Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When Someone You Love has an Addiction

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When Someone You Love Has an Addiction

The fallout from an addiction, for addicts and the people who love them, is devastating – the manipulations, the guilt, the destruction of relationships and the breakage of people. When addicts know they are loved by someone who is invested in them, they immediately have fuel for their addiction. Your love and your need to bring them safely through their addiction might see you giving money you can’t afford, saying yes when that yes will destroy you, lying to protect them, and having your body turn cold with fear from the midnight ring of the phone. You dread seeing them and you need to see them, all at once. 

You might stop liking them, but you don’t stop loving them. If you’re waiting for the addict to stop the insanity – the guilt trips, the lying, the manipulation – it’s not going to happen. If you can’t say no to the manipulations of their addiction in your unaddicted state, know that they won’t say no from their addicted one. Not because they won’t, but because they can’t. 

If you love an addict, it will be a long and excruciating road before you realise that there is absolutely nothing you can do. It will come when you’re exhausted, heartbroken, and when you feel the pain of their self-destruction pressing relentlessly and permanently against you. The relationships and the world around you will start to break, and you’ll cut yourself on the jagged pieces.  That’s when you’ll know, from the deepest and purest part of you, that you just can’t live like this any more.  

I’ve worked with plenty of addicts, but the words in this post come from loving one. I have someone in my life who has been addicted to various substances. It’s been heartbreaking to watch. It’s been even more heartbreaking to watch the effect on the people I love who are closer to him than I am.

I would be lying if I said that my compassion has been undying. It hasn’t. It’s been exhausted and stripped back to bare. I feel regularly as though I have nothing left to give him. What I’ve learned, after many years, is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change him. With all of our combined wisdom, strength, love and unfailing will to make things better for him, there is nothing we can do. 

I realised a while ago that I couldn’t ride in the passenger seat with someone at the wheel who was on such a relentless path to self-destruction. It’s taken many years, a lot of sadness, and a lot of collateral damage to people, relationships and lives outside of his.

What I do know is that when he is ready to change direction, I’ll be there, with love, compassion and a fierce commitment to stand beside him in whatever way he needs to support his recovery. He will have an army of people behind him and beside him when he makes the decision, but until then, I and others who love him are powerless. I know that.

Nobody intends for a behaviour to become an addiction, and if you are someone who loves an addict – whether it’s a parent, child, partner, friend, sibling – the guilt, the shame and the helplessness can be overwhelming. 

Addiction is not a disease of character, personality, spirit or circumstance. It can happen to anyone. It’s a human condition with human consequences, and being that we’re all human, we’re all vulnerable. Addicts can come from any life and from any family. It’s likely that in our lifetime, if we don’t love someone with an addiction, we’ll know someone who does, so this is an important conversation to have, for all of us. 

The problem with loving an addict is that sometimes the things that will help them are the things that would seem hurtful, cold and cruel if they were done in response to non-addicts. Often, the best ways to respond to an addict have the breathtaking capacity to drown those who love them with guilt, grief, self-doubt and of course, resistance.

Loving an addict in any capacity can be one of the loneliest places in the world. It’s easy to feel judged for withdrawing support for the addict, but eventually, this becomes the only possible response. Unless someone has been in battle armour beside you, fighting the fight, being brought to their knees, with their heart-broken and their will tested, it’s not for them to judge. 

The more we can talk about openly about addiction, the more we can lift the shame, guilt, grief and unyielding self-doubt that often stands in the way of being able to respond to an addict in a way that supports their healing, rather than their addiction. It’s by talking that we give each other permission to feel what we feel, love who we love, and be who we are, with the vulnerabilities, frayed edges, courage and wisdom that are all a part of being human.

When Someone You Love is an Addict.

  1. You’re dealing with someone different now. 

    When an addiction takes hold, the person you love disappears, at least until the addiction loosens its grip. The person you love is still in there somewhere, but that’s not who you’re dealing with. The person you remember may have been warm, funny, generous, wise, strong – so many wonderful things – but addiction changes people. It takes a while to adjust to this reality and it’s very normal to respond to the addicted person as though he or she is the person you remember. This is what makes it so easy to fall for the manipulations, the lies and the betrayal – over and over. You’re responding to the person you remember – but this is not that person. The sooner you’re able to accept this, the sooner you can start working for the person you love and remember, which will mean doing what sometimes feels cruel, and always heartbreaking, so the addiction is starved of the power to keep that person away. The person you love is in there – support that person, not the addict in front of you. The sooner you’re able to stop falling for the manipulations, lies, shame and guilt that feeds their addiction, the more likely it will be that the person you remember will be able to find the way back to you.

  2. Don’t expect them to be on your logic.

    When an addiction takes hold, the person’s reality becomes distorted by that addiction. Understand that you can’t reason with them or talk them into seeing things the way you do. For them, their lies don’t feel like lies. Their betrayal doesn’t feel like betrayal. Their self-destruction doesn’t always feel like self-destruction. It feels like survival. Change will come when there is absolutely no other option but to change, not when you’re able to find the switch by giving them enough information or logic.

  3. When you’re protecting them from their own pain, you’re standing in the way of their reason to stop.

    Addicts will do anything to feed their addiction because when the addiction isn’t there, the emotional pain that fills the space is greater. People will only change when what they are doing causes them enough pain, that changing is a better option than staying the same. That’s not just for addicts, that’s for all of us. We often avoid change – relationships, jobs, habits – until we’ve felt enough discomfort with the old situation, to open up to a different option.

    Change happens when the force for change is greater than the force to stay the same. Until the pain of the addiction outweighs the emotional pain that drives the addiction, there will be no change. 

