Tips to Help Family Members Dealing with Active Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Don't rescue the alcoholic or addict.

Let him experience the full consequence of his disease. Unfortunately, it is extremely rare for anyone to be "loved" into recovery. Recovering people experience a "hitting bottom." This implies an accumulation of negative consequences related to drinking or drug use which provides the necessary motivation and inspiration to initiate a recovery effort. It has been said that "truth" and "consequences" are the foundations of insight and this holds true for addiction. Rescuing the addicted person from his consequences only ensures that more consequences must occur before the need for recovery is realized.

Don't support the addiction by financially supporting the alcoholic or drug addict.

Money is the lifeblood of addiction. Financial support can be provided in many ways and they all serve to prolong the arrival of consequences. Buying groceries, paying for a car repair bill, loaning money, paying rent and paying a court fine are all examples of contributing to the continuation of alcohol or drug use. Money is almost always given by family members with the best of intentions, but it always serves to enable the alcoholic or addict to avoid the natural and necessary consequences of addiction. Many addicts recover simply because they could not get money to buy their drug. Consequently, they experience withdrawal symptoms and often seek help.

Don't analyze the loved one's drinking or drug use.

Don't try to figure it out or look for underlying causes. There are no underlying causes. Addiction is a disease. Looking for underlying causes usually ends up with some type of blame focused on the family or others. This "paralysis by analysis" is a common manipulation by the disease of addiction which distracts everyone from the important issues of the illness itself.

Don't make idle threats.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Words only marginally impact the alcoholic addict. Rather, "actions speak louder than words" applies to addiction. Threats are as meaningless as the promises made by the addicted person.

Don't extract promises.

A person with an addiction cannot keep promises. This is not because they don't intend to, but rather because they are powerless to consistently act upon their commitments. Extracting a promise typically increases anger toward the loved one.

Don't preach or lecture.

Preaching and lecturing are easily discounted by the addicted person. A sick person is not motivated to take positive action through guilt or intimidation. If an alcoholic or addict could be "talked into" getting sober, many more people would get sober.

Do avoid the reactions of pity and anger.

These emotions create a painful roller coaster for the loved one. For a given amount of anger that is felt by a family member in any given situation, that amount, or more,of pity will be felt for the alcoholic or addict once the anger subsides. This teeter-totter is a common experience for family members: they get angry over a situation, make threats or initiate consequences, and then backtrack from those decisions once the anger has left and has been replaced by pity. If anger can be avoided, then so can pity. The family can then follow through on their decision to not enable.

Don't accommodate the disease.

Addiction is a subtle foe. It will infiltrate a family's home, lifestyle and attitudes in a way that can go unnoticed by the family. As the disease progresses within the family system, the family will unknowingly accommodate its presence. Examples of accommodation include locking up money and other valuables; not inviting guests for fear that the addict or alcoholic might embarrass them; adjusting one's work schedule to be home with the addict or alcoholic; and planning one's day around events involving the alcoholic.

Do focus upon your own life and responsibilities.

Family members must identify areas of their lives that have been neglected due to their focus on, or even obsession with, the alcoholic or addict. Other family members, hobbies, jobs and health, for example, often take a back seat to the needs of the alcoholic or addict and the inevitable crisis of addiction. Turning attention away from the addict and focusing on other personal areas of one's life is empowering and helpful to all concerned.