Addictions 102- Loved Ones
When a loved one is misusing or addicted to a substance or activity, it can have serious repercussions for family and friends that raise social, emotional, moral, financial, and spiritual questions.
“Why can’t you control him/her?” Socially there may be embarrassment due to the loved ones behaviours. Expecting family or friends to control them in social situations is awkward and unrealistic, as the loved one may resist and escalate his/her behaviour. Safety concerns and embarrassment may prevent family members from accepting invitations or having people to the home for visits.
“Why don’t you leave him/her?” Until you have been there, it is difficult to understand the complicated factors that make us stay with a loved one who is struggling. Sometimes we cling to the ideal of who the person used to be, or hope that they will improve in the future. If there are children the effort to keep the family intact can be very strong.
Embedded in the question above is “What’s wrong with you that you stay?” Shame is the silent shadow of out of control addiction and compulsion – for both the user and family members, especially if addiction is seen as a moral failing or lack of will power.
“What’s the financial cost?” As use spirals out of control the costs increase, and if loved ones don’t make it to work, they lose their wages and jobs. An addict using cocaine could spend $40,00 per year or a compulsive gambler could owe or have spent $100,000 which becomes family joint debt or loss.
“Should I forgive them, and if so, what does that mean?” is a question influenced by your religious and spiritual backgrounds. There are no easy answers to these questions. Forgiveness can set you free from anger and resentment, but if there is no change in the loved ones behavior you will continue to cycle through the hurt, forgive, make-up cycle.
As a family or friend, what will work depends on what you, and the person with the problem are willing or not willing to do. The best approach is loving and honest. It is hard to raise the necessary questions and best if family and friends work together to confront and at the same time provide loving support to the addict.
If you wish to maintain or improve the relationship, I encourage you to invite that person to join you in counselling. If you or your children are at risk you may have to set a clear boundary by leaving the relationship. Ultimately, your loved one is the only one who can make the necessary changes. If you are doing more than they to deal with their problems, then you are doing too much. This is the clearest sign of co-dependence.