By David Joel Miller.
Help for the families of addicts.
Does the addict have you doubting your sanity?
Most of the attention in the addiction and alcoholism field is focused on the addict. For this discussion I will include alcoholics and alcoholism under the category of addict because – yes – alcohol is a seriously dangerous and addicting drug. Many drug addicts use and abuse alcohol also and when trying to stop they will often turn to alcohol as a crutch.
For every person who is an addict there are five to eight other people who have been affected by that addicts drug and alcohol use. The addict gets treatment and has a host of self-help options. For the partners and families of addicts there are far fewer resources
Living with an addict affects your mental health.
The substance user and abuser will try to find ways to justify and minimize their use. They tell you and themselves that their problem is not that bad. They keep this up until some outside event forces them to face the addiction and even then they may vow to “cut back” or reduce their drug use.
The way the addict describes events will have you doubting your own sanity. You begin to wonder if they ever tell the truth. They repeat stories with such conviction you can’t see how their perception of reality and yours are so different. You may even ask yourself and others if you are going crazy.
While they are away you are dealing with the life wreckage from addiction.
Addiction leaves more destruction in its path than some tornadoes. There are bills to pay, fines, lost jobs and damaged relationships. There are children to care for. The families of addicts daily deal with cleaning up the mess while asking themselves when it will end.
The addict complains and asks for support while away in jail or rehab. All the while you are trying to hold your life and family together. Then when they come home they may launch back into the old drug use pattern believing that they will now be able to manage their use. Some will embrace recovery and or the 12 step community. Before they were always gone in their addiction and now they are gone in their recovery.
Personally I think that the addict working the steps is the better outcome. Eventually as they recover they will begin to function again. But that wait can be more than some family members or spouses can take. You start to wonder if your life will ever get better.
Way more help for addicts than for their families.
Most inpatient rehabs have almost round-the-clock treatment for the addict. If that program offers any help for the family it is probably a couple of hours once day a week. Even if you do get to go most of the focus is on how you can help the addict not on how you can recover from the stress of living with one.
Sometimes family members have drifted into ways of coping with the chaos that comes from living in a home with an addict. You do what you have to do to keep a roof over your families head. Once they are in recovery you may hear things like you are an “enabler” or “codependent.”
You didn’t mean to do anything to keep them using but you can see how the more you did the less they had to do for the family and the more their drug use came first. For many spouses of drug addicts it is very much like staying with a partner who is having an affair because you and the kids may not have many options.
The fundamental family mistake.
Many families and most spouses drop the addict off for treatment and say “Here fix him or her.” What is missing is the family nature of the disease of addiction. The whole family is hurting and they all need help.
Please do not say that the kids do not know what is going on. That is rarely the truth. Most of the time even the little ones know way more than you think they do.
In my work, especially in private practice, I see a fair number of family members. Mostly they come in looking for ways to get the addict to stop using or go into treatment. There are small things we can do but counseling does not do much for the person who is not in the room.
You have been stressed, traumatized, made anxious and depressed by living with the addict.
The spouse or family member of the addict is generally so stressed out and traumatized by living with the addict they are no longer functioning effectively. What they need desperately is some counseling or coaching or how to function more effectively themselves.
Sometimes the family needs some perspective. They need to hear that they did not make the addict use. They may not be perfect. There are often things in the family that went wrong. But the choice to cope with problems by drinking and using, that was all the addicts’ choice.
You may also need to hear that drugs mess up memory and that addicts tell lies so often they begin to believe them. You are not going crazy. But they may be telling you things they believe that are nowhere near true.
Families always seem to want a magic formula to get the addict to stop using. What you need to know is that there may be things that encourage or discourage drug and alcohol use but there is nothing you can do to keep them from using if the addict chooses to use. Yes, Virginia, even in prison drug addicts find ways to drink and use.
If you live or have lived with an addict you should seek help.
If you are living with an addict or have one you’re related to that may be coming home soon I encourage you to get some help for yourself. Seek help not for how to stay involved in their addiction and recovery by doing for them. Look for help for yourself on how to cope with the situation you are in. Work on acceptance that you are in charge of you but you can’t control their drugs.
Look for help for you. Consider Al-anon. There are counselors and coaches that can help you. Some parts of this may be covered by insurance but after all you will pay for fines and lawyers and treatment you need to invest some resources in getting the rest of the family help also.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books