    When you do something that makes their addictive behaviour easier, or protects them from the pain of their addiction – perhaps by loaning them money, lying for them, driving them around – you’re stopping them from reaching the point where they feel enough pain that letting go of the addiction is a better option. Don’t minimise the addiction, ignore it, make excuses for it or cover it up. Love them, but don’t stand in the way of their healing by protecting them from the pain of their addiction. 

  4. There’s a different way to love an addict.

    When you love them the way you loved them before the addiction, you can end up supporting the addiction, not the person. Strong boundaries are important for both of you. The boundaries you once had might find you innocently doing things that make it easier for the addiction to continue. It’s okay to say no to things you might have once agreed to – in fact, it’s vital – and is often one of the most loving things you can do. If it’s difficult, have an anchor – a phrase or an image to remind you of why your ‘no’ is so important. If you feel as though saying no puts you in danger, the addiction has firmly embedded itself into the life of the person you love. In these circumstances, be open to the possibility that you may need professional support to help you to stay safe, perhaps by stopping contact. Keeping a distance between you both is no reflection on how much love and commitment you feel to the person, and all about keeping you both safe.

  5. Your boundaries – they’re important for both of you.

    If you love an addict, your boundaries will often have to be stronger and higher than they are with other people in your life. It’s easy to feel shame and guilt around this, but know that your boundaries are important because they’ll be working hard for both of you. Setting boundaries will help you to see things more clearly from all angles because you won’t be as blinded by the mess or as willing to see things through the addict’s eyes – a view that often involves entitlement, hopelessness, and believing in the validity of his or her manipulative behaviour. Set your boundaries lovingly and as often as you need to. Be clear about the consequences of violating the boundaries and make sure you follow through, otherwise it’s confusing for the addict and unfair for everyone. Pretending that your boundaries aren’t important will see the addict’s behaviour get worse as your boundaries get thinner. In the end this will only hurt both of you.

  6. You can’t fix them, and it’s important for everyone that you stop trying.

    The addict and what they do are completely beyond your control. They always will be. An addiction is all-consuming and it distorts reality. Know the difference between what you can change (you, the way you think, the things you do) and what you can’t change (anyone else). There will be a strength that comes from this, but believing this will take time, and that’s okay. If you love someone who has an addiction, know that their stopping isn’t just a matter of wanting to. Let go of needing to fix them or change them and release them with love, for your sake and for theirs.

  7. See the reality.

    When fear becomes overwhelming, denial is a really normal way to protect yourself from a painful reality. It’s easier to pretend that everything is okay, but this will only allow the addictive behaviour to bury itself in deeper. Take notice if you are being asked to provide money, emotional resources, time, babysitting – anything more than feels comfortable. Take notice also of the  feeling, however faint, that something isn’t right. Feelings are powerful, and will generally try to alert us when something isn’t right, long before our minds are willing to listen. 

  8. Don’t do things that keep their addiction alive.

    When you love an addict all sorts of boundaries and conventions get blurred. Know the difference between helping and enabling. Helping takes into account the long-term effects, benefits and consequences. Enabling is about providing immediate relief, and overlooks the long-term damage that might come with that short-term relief. Providing money, accommodation, dropping healthy boundaries to accommodate the addict – these are all completely understandable when it comes to looking after someone you love, but with someone who has an addiction, it’s helping to keep the addiction alive. 

    Ordinarily, it’s normal to help out the people we love when they need it, but there’s a difference between helping and enabling. Helping supports the person. Enabling supports the addiction. 

    Be as honest as you can about the impact of your choices. This is so difficult – I know how difficult this is, but when you change what you do, the addict will also have to change what he or she does to accommodate those changes. This will most likely spin you into guilt, but let the addicted one know that when he or she decides to do things differently, you’ll be the first one there and your arms will be open, and that you love them as much as you ever have. You will likely hear that you’re not believed, but this is designed to refuel your enabling behaviour. Receive what they are saying, be saddened by it and feel guilty if you want to – but for their sake, don’t change your decision.

  9. Don’t buy into their view of themselves.

    Addicts will believe with every part of their being that they can’t exist without their addiction. Don’t buy into it. They can be whole without their addiction but they won’t believe it, so you’ll have to believe it enough for both of you. You might have to accept that they aren’t ready to move towards that yet, and that’s okay, but in the meantime don’t actively support their view of themselves as having no option but to surrender fully to their addiction. Every time you do something that supports their addiction, you’re communicating your lack of faith in their capacity to live without it. Let that be an anchor that keeps your boundaries strong. 

  10. When you stand your ground, things might get worse before they get better.

    The more you allow yourself to be manipulated, the more you will be manipulated. When you stand your ground and stop giving in to the manipulation, the maniplulation may get worse before it stops. When something that has always worked stops working, it’s human nature to do it more. Don’t give into to the lying, blaming or guilt-tripping. They may withdraw, rage, become deeply sad or develop pain or illness. They’ll stop when they realise your resolve, but you’ll need to be the first one to decide that what they’re doing won’t work any more.

  11. You and self-love. It’s a necessity. 

    In the same way that it’s the addict’s responsibility to identify their needs and meet them in safe and fulfilling ways, it’s also your responsibility to identify and meet your own. Otherwise you will be drained and damaged – emotionally, physically and spiritually, and that’s not good for anyone.

