There are many ways an active addict can hurt a loved one, through misunderstanding, frustration, guilt and jealousy. Perhaps the most painful is the feeling that your loved one is selfish and cares more about their substance than you. These feelings can be hard to overcome at first, but the following steps may help guide the way to healing.
Jealousy and Guilt
Some family members may wonder if their own behavior is fueling the addiction. They might feel guilty about constantly lecturing their loved one to quit, especially since an addict will often tell them that their nagging is driving them to the bottle or pipe. This is an excuse that addicts use in order to be able to indulge in more of their substance.
It is certainly better not to nag, because the more an addict feels ashamed, the more likely they are to want to escape into intoxication. But don’t feel guilty about your feelings – you have a right to feel upset about your loved one’s behavior, after all. Accept your emotions for what they are — sadness and feeling powerless about the situation you are in with your loved one.
If your loved one is the sort of addict who sits in a bar all night with their drinking buddies, it is easy to become angry and jealous as you watch the clock waiting for them to come home. But this is problem-focused behavior, which will only make you worry more. It is much better to find a solution instead. Instead of nagging or clock-watching, look to one of the most effective solutions of all – understanding addiction.
Make Efforts to Truly Understand Addiction
People with an addict in the family rarely understand the way addiction works. From the outside, addiction often appears like pure willfulness. Partners usually become frustrated and upset that the addict does not put them or their family first. They may berate the addict, telling them to “just stop” or “think of your kids.” They view the addict as deliberately prioritizing alcohol or drugs over their own family.
But addiction is not a simple process and often addicts themselves don’t comprehend the bewildering process of addiction, which is one of the reasons it is very difficult to “just stop.” They simply don’t know how to. They may try to quit multiple times, but fail because of not understanding all the tricks and traps of the addicted brain.
By reading up on addiction, you should lose the idea that the addict doesn’t care about you. The more you understand addiction, the way it affects the neural pathways in the brain, and the way your loved one is probably hurting just as much as you, the more you will understand that your partner is not being willful, but is stuck in a trap and needs help, not lecturing.
Become Their Champion
It can be frustrating when your loved one can’t seem to stop their addiction, but quitting cold turkey without professional help is often not an option for an addict, as it can lead to terrible withdrawal symptoms if attempted without appropriate medication. There is also a high likelihood of relapse if no specialist treatment and advice is given during detoxification.
Helping your loved one find appropriate rehabilitation treatment can be a really rewarding experience, especially if you choose a program together. The less judgmental and the more encouraging you can be about finding somewhere for your loved one to get better, the more healing this will be for your relationship. It always feels good helping someone else, and what could be better than assisting someone you love to find healing and happiness again? It can help you to bond with your loved one again, especially if they start sharing more with you emotionally, talking through their hopes and fears.
Even if an addict has physically detoxified, there is still a risk of relapse because of the psychological dependence, especially if there is no suitable aftercare in place. But this is not the time to shame or blame the addict. Instead, remain their champion. Encourage them to seek out aftercare. Show them extra love when they do well. Doing this will make you both feel better and be more likely to lead to long-term recovery.
Let Go of Resentment
Most addicts indulge in some bad behavior when they are in active addiction, whether it is lying, stealing or cheating. Holding onto old resentments against your loved one for this will only hurt you. Realize that this behavior was part of the addiction and not the person you love.
It can be healthy to grieve some of that behavior and time lost to the addiction and to have compassion for yourself for what you have been through. But don’t dwell on that at the expense of moving on to help your loved one.
Replace all that resentment with gratitude that you have your loved one back. Do special things with your loved one that you were not able to do during their addiction, so you can create wonderful new memories to replace all the bad ones. The sooner you can do that, the quicker both you and your loved one can heal from the past and create a happy new life in recovery.
Written by Beth Burgess