Addictions can include mind-altering substances such as drugs and alcohol, as well as mood-altering addictions such as eating disorders, compulsive over-spending, smoking, porn, being “glued” to the internet, gambling or codependency in relationships.
To care for an addict is often as debilitating as the addiction itself: watching someone play mind-games with themselves and others all the while slowly self-destructing.
In order to survive as a family member of an addict there are a couple things to keep in mind to keep one's own sanity and also not become an enabler for the addict.
1. Reality check.
Are things getting better measurably even if ever so slowly, or is every communication stuck in circling around why-we-can't-take-action-right-now?
Most addicts will find ways to explain, excuse their inability to commit to microsteps which may sound logically, but in reality they only serve to keep the addict stuck in status quo and to avoid action. It is key for relatives to do regular reality check-ins on actual actions steps and commitments being taken. If nothing changes - well, then nothing changes.
2. Set boundaries (for your own sanity).
To survive and avoid becoming the enabler, you need to get real good at setting boundaries. An addict is like a 5 year old in many ways and will push the envelope because they are unable to set boundaries themselves. Learn some assertiveness techniques that will help you say “yes” when you mean yes, and “no” when you mean no.
3. Stop trying to fix them.
Cultivate your wisdom, so that you know the difference between what you can and can’t change, and stop trying to control or “fix” anyone other than yourself. Also, it is not uncommon that family members become co-addicts i.e. addicted to "fixing" others, when they might want to start focusing on themselves; you can help other people if you are not being an example of self-care and emotional management yourself. Setting an example is the best way to help anyone. This means responsibility to take action falls back on each one of us as individuals to improve as people, rather than obsessing about controlling other people's journey in life.
4. Stop blaming the addict for your own suffering.
As tempting as it may be for you to blame the addict in your life for your suffering, there is actually more value in exploring what you may be contributing to this situation, since that is the only thing you can really do anything about. Are you enabling them? Are you lending them money that they use to self-destruction? Are you focusing on their journey to avoid focusing on your own journey in life? In some way, you are playing a part in the drama as well, recognize it, own it and stop it.
5. Self-care vs. selfish.
Are you taking care of yourself? taking care of your own needs first is not selfish. It is crucial. If you don't take care of yourself you cannot take care of others. Don't kid yourself here - if you want to support an addict, you will need to focus on having a strong resilience and be emotional balanced. Your strength and emotional health is the best support for the addict.
6. Do not give in to manipulation.
When you lose yourself to an addiction - you literally lose a big part of your essential self temporarily. Keep in mind, that the person you once loved is not the same as the person stuck in addiction. An addiction will take over the core personality as long as it persists. This also means, understanding that the games, the lies, the manipulation is not who this person really is - but it is part of the disease, and right now the person is chained to the disease. They cannot control it right now - it is not because they want to deceive you, but there are powers greater than their integrity and core values that have taken over in the claws of an addiction. How can yu avoid to be manipulated? Be consistent, do not waver - once there is an agreement set up between you and the addict, it needs to be kept firm and only changed at the pre-agreed upon intervals. This does not mean being rigid, bit it means not being flaky. Because when the pain of cravings hit, the addicts willpower vanishes and they will do anything and say anything to get their fix of choice - this is where they need solid ground to avoid relapse. You being soft and changing with the wind is not serving them.
7. Be compassionate.
Not empathetic. In order to avoid becoming emotionally drained you want to listen to their pain, give them space and show presence (compassion) - but not live through the pain (empathy). This also means, not being stubborn or rigid due to your own ego. The journey of an addict is rocky and for some parents this can be very difficult to accept. Parent too need to get comfortable with the gray scale of life. Recovery is not a black white process. And being stubborn about how the perfect journey of recovery should look like from the parent's perspective will only procrastinate the process of healing. This is not the parent or family's journey - this is the addict's journey to find their way home. Giving them space to find it, while setting boundaries and making sure that commitments are honored is allowing for that individual to find their way back.
8. You cannot force recovery on anyone.
We need to give them freedom to fly, yet teach them how to spread their wings.
9. Stop enabling the addiction.
Are you giving them money that they spend on their drug of choice, then you are serving their addiction. While it can be difficult to say no, this is critical if you want to avoid giving them the very "knife" which they are self-destructing with. You only know if you are enabling be monitoring their commitments and action steps. if no commitments are being honored, the addict is abusing your trust and ressources to dig their own grave. It is your responsibility to stop providing the tools (aka money), if they are spinning out of control.
10. Educate yourself about the addiction.
Rather than believing that the person’s addiction stems from weakness, willfulness, or stubbornness, you might learn how addictions stem from changes in brain chemistry and electrical impulse alterations. This data often help families to let go of their anger, so they can focus on healing. Your biology will always override your willpower - so understanding how to rebalance your biology is the key to manage cravings and not allowing them to manage you.