  12. What are you getting out of it?

    This is such a hard question, and will take an open, brave heart to explore it. Addicts use addictive behaviours to stop from feeling pain. Understandably, the people who love them often use enabling behaviours to also stop from feeling pain. Loving an addict is heartbreaking. Helping the person can be a way to ease your own pain and can feel like a way to extend love to someone you’re desperate to reach. It can also be a way to compensate for the bad feelings you might feel towards the person for the pain they cause you. This is all really normal, but it’s important to explore how you might be unwittingly contributing to the problem. Be honest, and be ready for difficult things to come up. Do it with a trusted person or a counsellor if you need the support. It might be one of the most important things you can do for the addict. Think about what you imagine will happen if you stop doing what you’re doing for them. Then think about what will happen if you don’t. What you’re doing might save the person in the short-term, but the more intense the addictive behaviour, the more destructive the ultimate consequences of that behaviour if it’s allowed to continue. You can’t stop it continuing, but you can stop contributing to it. Be willing to look at what you’re doing with an open heart, and be brave enough to challenge yourself on whatever you might be doing that’s keeping the addiction alive. The easier you make it for them to maintain their addiction, the easier it is for them to maintain their addiction. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

  13. What changes do you need to make in your own life?

    Focusing on an addict is likely to mean that the focus on your own life has been turned down – a lot. Sometimes, focusing on the addict is a way to avoid the pain of dealing with other issues that have the capacity to hurt you. When you explore this, be kind to yourself, otherwise the temptation will be to continue to blunt the reality. Be brave, and be gentle and rebuild your sense of self, your boundaries and your life. You can’t expect the addict in your life to deal with their issues, heal, and make the immensely brave move towards building a healthy life if you are unwilling to do that for yourself.

  14. Don’t blame the addict.

    The addict might deserve a lot of the blame, but blame will keep you angry, hurt and powerless. Addiction is already heavily steeped in shame. It’s the fuel that started it and it’s the fuel that will keep it going. Be careful you’re not contributing to keeping the shame fire lit.

  15. Be patient.

    Go for progress, not perfection. There will be forward steps and plenty of backward ones too.  Don’t see a backward step as failure. It’s not. Recovery never happens in a neat forward line and backward steps are all part of the process.

  16. Sometimes the only choice is to let go.

    Sometimes all the love in the world isn’t enough. Loving someone with an addiction can tear at the seams of your soul. It can feel that painful. If you’ve never been through it, letting go of someone you love deeply, might seem unfathomable but if you’re nearing that point, you’ll know the desperation and the depth of raw pain that can drive such an impossible decision. If you need to let go, know that this is okay. Sometimes it’s the only option. Letting go of someone doesn’t mean you stop loving them – it never means that. You can still leave the way open if you want to. Even at their most desperate, most ruined, most pitiful point, let them know that you believe in them and that you’ll be there when they’re ready to do something different. This will leave the way open, but will put the responsibility for their healing in their hands, which is the only place for it to be.

And finally …

Let them know that you love them and have always loved them – whether they believe it or not. Saying it is as much for you as it is for them. 

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108 Comments

Don

Hey Sigmund,
As the other spouse watching, cajoling, pleading, going to counseling together, etc I wonder if there are any articles on my perspective? I’m the parent pleading for the enabling to stop to no avail.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

It can take time for people to get to the point where they stop enabling. When the addict is someone you love, it’s completely understandable that there would be a period of trying to ‘love’ the addiction out of them. Generally this will stop when everything has been tried and the trouble continues. Be patient and keep talking to your spouse about the damage that comes from enabling. The enabling will stop when enough pain has been felt, and when there is enough evidence that it doesn’t make a difference. It’s so hard to do though because it feels like a withdrawal of love or a withdrawal of support for the addict. It’s not this at all though – what it is is support for the addict to maintain his or her addiction. Stay supportive and strong with your partner. I know this isn’t easy. I wish you both love and strength.

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Mari

Thank you for this insight. It was very helpful to me. The person I love has tried lots of ways to malnipulate me. I have held boundries to the best of my ability. He is now ignoring me as if he hates me. I’m finding that very hard and hurtful
Mari

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Mari. If the person you love is addicted, it is likely that he will try anything to try to push past your boundaries. I know how massively difficult it is not to take this personally, but understand that it’s not personal. It’s not you he hates, it’s his lack of control over his life and his circumstances. Stay strong. You’re doing the right thing. Love to you.

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Nick

Yes I am going through the same thing I am the bad guy but it to the point were I have to let go damn it suck

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Virginia

This is such a powerful article! A few mothers of addicted adult children have formed a support group in our small community ( coming up on our one year anniversary) and I’m going to print and share this with other parents who have joined our tiny group
( now about 30-40 members) if I have your permission to do that.

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Gina

Hi Sigmund,
I really enjoyed your article- I am the adult daughter of an addict. I have reached the point of needing to let go, as it has been 10+ years of on and off addiction. I am now married and expecting a child of my own so I know this is the point in which I need to change my focus from being on my father to being on my well-being and that of my unborn child. I am wondering if you have any suggestions for books or any other sources that you think would be good for me? I know many things are focused around helping the spouses or parents of addicts, so any guidance you can give is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Gina it sounds as though you have great awareness around this. I don’t have any suggestions personally about books that might be helpful, but I know that there are many out there. Once you start reading, you will find authors and work that you feel as though you can particularly relate to. The main thing is to start. All the best with your new little one when he or she arrives. Your awareness, your experiences and your openness to learning and growing will make you a great mum.

