How can he be so selfish? He can clearly see how much pain he’s causing - why doesn’t he care? I can’t take the stress any longer. He’s destroying all of our dreams. Our lives have become Hell. Isn’t he tired of living this way?
These are the typical thoughts that run through your mind when you love a person with a drug or alcohol dependency. You can’t understand why he continues on such a destructive path. Why does he make so many bad choices? Why does he cause so much pain to his family and loved ones?
It makes no sense that he continues to drink or take drugs even in the face of devastating consequences. He may know that you’re going to leave him, that his children are hurting, that his job is on the line, that he is about to lose everything of value in his life, yet he can’t seem to stop.
You get so angry because he obviously doesn’t care. You blame him for being weak. But this isn’t because he doesn’t care and it’s not because he’s weak¾he is sick with the disease of addiction. All of the blame, guilt, and arguing in the world won’t change it. He needs help.
You expect him to ask for that help eventually. To seek it out once he hits “rock bottom”. You believe that if you keep pointing out his mistakes, reminding him of his failures, and laying on the guilt, he will snap out of it and come to his senses. Unfortunately, for many addicts it takes a tragic turn before they will reach out for help on their own, and sometimes, not even then.
You don’t have the power to take addiction away from your loved one, but you do have the power to give him a good push toward help. You can get educated on addiction, talk to doctors, and find a good treatment program. Once you’re ready, you can gather family and friends together and hold an intervention. You can give him an ultimatum.
An ultimatum, if you’re serious and ready to follow through, may be all that it takes to convince him to accept help. If you decide to hold an intervention, however, you must be prepared. An intervention is not a confrontation, but if handled poorly it can turn into one. The smartest way to hold an intervention is with the help of a professional. Once you find a treatment program they can assist you.
Before starting this process, you must be prepared to set healthy boundaries and stay strong. Helping a loved one with addiction is very different from helping a loved one with any other illness. Anything that you do in order to ease his pain will only extend the disease making it stronger. As long as you are going to be there to hold his hand, bail him out, fix his mistakes, and make life easier, he will never see the need to fight his disease.
That is why it is so important for families to understand the disease of addiction. The first step to helping your loved one is gaining knowledge. It’s difficult to help another person if you don’t understand the problem. That includes understanding what your role has been in enabling him.
In the process of learning about your loved one’s addiction, don’t lose sight of your own recovery and growth. By attending Al-Anon meetings, you can learn to make healthy changes in your family dynamic. You can gain strength and knowledge, not to mention the extra support of your group to help you through the rough times.
Even if you’re not ready to face your loved one with an ultimatum yet, now is the time to find a good treatment program. This can be a daunting task. If you wait for the addict to say he’s ready, in the time that it will take to finalize plans, he will likely change his mind. You’ll want to have everything prepared, so that when the time comes, there will be no delays.
A good place for the family to start their search is The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator at http://www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov This federal agency provides an online resource for locating drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs.
Finances will most likely be a big factor in making a decision. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 22.2 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol, but ninety percent fail to receive treatment. Studies show that the number one obstacle is cost. It’s a sad fact that many families spend every bit of savings they have, including mortgaging their homes or draining retirement and college funds, in an attempt to save their loved ones.
This is what leads many people to Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. They are free. They have meetings at many locations and at various times of the day. Thousands of people have used these programs to get clean and sober. For those who have completed a recovery program, AA can also be a good form of continuing care.
Keep in mind that every individual is different, and what works for one person does not necessarily work for all. If your loved one tries this route and fails, it does not mean that the desire to quit is not there.
For the family it’s especially frustrating, because you want a program like AA to work. You don’t want to clean out your bank account to pay for a treatment center. Life would be so much easier if your loved one could just work the twelve-steps and stay clean.
Then there is another issue for families to contend with - even if they come up with the funds needed to cover rehabilitation - seventy percent of patients relapse after their first time in treatment. It’s not an easy fix. Recovery is a process that may include many relapses. This is a hard reality to face.
Once we convince our loved one to go into treatment, we may feel a wave of relief. We think that finally the nightmare is over, and now life can go back to normal. But we must be careful not to hold unrealistic expectations from treatment. There is no cure for addiction. For the addict, and for those who love the addict and choose to stand by him, recovery can be a lifelong battle.
Recovering addicts seem to get the concept of “one day at a time”, but families tend to struggle with this. We want a contract, a promise, or a guarantee of a perfect future. We want the Norman Rockwell painting, but that is a lot of unfair pressure to put on our loved ones. To expect their sobriety to solve all of our problems and make the entire family whole is a tall order.
We must not forget that the recovering addict has a lot of work ahead of him. In most cases, drugs and alcohol have been used to mask deeper issues that they will now need to face without the numbing effects of drugs. On top of that, they will still have their cravings to deal with. Rehabilitation teaches addicts how to manage their addiction, but it cannot eliminate the desire.
Although recovery can be a rough road, it does not mean that relapse is inevitable. In fact, a promising statistic is that over half of the people who get treatment eventually reach a state of sustained recovery.
So what can the family do to improve the odds of their loved ones recovery? Education is the most important key. The family must understand the recovery process and the challenges that the addict will face.
Family members should work on their own physical and emotional health. Each person must put the primary focus on themselves. It can be just as easy to get obsessed with the recovering addict as it was when he was using. Constantly looking for clues of relapse, and waiting for him to mess up again, will only harm his recovery. While it’s true that trust is earned, we can easily push the addict back into old patterns if we’re still holding onto resentment and punishing him for past mistakes.
That is why it is so important for family members to continue with their own recovery program. Support groups like Al-Anon are just as important once the addict goes into treatment. Sobriety can cause new strains on family relationships, and this can be a challenging time for everyone. The healthiest way to handle these changes is for each person to stay focused on his or her own path.
Addiction recovery is a process, and there will likely be bumps in the road, but life can be especially rewarding for the families that make it to the other side. Get your family educated, and take steps toward healthy change. Addiction is treatable, and there is hope for sustainable recovery. Sometimes, the addict just needs a good push.
Lisa Espich is the author of "Soaring Above Co-Addiction". After creating her own personal program for recovery from co-addiction, and witnessing the remarkable transformation in her own life, she is now passionate about helping other families to recover from the devastating effects of addiction. Along with her husband, she facilitates workshops based on the principles in her book. She is also available for one-on-one coaching, either in person or by phone. A FREE Guided Meditation download is available on her website at http://www.soaringabovecoaddiction.com