What about the addict’s family?

The collateral damage caused by an alcoholic or drug addict in full flight is horrendous and nowhere is this damage more pronounced than within their family.

In the vast majority of families there will be two very distinct strategies for dealing with the addicted family member.

The supportive parent who with painstaking valour continues to believe the “next time” it will be different. They continue to provide money, pay for lawyers, cover up the stealing of family property, lie to their partners to try and keep the peace in a household plus lots more deceit and subterfuge occur. These families are in the middle of an addiction tornado.

Then there is the parent who wants to throw the addicted family member out, cut them off and have nothing to do with them.

When these two strategies clash and they do in most families where there is an addiction in full flight the outcome can be disastrous for everyone including the addict.

Marriage breakdowns, divorce, broken families who do not speak to each other for years and financial hardship are just some of the obvious occurrences. Add to this the mental anguish, shame, guilt and the inevitable “blame game” and you have a recipe for collateral damage of monstrous proportions.

When family members seek help they often hear terms such as “you are actually enabling your son/daughter/partner and are told they are in fact enhancing their addiction.” This piece of wisdom actually has the potential to lay the blame for the addict’s behaviour at the feet of the parent who has adopted a strategy of trying to help.

Over the past 20 years I have counselled numerous parents who have a child (often grown up) who is a practising alcoholic or drug addict. What has become abundantly clear from reviewing these cases is where the alcoholic or drug addict makes the decision to seek treatment the “enabler” was in many cases instrumental in the addict making the decision to stop.

The so called “enabler” is in fact keeping a connection with the addict while they are drinking/using and in many cases it is the only link the addict has to “normal world.” Without this connection the addict is totally alone (apart from their using family) they have no link to “normal world” and see their future as bleak because they have been exiled from their family.

The unconditional love and care shown to the addict by the “enabler” is in many cases pivotal to the addict making the decision to enter treatment or seek help. Had it not been for the “enabler” the addict may never have made it back.

I can hear the health care professionals minds who are reading this already ticking over saying “you cannot be serious in suggesting it is a good thing for family members by their behaviour to prolong an addicts drinking or using.”

I agree.

My point is simple, family members need to understand there needs to be boundaries surrounding their behaviour towards the addict while still maintaining the connection. It is this connection that may well bring their loved one back from the nightmare of addiction.

Above all else avoid severing the connection.

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