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FormerSleepwalker

I do happen to agree with a lot of what is said, however, there are some other points that I feel could be better clarified, identified, if there was also some feedback based off of conversation with recovered addicts and alcoholics. I myself am an addict who has stolen, destroyed relationships, lied, cheated and all the other “lovely” things you have mentioned in your article. The problem I think most people, who have or are in the enabler position, lack information and knowledge of addiction itself. Your article shares some of this information but I feel there is one dangerous theme in here that if misinterpreted, it can not only make it worse for both parties, it can be fatal.

you had written,”When an addiction takes hold, the person’s reality becomes distorted by that addiction. Understand that you can’t reason with them or talk them into seeing things the way you do. For them, their lies don’t feel like lies. Their betrayal doesn’t feel like betrayal. Their self-destruction doesn’t always feel like self-destruction. It feels like survival.”
In my experience, ill quote Hunter S. Thompson here,”I knew it was wrong… I did it anyway.”
I knew how my actions hurt those around me, I saw the ripple effect that carried on to people I had never even met and I continued to do it. I feel that it would be extremely helpful if we were able to understand what is happening on both sides of the fence.
I once had a conversation with my little brother. This was one of those extremely rare and emotional heart to heart conversations. I tried to explain to him what goes on in my mind that leads to drug use. I tried to explain that I had things in my life I didn’t know how to deal with and never found the tools I needed to deal with problems that most “normal” people are more than capable dealing with and with little discomfort. i myself would just try and numb myself so that even for a short time, I wouldn’t have to feel these negative feelings. My brother responded with,”Ive never heard of that before…” He had no idea what I was talking about because he learned the tools needed to deal with things as they come, not numb ourselves because of hopelessness. Needless to say, he had a lack of knowledge and I tried to explain that I did the best I could with what I had, an incomplete toolbox.
Now, I’m not going to preach A.A. here but I will tell you this: The 4th step, when done correctly, gives us, as addicts, a chance to find out what it is we have been running from this whole time. Our reasons may be different but the theme is the same all around. FEAR. we are consumed by it and we find temporary escape from whatever fear we have been running from all this time through the use of drugs. now once we addicts are able to recognize this, identify our problem and speak it aloud, write it down, scream it, like in the end of the movie, Labyrinth… “You have no power over me.” having knowledge of what the problem is, gives us the ability to start working on said problem.

The reason I am touching on so much of the addict side is, 1: I am an addict… 2: I found this article after a mutual friend showed me this was posted by an recent former girlfriend. Don’t worry, i’m not stalking her. I wanted to share a bit of my recent experience.

to set the stage, I have done most of the terrible things you have mentioned in your article and in the past I was a leech who sucked the happiness out of those who were foolish enough to stick around. The most recent relationship I was in began when I was at the greatest point in my life. I had 2 years in which i had been sober, I set up charity events, spoke at schools about addiction, was even asked to speak at a forum side by side with a states representative. Needless to say, I had worked my ass off at my recovery…. however.. I am still an addict and she knew this going into it. I was an open book and was not afraid to answer any questions because I had love for myself and knew that I am not defined by things I have done but who I am at present. What I had learned in my 4th step is that I myself am susceptible to allowing my worth to be determined by the opinion of others and because of this, I myself am in need of clarification at times because when I am left with no answers besides the ones that come about from me being left alone in my head, this is a dangerous place for me to be and what lead to my relapse. I am not perfect and I make mistakes, but if i dont know I have done something wrong or made a mistake, I dont know how to fix it and the more dangerous part is, if I dont know i made a mistake and I see through body language that someone is upset, i’m left with just my own head and my own dark thoughts. I may not have even done anything wrong, the person may be upset at someone else or just in a sour mood. This is the place that I need clarification and proper communication. Nobody likes walking around worried that they have done something wrong and going through the endless possibilities my head manifests until my heart is racing and thoughts become darker. Healthy communication can eliminate this entire process. We as addicts are able to tear ourselves apart and enter a self destruction mode that in the end, we actually feel we deserve. One of my favorite quotes of all time is,”We accept the love we feel we deserve.” it is so true too. When this relationship began, I had an accurate appraisal and love of self so i was at a place where I could be in a relationship that didn’t have to be a power struggle over who gets to be happy that day. As the relationship went on and there was no improvement on our ability to communicate, arguments that had no resolution and things said and done that hurt and couldnt just be forgot, a seed was planted that told me i wasnt able to do anything right and my requests for clarification and communication were needed now more than ever but instead, i accepted the love i felt i deserved and decided to break my two year period of sobriety. Communication was not getting better and the arguments were always the same, None of my tools were working in this relationship. Instead of focusing on my recovery, I did anything i could to try and make her happy, sacrificing my own sanity and my recovery network/program. Here is where i get to the point of this rant I didn’t intend to write. If you love an addict, you need to figure out which point the person is at and find out what is best for both of you. Communication is a necessity in any relationship, even more-so when dealing with an addict. Try to find as much knowledge as you can about what you are dealing with and what is going to be best for both of you. When the addict does come back to you after he makes the change, you have a whole new fight. You have to learn how to help each other. Both parties also NEED to understand how their actions affect one another. Set up those healthy boundaries and if you find it necessary, set up an ultimatum. I am still saddened on how my relationship turned out after my relapse, it was ended before i ever got to the point that I stole anything, asked for money,etc.. The only thing i lied about was my using and its not that i didnt want to tell her, becaused i wanted to more than anything. I just knew that she was going to end the relationship which is exactly what happened. I have no communication anymore with someone I love as well as all of our mutual friends because all they knew is that i lied to her and i was using drugs. I get nasty text messages from some of them but that has let up recently. I attribute all of that once again to a lack of information on their part. People dont just automatically understand the mind of an addict just as we addicts dont automatically understand the mind of our loved ones as they watch us kill ourselves. I have learned so much from this experience as I work myself back into sober living. It is not easy, it takes work by both parties and the best thing you can do is communicate and know when to walk away before too much damage is done and to complicate it even more, dont leave to soon. Get information, learn what you are dealing with and remember to take care of yourself first and foremost, otherwise, what help could you be?

