People in the grasp of active addiction can be intolerable. From mood swings to a mindset that blames anything and everything for their using except themselves, being around an active addict can make anyone want to lose their mind. Torn between feeling helpless and walked all over, your loved one’s active addiction is exhausting. One minute they love you and need you; the next, you can’t do anything right by them, and they want to push you away when you do not give them what they want.
For the millions of mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, and children of someone with a substance abuse problem, finding a way to cope with their addicted loved one is paramount. It may save your relationship entirely.
Understanding that Addiction is a Disease
From the outside, an addict in active addiction or alcoholic looks like they are making horrific decisions. Someone in such a condition can also be nearly intolerable, emotionally unstable, aggressive, and verbally attack anyone for just about any reason. The world has wronged them, and they intend to let you know how you contributed to their misery. This wears thin on any relationship.
The disease of addiction is one of the hardest mental illnesses to deal with.
How do you see reason when it is your brain that is affected by this disease?
How do you tell someone that their limbic reward system is compromised and they need treatment?
During active addiction, you do not see your drug and alcohol abuse as a problem. The nature of addiction depends on them living in denial about their substance abuse problem.
They tell you that they can stop anytime, but they do not. They say it is not a problem but blames you for not giving them money when their bank account is drained.
This is why understanding how the disease works is one of your greatest weapons against active addiction. You realize that their rational thought is clouded by their drug of choice. You learn that rational thought is centered around obtaining their next fix or physically having problems with their bodies.
Learning about addiction as a disease doesn’t give them an excuse to hurt you and stress your relationship. Learning about the disease model of addiction provides clarity in the solution of seeking treatment for their addiction. That nothing that you can do for them will fix them. That professional treatment for their disease is needed to change the damage done to the brain.
Patience for Progress in Early Recovery
People don’t recover from addiction overnight. When people say, that sobriety and recovery are a journey. They are not lying.
They have to learn what causes them to want to use their drug of choice.
They must trust in themselves that when they say no, they mean no, and those around them who are pressuring them to use respect those boundaries.
They must learn that the nightmares of relapsing are just nightmares.
They must learn that their recovery from an addiction should be the main priority in their life.
But during that learning process, mistakes can be made. Many people who are in recovery have relapsed once or more, each time bringing heartache to those around them and themselves. Each relapse is more difficult to recover from.
Watching a loved one struggle to get or stay sober is heart-wrenching and tedious sometimes. This is where patience comes in – you cannot work their program for them or convince them to stay sober if they do not see it themselves. You can only wait and hope that they find it within themselves to make the changes necessary for you to get your friend or family member back.
Remember that your loved one is sick and must work through their program of recovery by themselves. Encouraging words and compassion may be in order. Respecting their process and supporting them without enabling them.
Healthy Boundaries For You and Your Recovering Loved One
Boundaries, you may scoff and think that this is a new fad tactic to deal with stressful situations. The focus on this topic may be especially prevalent in the past decade. However, nothing will get you through this terrible time better than boundaries.
First of all, before we really learn how to create and maintain healthy boundaries, most of us suck at this exercise. The emotional bond between your recovering loved one, and yourself can make creating healthy boundaries extremely difficult. But you must remember you are dealing with a disease. Creating healthy boundaries for yourself means you do not have to give them money. You do not have to hand over your car so they can do whatever they want. More importantly, creating healthy boundaries can look like they are getting involved in sober living homes moving out.
Boundaries teach recovering addicts responsibility, being accountable for their actions and lifestyle, and learn independence. Many addictions get out of control when the addict depends on another for everything, even funding their next fix.
For the recovering addict, healthy boundaries can look different. Not attending family get-togethers that have drugs and alcohol at them.
Not being around a family member that was supplying their drugs.
Not having their family add stressors on them when they are trying to learn how to live in recovery.
Understanding the importance of attending a meeting when they feel a trigger.
