Living With An Addict. What to Do, What Not to Do

Living with an Addict
By Elizabeth Malamed, MFT
Living with an addict can be stressful and painful. There are ways to protect yourself, and inthe process become a healthier, happier person
Remember, it’s not about you. Research shows there are physical causes of addiction
and biological changes that occur when one is
addicted. At a certain point, using drugs
ceases to be about choice. An addict must keep using just to function. Addiction is not a
moral failure, nor is it something you’ve caused. It’s an illness that can be treated.
Learn about the drug(s) being used. Each
drug is different, be it alcohol, cocaine,
methamphetamines, or others. Learn how
it affects the body and the mind, and also
what the symptoms are. Check the Internet
for more information. Some sites to check
are: www.nida.gov, www.jointogether.org and www.hazelden.org
Find support for yourself. It’s not only the addi
ct who needs help. You’ll benefit from
having people in your life who can suppor
t you. Find a therapist who works with
addicts or people who care for them. Cons
ider attending meetings at Co-Dependents
Anonymous (CODA), Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) or Alanon, which is for
friends and families of alcoholics. Parents of alcoholics and addicts can check out
Tough Love meetings. Schedules of meetings are posted on the Internet. Find people
who have experienced what you are going through. Not everyone isable to understand, but those who do can be a source of strength and support.
Learn about co-dependency. Addicts manipulate the people around them to maintain
their addiction. Although you are trying to help, you may be enabling them to keep
using. Learn about new ways of behaving that can be more helpful for you and the
Be aware there are no easy solutions. Sometim
es, an addict’s behavior will get worse
when you begin to change your behavior to deal with him. This is termed “change-back
behavior,” because it’s an attempt by the addi
ct to get you to revert to the old way of
doing things. If that happens, it's importan
t to keep going. Don’t allow the addict to
control the changes you need to make in your life.
Look at yourself. Family members of addict
s are more likely to engage in similar
behavior like drug addiction, overeating, or compulsive gambling. Take stock of
yourself and your life, and get help if you need it.
Think about intervention. An intervention is
an event, most times led by a professional,
where a group of people, usually family and
friends, come together to lovingly confront
the addict. This act can be particularly he
lpful if the addict does not realize or
Copyright 2006 California Association of Marriage
and Family Therapists. All rights reserved.

remember what he has done. The end of an
intervention involves a choice by the addict:
Get help or face the consequences. Often, getting help means checking into a treatment
program. Some consequences of not getti
ng help include limiting contact with the
addict or refusing to give the addict money.
Find ways to keep yourself safe and indepe
ndent. If your spouse drinks too much at
parties, bring cab fare, your
own car keys, or plan to get
a ride home. If money is an
issue, separate your finances, or save so
me money for yourself. Find ways to do for
yourself what the addict is supposed to
do for you, but cannot. You’ll minimize the
damage to your life.
Get your own life. You may f
eel like you’re the only person
who can keep an addict
from hurting himself, and that you have to
focus your attention
on the addict. But it
doesn’t help you or the addi
ct to do so. Independent ac
tivities, going to a movie,
making new friends, or taking a class can ge
t you out of the hous
e. Build a life for
yourself away from the addict. You’ll think
more clearly and won’t feel so obsessed.
Over time, you’ll be able to enjoy your life ag
ain whether the addict
gets better or not.
Consider leaving. It can be a lot easier to
cope with an addict in your life when you
aren’t living under the same roof. If that
isn’t possible, make a safe place for yourself
and spend some time alone. It may mean stay
ing up later or getti
ng up earlier, locking
your door, or wearing earplugs. Be creative in
finding ways to make time for yourself.
Know that you can lead a happy and healthy lif
e. You have the power to make changes
in your life for the better, and there ar
e people willing to help. You can do it.