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Wallflower

Such a necessary and enlightening disclosure. It has me understand some things about the addict my children and I love, although he has a different addiction than drugs. The effect is the same. Thanks for going deep.

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Maggie

Hi Karen

Thanks for your article. I am currently struggling with the consequences of having been manipulated by my addict partner for several years. It’s only now that he has come to terms with the fact that yes, he is an addict, and he’s seeking help, but while he goes through treatment what am I supposed to do? I have seen many articles about self-care and not enabling etc, but I am having trouble finding ones that simply tell me how to survive this period. We are not in financial or social ruin, his addictive behavior isn’t life-threatening but more life-frustrating (which is why it took so long for either of us to see it for what it is), and is likely exacerbated by untreated mental illness. As much as I am exhausted emotionally, I’m finding it frustrating that every article seems to say “leaving may be the only option” – what if I don’t want to leave? Where are the articles on how to get through it together? I will be seeking out the family groups at his treatment center and I know I will find support there, and your article has given me some strategies for the mean time, but I feel a bit lost.

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Terri

I married a man I knew from my teen years and yes he was my first love. He was a big drinker back then. However, after 23 years we met and married. We dated months before we got married. He claimed he hadn’t drank in 8 years. After 1 month of marriage he was coming home late from work. You guessed it and he also cheated. Now we’re in the process of divorce. Please don’t stick around if you are a person who has integrity. A person who is an addict is hurting you with there addiction, enough is enough.

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Rose

My boyfriend is hanging with another who allows this addiction to continue because they are , I don’t know why he periodically contact me he doesn’t ask for money and I won’t give it if he did. But what does he want ? How do I ans him so far I’ve said glad your well stay blessed etc he thinks I don’t know this is addiction is old he once told me I’m the only thing good I his life , I still love him lord knows . But it’s killing me . Should I ans his text calls or ignore them ? Plz if you can give me any insight I’d greatly appreciate it

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Shari

My boyfriend is an addict, he says I’m judging him, but I was an addict, so I can’t judge him…how do I get him to understand I am not judging him….?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

If your boyfriend is using, it’s likely that he might not be thinking clearly or rationally. There is only so much you can do. If you have told him you aren’t judging him, you can’t do more than that. The problem with this is that your boyfriend is making this about your judgement of him, and while he does that, it makes it easier for him not to look at his own behaviour. This is a big reason that addiction can be so intrusive in relationships – people will see what they want to see. The tendency for an addict will be to think in ways that make it easier to keeping using, rather than allow their addiction to be challenged.

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Kevin

Thanks Karen,

I read through ten related articles before finding yours. Clearly the best: thorough and personal.

I work as a Social Worker, and yet I was unprepared for the extent that a drug addict will lie. I considered myself great at understanding people but this loved-one (adoptive daughter – neighbour) deceived and manipulated me for six month. I didn’t even know that I was enabling. She created a false narrative about a part of her life. She told this story for the intentions of making me vulnerable and more willing to help her. I did eventually deconstruct it.

She is still an endearing person who I care for greatly. I understand her real life pain (not the false story) as she comes from one of the most oppressive male dominated cultures. They have done horrific damage to her body. I have seen that way that she is alienated by her people. Although I don’t see this as an excuse for drug addiction.

Since realising that she had lied to me I stopped giving her money. I do now though supply her with food, household goods and assess to entertainment. However, this only gives her more opportunity to use her money on alcohol and marijuana. At her worst, she will choose to stave and go around the neighbour like a stray dog begging for what she needs. I support her because it is heart-breaking to see her do this. Is is time to stop helping her? I feel like it is but it makes me cry thinking about how low she will go to get drunk or high.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Thanks Kevin. I’m so pleased you found the article and that it resonated for you – that means a lot to me. I honestly don’t think anyone can be ready for the level that addicts will go to in order to feed their addiction. If you have an open heart, it’s understandable that you would see the good in people first, and continue to have faith in their motives. I wish more people could be like that. It’s difficult to believe the dishonesty that addicts are capable of until you have been on the wrong end of it a number of times. You have done the right thing by not giving her more money, but it sounds as though the other support you are giving her might also be serving to support her addiction. This can be heartbreaking to watch, not to mention the helplessness that can come from that.

What I know for certain is that people don’t change until they feel enough pain. The problem with an addiction, is what ‘enough’ pain looks like. I also know that she will keep doing what she is doing until she is ready to stop, with or without your support. The risk is that your support is stopping her pain from being ‘enough’ for her to make the decision to do something different and make the changes she needs to make. The most important thing is that if you take those things away, to let her now that there will be support for her when she chooses to do things differently and start to heal. That way, when she feels enough pain, she will know where to find the support she needs to move forward. It is such a difficult decision, because withdrawing that support will likely mean that she will be putting herself in riskier situations, but the question to ask is, ‘is supporting her the way you making it easier for her to stay on a path that is also risky. Even though in many ways you are helping her to stay safe, are you also helping her to stay stuck. It’s a painful decision, because there is risk either way.

Be clear about why you are doing what you are doing and remind yourself of these. Whatever you decide will come from a heartfelt, generous place, I know that. I wish love was enough to heal an addiction, but it’s not. Ultimately, that decision has to come from them when they are ready.

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Just me

Hi Karen….

My question is can this article apply to other addictions (not drug related)?

