Do You Love an Addict? 3 Important Things You Need to Know!

As any of us who love an addict are aware, this can be a very difficult position to be in.  We can try and try to do what we think will help, over and over again, only to find that they are still using, relapsing, or blaming us for everything that’s ever gone wrong in their lives.  Loving an addict can truly be a thankless job!

And for every one addicted person, there are 10-20+ other people who are affected by that person’s addiction.  Think about it – there are mothers and fathers; sisters and brothers; grandparents; boyfriends and girlfriends; husbands and wives/life partners; aunts, uncles and cousins; teachers and fellow students; bosses and co-workers; friends; neighbours; shopkeepers; the unfortunate people who might be on the road at the same time that the addict is driving under the influence…. The list goes on and on.  In fact, addiction is so prevalent these days that virtually all of us are either affected by this horrific situation, or we know someone who is.  There are few who seem to escape the ravages of addiction anymore – in one way or another.

What are the 3 most important things to know, if we love an addict?

There are a number of things that loved ones of addicts need to know, in order to make life easier for them and healthier for the person who is addicted.  I will give you my Top 3 here:

  1.  An enabled addict does not recover because… Why should they?

Enabling happens when we consistently do for another person what they can, and indeed should, be doing for themselves.  The most classic example of this is when we give an addict money when we know full well that this will go right to their addiction.  There are other ways that people enable addicts as well – such as allowing them to live in the family home while using, drinking, punching holes in walls when they’re angry and displaying other difficult behaviours.  Sometimes family members will do all the grocery shopping and cooking, or do addict’s laundry on a consistent basis, while setting the bar so low that they don’t expect or ask for anything in return.  So the addict gets to stay in their addiction, often blissfully unaware of how the other people in their lives are negatively affected.  Allowing this to continue is not good for the loved ones and is definitely not good for the addict – who will not recover because really, why should they?

  1. Allowing “Gaslighting” is a form of enabling:

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about “gaslighting” – in fact, it has become yet another buzzword in the counselling psychology field.  Gaslighting happens in a relationship when Person A doesn’t want to take personal responsibility for their own words, actions, or choices – preferring to blame Person B for the way they feel and how they themselves are choosing to behave.

Here is an example:  Person A (we’ll call him John, but it isn’t always the male in the relationship) is having a hard time in his life.  He doesn’t like his job, he’s gained weight, he may be drinking or using drugs on a more consistent basis. He might have narcissistic tendencies, complete with the belief that he is entitled to have more and more of whatever he wants, whenever he wants it.  He feels as if life just isn’t fair and, deep down, he doesn’t like or respect himself very much.  But he doesn’t want to have to feel or admit any of this, so instead of reaching out for help for himself he starts to shift the blame to his partner (we’ll call her Mary, but it’s not always the female in the relationship) by speaking to her in derogatory ways.  John might minimize or trivialize what Mary thinks, believes and feels.  He might refuse to acknowledge an obvious reality by calling Mary “crazy” or “stupid” for having her perspective or feeling the way she does.  John might complain about how she looks physically and bad-mouth her friends.  If Mary doesn’t have high enough self-regard or self-respect, she may easily begin to question her own sanity.  She may also have John on a pedestal, believing he is somehow ‘better than’ she is – because this is so often how he behaves with her.

But the truth is that no one is better than anyone else.  If John is acting in an entitled way, thinking that the way he sees things is right and the way Mary sees things is wrong, then there is bound to be friction in the relationship – unless Mary makes the decision to go along with John in order to keep the peace between them.  This is a codependent stance on Mary’s part – she will be going along to get along and that choice is bound to have some impact on her emotional and mental health.

When Mary decides to accept John’s abusive behaviour toward her – mostly in order to avoid the conflict that she dreads so much – she is enabling John.  She is allowing John to get away with inappropriate and negative behaviours that he really should not be engaging in.  This is not good for John and it’s not good for Mary.  It is the classic lose-lose dynamic that happens in far too many relationships – and deep down, both John and Mary know that what is happening between them is not going to have positive outcomes for either of them in the long run.

