. 

Don’t Give Up

There will be days when you will catch glimpses of the person who existed before drugs took over. You will envision what the future could be if you didn’t give up on your loved one. A happy, stable, and productive future where you can lower your guard because you’re less afraid about being stolen from or manipulated. Hold on to these moments and happy memories – they are a rope that will pull you and your loved one through trying times.

It’s also important not to lose faith in the event of a relapse. Relapses are often a part of recovery – they don’t mean that all is lost. Therapy can help addicts with coping mechanisms that lessen the severity of a lapse. This means surviving a lapse and moving forward with intention. Detoxes are simply the beginning of recovery. Addicts have to rewire their brains and progress takes time, toil, and patience.


Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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