I’m in a situation where the addict is looking to go online and meet women. Not for a relationship….don’t think he’s a sex addict, but feels compelled to do it! It’s only happened once so far, but he’s determined. He has completely closed off himself, says ha can’t feel anything, hates himself so much, and obsesses over getting his next ‘hit’. As someone who loves him, I’m devastated. And he asks that I understand and somehow hold his hand through all this?! And when I say no, or ask what would I get out of this! I’m selfish and uncaring! He’s dead inside, knows he has no self live, and says this is something he needs to do! I don’t understand how using people can somehow make them feel better about themselves? This is the most important and amazing person I’ve ever known, we were together for 6 years….and the trigger for this was because I had to move out for my child. But we were still together. I came home on weekends. That abandonment triggered this destructive behaviour, and it was the undoing of us. Going online, lies, distant, cruel, manic, obsessive! He chose a couple day dalliance over our relationship. No talk of love, no sex (yet….but at that point…but within the week..yes!). It’s just crazy. This is someone who had been monogamous, the sweetest, the best dad, just incredible….to someone I can’t recognize. He has been the most caring and involved dad, coach of teams etc., to someone who completely disregarded his child in all this! He didn’t even consider the impact on them! And they are devastated. They took the breakup super bad. This behaviour is not from the man we knew. This new one is a stranger. I won’t even get into how I found out, the disappearance of him, my moving out of our house by myself (he was away pre planned visit to family)….I was left to deal with it all by myself. I did such a good job, that the night he was back, he had the new woman in our bed! But was texting me about how empty the house was, and how there was no ‘you’ here, it’s twisted! I made it happen because I’d moved out completely..all my stuff was mostly at our house), it haunts me that I should have stayed, so everything after wouldn’t have happened. That one ended within a couple weeks, but it was her choice. Even then, he kept trying to engage with her, while he came back to me to ask for help, but also go online! Lying all the time to me. No not talking to her any,ore, no not online anymore…and he was, the whole time. I searched his computer and saw it all. Big fight ensued. He to me to get out. I screamed he’s a liar. Then the claim I didn’t understand him. That these people aren’t the problem. It’s him! To stop focusing on them. He feels nothing! But like an addict, he accused me of walking away when he needs me the most?! Really? He needs me to understand. He goes crazy when I bring up the women, because I don’t understand. He says I’m clueless. This is a man who was never a guy looking to get laid, made sexual overtures to, or about women. He’d been the pillar of decency. Pro women (not mysogynistic). To this?! How do I support this insanity? He thinks this behaviour will somehow exorcise his guilt for what he did to, to us, to his child! I don’t want to know any of this! He has told me. Don’t trust me. (I don’t). Don’t leave me (I have to) he won’t go to therapy. I’ve offered to pay. I’ve said he can go for individual support, or couple.., he says again, he will lie. That he has to find it in himself? It’s a disaster. He reads up on things, but can’t do it by himself. Nighttime is crippling for him. That’s when the behaviour really comes out. He describes it as being a junkie. Needing a ‘hit’. A new text a new interest. But never me. I’m in a different category. I know the truth, so I get little attention. Never flirty or caring, just all about this. The behaviour. The bullshit claims of I’m not online etc. not normal stuff. I’m exhausted. I’m devastated. And I just can’t deal with all this madness. But it’s like so many with loved ones with addictions. I love him. He gets angry when I ask…but what about means! He says it’s always about me! Can’t I just focus on him for once?? I would really appreciate any advice or insight. He’s never been a sex addict, but now, should I think that? He’s definitely codependent, we both agree on that, but I’m at a loss! Where should I go for support on this addiction?

Thank you

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Be careful using the word ‘addiction’ as an excuse for bad behaviour. He has lied, cheated, and it keeps going. The question isn’t so much whether or not this is an addiction, but how much are you prepared to accept? If he’s not serious about fixing it, and would rather keep hurting you, why do you stay. He has the choice – to do what he needs to do to stop hurting you, or to keep hurting you. He knows what it’s doing and he isn’t prepared to stop. His intentions matter more than what you call it.

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Kyla

Great Article! I told my partner that I can’t take his alcohol addiction….and just finding out that maybe there is a cocaine problem as well. I love him and he is a good man. But I can’t do it anymore, it affecting me in many negative ways. I told him that it had to stop or we were done. I told him how much I love him…..and I will be here if he wants help. He has admitted he has a problem but has never said the words…I want to stop…or sorry for hurting you. He is just blaming our relationship and everything else he can. He is very angry at me right now. And doesn’t seem too concerned about us splitting up. Maybe he thinks I won’t end it. I feel stronger then I have because I know now I can’t continue to live this way. When will his anger end towards me? We haven’t spoken in a day….we live together. I’m confused and need strength to see this through. I don’t want to keep nagging him. Do I just not bring it up again and see if he makes any changes? Or wait for him to come to me? I know I’m all over the place!

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Debra

My 22nd and I have a young man that we’ve loved nd raised for 22 yrs….he’s n addict..he will do any drug…meth, huffing..that’s what we know about…he’s in and out of jail…we’ve been going thru this for 6 yrs..he comes nd goes….we are raising his little boy 3..and precious.. I LOVED this young an like my own…that’s changing.. So tired of the lies he tells and the anger in my soul….should I not let him come home? It really upsets the baby…HRLP

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Toni

Wow – just wow!!! This is so accurate. When you love an addict it hurts everyone in the family and who love them. It is hard to watch your son hit what you think is rock bottom and still not enough for him (the addict) to seek help. However, For the first time in 15 years we are actually hopeful for his recovery. He is in a good place. We all know that it the road is long and the struggle is real. Thank you for your insight.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Toni. 15 years is such a long time. Hopefully it’s long enough for your son to have felt enough pain from his addiction to stay on the right path now. It’s such a painful thing for everyone, but the helplessness when you watch someone you love be so hurt by an addiction, can be paralysing. I’m so pleased he is in a good place now. That would have taken a massive amount of hard work, strength and courage for him to do that. I hope he keeps moving forward with his recovery. It sounds as though he has a wonderful family behind him.