Maybe understanding that you – yourself- may be a trigger to use drugs or alcohol and giving them the space they need to learn to handle that feeling.
Sometimes, it is just best to let their sponsor help them through their difficulties. They need their peers in recovery to tell them like it is; maybe they need someone other than yourself telling them what is right to do and what is wrong. Remember, boundaries help build accountability and independence.
Don’t let your addicted loved one will keep taking from you until you stop giving. Your loved one is not in a state of mind where they can identify or stop taking advantage of you. The nature of addiction makes their drug of choice seem more important than anything else – even their own life.
Giving Money is Enabling, Not Supporting Them
Never give money to someone in active addiction.
It’s that simple. No matter what the story is, don’t try to help by financial means.
If you want to help them financially, buy them groceries.
Explore options like True link, where you can control just where your money is going.
Help them develop a budget and talk to them about the importance of paying bills and scheduling bill due dates around paychecks.
Your loved one may try anything to manipulate you into funding their substance abuse habits. Any money you give out can cause a trigger to use; it will increase the acquisition of more drugs. You can’t help your loved one this way. You are enabling if you put money in their hand and hope it goes to rent.
If your loved one is trying to recover and claims to need money for rent or food or anything else reasonable, you still should not offer them money.
Keep in mind, the more financial freedom your loved one has in early recovery, the higher the risk for relapse. The urge to use in early recovery can be intense and extra cash is your loved one’s worst enemy, though they may not realize it.
Tough Love: What Does That Really Mean?
Never has a situation been more in need of tough love than this one. An active addict does not need to be cuddled. Any help you give them only helps them keep stay in active addiction longer.
The real question you need to ask yourself is: What does love mean to a corrupt limbic system?
Love, as you know, it looks like this. When you love someone, you tend to feel good around them, smile more around them, and think about them all the time because it makes you feel good to think about them, and you tend to get some pleasure from being near them whether it is romantic or platonic you feel in a sense good around them.
This is how people who have been inactive addiction for a couple of years view love. I love my drug of choice. It makes me feel good, better than having friends, and better than the love from my family. Because my family loves me and I love my drug of choice, I can use their love to obtain my love.
Because your limbic system controls the chemical oxytocin that is responsible for that loving feeling. Many drugs of choice flood the limbic system with dopamine and large amounts of dopamine. Way more dopamine than anything you could give them. When your limbic system is corrupt, you can do nothing but give them tough love and treatment to fix it.
People tend only to change when they are in enough pain that not changing is no longer an option.
If your loved one loses a place to live due to substance abuse, do not offer your own home. Though the natural tendency is to shelter our loved ones, you will only perpetuate their drug abuse. You must let your loved one suffer the consequences of addiction alone. If you don’t, you run the risk of letting their active addiction get completely out of control.
If you are financially able, you might offer to help pay for addiction treatment for your loved one. However, this is all you can do. As painful as it is to watch a friend or family member kill themselves with drugs, you have no real options except to let them go through it.
Support Groups: The Sober Community & More
Let’s be real here. This advice on coping with an addicted love one who may be in active addiction or early recovery is hard to do—a lot of pressure on you. The best part is, you or your recovering loved one does not need to do it alone. There are millions of people who have gone through what you are going through. So many people have banded together and are offering others free – yes, FREE- support.
There are support groups for the family of all ages and recovering addicts. If they get kicked out of their apartment, you do not have to jump to their defense. The sober community can find them a sober living house to make sure they are fed and still sober.
If you need to talk about some of the things that happened in their active addiction because it prevents you from rebuilding your relationship with them, there is a support group for that.
Support groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon bring together the family members of addicted individuals and helps them understand this disease, and provides the guidance and support you may need. They can be there for you and your recovering loved one, and all you have to do is reach out to them.
These support groups are everywhere, and there is a support group in your area where you can find the answers you need to get through this time. Telling a loved one “no” can be difficult; however, you will find the courage to help yourself, and your loved one find a happy ending through the support you will find in these rooms.