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Robert

The problem is she died. She was stunning. I think of her every hour of every day.

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Pat

By far one of the BEST articles I have read to date. So clearly and lovingly written. It speaks directly to my soul as a spouse of an addict of 20 years. I thank God for stumbling across this article – it has tremendously confirm so much for me who I was and who I am as an enabler and yet the article has strengthened my courage and my resolve to stay firm in my stance and my boundaries. I promise you I read this article daily to remind why I must take this stance and hold on to my resolve that I am doing the right thing to finally end the cycle of enabling and to begin taking care of my self. Thank you thank you thank you!!

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Karen Young

You’re so welcome Pat. I’m pleased this article has been helpful for you. I hope it keeps giving you the clarity and courage you need.

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Cynthia

I also thank God for leading me to this article. I recently had to separate from my spouse of 17 years related to his addictions. He become like a different person, sneaky and secretive and dismissive if I asked him anything. I used to coach him over coffee in the mornings, try and be his cheerleader, but I see now I was only enabling him. He couldn’t wait for me to leave the house so he could feed his addiction. So much pain…but when all boundaries are crossed you have to make a change. Our children saw everything, they know what’s going on and they need to be protected. Courage and Strength is what I ask for every day. I’m going to refer to your article again and again and give it to our loved ones.

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Cindy

So glad to have found this article. It seems that I have been surrounded by addictions. My own, my ex-husband, my brother. When I met and married my ex, we both drank and partied and it was all fun and games, until it wasn’t. Over the years we drank until one day I decided enough was enough and stopped. That was 2009 and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My life has completely changed for the better. Sobriety is glorious! Alas, my ex husband was not happy about my sobriety, and he did not hesitate to tell me. When the wine fog was gone, I realized that he and I had a false connection through the booze, and when the booze was gone, we really had nothing.
The marriage only lasted 4 years after I stopped drinking and during that time my ex continued his addiction with a vengeance, despite my pleas and requests that he join me in sobriety. Obviously, that doesn’t work. As he got meaner, I began to withdraw and detach. I wouldn’t engage him when he was drinking, which was pretty much all the time he was at home. So one day in 2013 he took off. Of course, he blamed me. He had pretty much blamed me for everything that was “wrong” in his life, which in his opinion was, well, everything. Interestingly, it took some time for me to let go of the blame that I had accepted from him. I began to grow and become stronger and heal and now I see his leaving as a blessing. He’s still at it, from what I hear and now has cirrhosis with lots of other serious complications like ascites, etc. Then there’s my twin brother. He’s addicted to pills ~ I think opioids and also alcohol. It’s another heartbreaking situation that I have to watch. Our 90 year old mother enables him and there’s no stopping her. She is very co-dependent which infuriates me when he disappears into his addiction and she gets very very upset and turns to me for help. I’m upset today ~ obviously ~ and searching around for some support ~ after seeing him last night at a family dinner that he was barely able to get through because he was in some sort of withdrawals ~ runny nose, tremors, pale, etc. He looked miserable. That’s not the first time. My two kids noticed and commented and I told them straight up, that’s what addiction does to a fine person. Anyway, it helps to get this out. Thank you again for your article.

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Laney

This is the best, most meaningful article I’ve read on this subject. I’ve newly drawn boundaries with my SO, including making him move out and not giving in to his manipulations (trying to scam a house key, money or things to pawn). I know his living situation is close to homeless and he’s around people who are not healthy for him, but blinders off… he was around ME, a person who’s never done more than taken a few tokes off of a joint in almost 50 years, and that didn’t keep him clean or out of the casino, so I guess where he’s living isn’t as important as “how” he’s living.

It is so hard to stick to your bottom line but thank you for the reminders that we’re not helping anyone by enabling them. His only real option at this point is the Salvation Army and he scoffs at that. 6 months free housing, meetings, structure… he doesn’t care that it could save his life. I just made another plea for this path, along with words of love and encouragement, but the days of my losing sleep over his lack of commitment to change (I do believe he WANTS to) are over.

I have no choice but to stay strong. I have no more money to give and it makes me sick to be around him when he’s using or to have him ask me for gas money because he lost everything at the casino. I know this is beyond him – I hope he can find his way back to himself before it’s too late.

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Teresa

My son has an addiction issue!
I try and read as much as I can, to educate myself, so I can better understand, the addiction.
This is the most powerful article I have read so fair. This has been going on for 5 years.
Thank you, for sharing.

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Karen Young

Teresa if only it was possible to love the addiction out of someone. I hope your son is able to grow towards healing soon.

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Clare Waismann

Karen,

I have been following your articles for a while. Your talent allows you to write so clearly, what is so helpful for so many. Working with people suffering from opioid addiction for the last 2 decades, I believe one of the crucial mistakes people do is to try to focus on treating the “addiction”.

Addiction is not a leaving-breathing thing, but a consequence of a distress (often emotional) that was not properly treated. While people focus on addiction, they tend to forget the human being behind it.

I often read the comments of mothers scared to loose their sons and so lost and hopeless. There is hope and there is a way out, but there is not one answer that fits all. We as human beings, have different histories, DNA and needs. We need to be heard and evaluated individually and not be put in a lock down with dozens of others suffering the same faith.

We cannot confuse peer support with treatment.

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Lauren

This article helped me so so much and was comforting to read. Today I hit a breaking point having my boyfriend who has been using on and off for four years when he overdosed last night. He’s cheated death 6 times and it feels like every time we take a step forward we then take two steps back. I love him more that myself, and that’s a problem I now know I need to deal with. Putting MYSELF first and learning to let go. I’m in a state of feeling like I don’t have a purpose..I’m emotionally and physically drained. I wake up with panic attacks in the middle of the night imagining him in a disgusting sketchy place just to feed his addiction. His family has given up hope and expect a phone call one of these days from either the police or hospital. I guess I know what I need to do but just need support in doing it. I don’t want to imagine life without him…Not hearing from him or knowing if he’s okay every day is having me lose my mind. I don’t even remember who I was before meeting him. Being in love with an addict has been the most painful experience of my existence and I’m wondering what the first step is into moving on.

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Lauren

Also forgot to ask- how do you make your own family understand that’s it’s not easy to let go of an addict. They see me self destructing and instead of trying to see my perspective, they react with anger and make me feel naive. I’m 23, my friends are judgemental and my dad says if he catches me speaking to him at all that he’d isolate me. How do I let my parents know that I want to be there for him if he decides to make the step towards recover? My family knows the amount of times my boyfriend has been in and out of rehabs. So they have no sympathy and I don’t blame them. I just don’t know how to keep my other relationships healthy when/if he does decide to try recovery again..because he will always my heart and support.

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Karen Young

Your family are understandably worried for you. I understand you want to be there for your boyfriend, but what is good about this relationship for you? What does it give to you? It is likely that your family see a lot of the pain this relationship brings you, These are probably understandably concerned about whether it gives to you and nurtures you, or whether this relationship only takes from you.

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Christine

I wonder how you know that they’ve turned a corner when part of the cycle is relapse, treatment, 80-90 days sobriety, relapse, treatment, 80-90 sobriety, relapse, treatment, 80-90 days…… My husband has been in and out of treatment more than 15 times and I have stopped enabling him. I would love to say that I am willing with love and compassion to stand beside him fiercely when he makes that decision to change directions, but how will I know that he’s actually done that? It’s so hard to know what to do in these situations.

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Natasha

I have been in a relationship with my partner for 10 years and it isn’t until recently (the last year or so) that it has come to light about his “recreational” use of cocaine. Be on nights out; but this is becoming a weekly habit that he will not admit. His behaviour has changed to a state where neither I nor his family recognise him nor like him for what he has become. He is selfish, lacks all empathy, is manipulative and is paranoid that I and his family “speak about him” and to “stop being worried” as it “isn’t an addiction”. I personally think he wants to brush the reality under the carpet and doesn’t want anyone to know what his problem is.
He has recently moved out of our home together but insists we stay friends as he will eventually clean his act up.
Hopelessly in love with the person I know is in there somewhere I have clung on for months, seeing him, going out for meals, the niceties, but his behaviour still has not changed nor does he see any wrong in the way he speaks disrespectivly to me or his actions. His parents have become ill from the worry of his actions (not coming in from nights out until 7-8am) as they can now see it for themselves and any confrontation is working. I know his “habit” is not as bad as most but “dabbling” in drugs 2-3 times a month is bad enough for me, someone who rarely drinks never mind amuses the idea of drug use. It kills me every day to see the person I love turn into every he said he said he hated at one point in his life. He has since been shady with his phone refusing to show me messages, and has since slept with someone else, which he claims was “nothing”. I am at my wits end and although the rational decision for anyone looking in is to “get shut”, it just isn’t that easy. He has since been promoted in his job and will be starting a fresh elsewhere which includes much more responsibility, im hoping this sense of “adulthood” will make him realise that drugs can ruin your everything and put it all into perspective: he is yet to start this role but I don’t know if I’m holding out for a miracle for the sake of being with someone for so long and being childhood sweethearts (we are nearly 30) or if I’m just undeniably stupid.

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pam

The hardest thing to deal with is my son’s threats of suicide that hold us all hostage and keep some family members enabling his addiction. How can a situation like this be dealt with?

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Karen Young

There is no easy way to deal with this. Your family members have taught your son that his threats of suicide will get him whatever it is they are giving him to enable his addiction. Having said that though, the threat of suicide is a powerful one and there is will always be the ‘what-ifs’ that are part of the manipulation that can hold a family hostage. This is your son’s growth, and nobody else is responsible for his choices. Your son needs outside support, but he won’t get this until he has felt enough pain. As long as his addiction is being enabled, it will be more unlikely that he will get the support he needs to heal.

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Clare Waismann

Hi Karen,

I always read your comments and I am always impressed by your wisdom. This is the first time that I fully do not agree with you, when you say: Your son needs outside support, but he won’t get this until he has felt enough pain.

I have been working with opioid dependent patients for over 2 decades. Most of these individuals are trying to self-medicate emotional pain; they already live in intense distress. When someone threatens suicide, we should not take it as manipulation, but a desperate cry for help.

Drug rehabs, often treat the addiction and forget to see the human behind it. These individuals are not seen or heard. They feel lonely, scared and misunderstood.

I am not undermining the difficulty of this mothers positions. There is nothing more difficult then to see your child in a daily Russian roulette and not being able to help.

There is no exact solution, but I have seen a total response reversal when the appropriate help is found. When the fear or withdrawal is overcome by a humane and effective detoxification, when physical cravings are medically managed and when a mental care professional is able to access and individually treat the source of emotional pain.

By no means this is an easy or quick process, but it is one that can be very gratifying throughout when the right road is found. I wish this mom and all the ones out there a tremendous amount of strength and hope, because there can be a solution.

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