It’s important to know that if neither of them gets help around this, the cycle will go on and on.  It takes two to get tangled up in this mess that is gaslighting – but it really only takes one to untangle it.  If you can relate to either “John” or “Mary” in this scenario and would like to break these cycles, we can help you at Love With Boundaries.  Click the link at the bottom of this article.

The reality is that, when allowed to continue, gaslighting has been known to have disastrous results – and nobody has to live this way. 

  1. Self-Care does NOT equal Selfish:

Far too many people get these two ideas mixed up and, in fact, they are actually polar opposites.  Those with codependent tendencies – who go along to get along and generally say Yes when they mean No in order to avoid conflict – are the people who have the most trouble practicing self-care because they either think they are being selfish when they do, or they believe others who try to shame them by accusing them of that.

It’s time for this to stop.

Here’s the difference:  Self-Care is about respecting ourselves enough to take good care of ourselves in a holistic way – which includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects.  Selfish is about wanting what we want when we want it (like, right now!) and being willing to step on whomever we have to in order to get it.  If you love an addict, you will probably recognize my definition of selfish as fitting your addicted loved one more than it being true about you.

Please know that it is not selfish of you to take better care of yourself.  When we begin to respect ourselves more, we can set healthier boundaries with the addicts in our lives – which is the best thing we can do for both of us, a classic win-win.  

Taking care of ourselves physically means the usual suspects:  eating better, getting some exercise that we can enjoy and not have to force ourselves to do, dress with more care after tending to our hygiene, perhaps even wearing some of the jewelry that has been sitting in our drawer for a really long time.  We need to keep up with regular medical and dental check-ups.  Physical self-care means being kinder to ourselves and caring about the way we present ourselves – more for our own self-respect, rather than to be seen a certain way by others.  

Emotional self-care is about finding ways to process some of our more difficult feelings.  This can mean talking to someone – a therapist, a pastor, a trusted friend, your partner – as honestly and openly as you can, believing that you are worthy of being listened to.  Living with unresolved sadness, anger, grief, fear, loneliness can lead to devastating outcomes such as diseases like cancer, Crohn’s Disease, anxiety or clinical depression.  The way to live a richer, more fulfilling life is to take care of our emotions in healthy and productive ways.

As we age, it’s important for us to take care of our mental state and exercise our brains.  I enjoy doing word puzzles and watching shows like Jeopardy.  Other people like putting jigsaw puzzles together or participating in a book club.  There is a saying — Use it or lose it – that sums this aspect of self-care very well.  And the truth is that none of us want to lose it, especially if there are ways we can avoid having that happen.

Spiritual self-care means different things to different people, and it’s necessary to have a sense of what that means for each of us.  For some, religious and spiritual go hand-in-hand, while for others it’s about being out in nature, maybe running along the beach with their dog.  Some people believe in a Judeo-Christian higher power, while others believe in karma and reincarnation.  Whatever it means for each of us – whatever makes sense to us and gives us comfort – is what needs to be pursued and celebrated.  We all want to feel better – this is part of our human longing.  It seems to me that those who don’t have a sense of spiritual fulfilment for themselves are the most unhappy – and are the ones who find themselves stuck in addictive behaviours to try to achieve some kind of meaning in life that could be found elsewhere.

To summarize, if you love an addict, be careful to not enable them or the addiction will very likely never stop until it’s too late.  

If you’re putting up with disrespect from someone, especially on a consistent basis without setting healthy self-respectful boundaries, then you are basically teaching that person that it’s all right to treat you like that.  Gaslighting and other forms of bullying don’t just stop by themselves – bullies bully because they can, because they are allowed to.  It’s important to care enough about yourself to walk away from this, and if you need help doing that then I hope you’ll reach out for it.  

Practising healthy, holistic self-care is your right as a human being.  If anyone accuses you of being ‘selfish’ because you’re taking good care of yourself, then your accuser has some inner work to do to shift that perception.

And when we become that wonderful self-caring role model for the addicts we love – maybe, just maybe they will decide they want a piece of that for themselves!

Candace Plattor, M.A., is an Addictions Therapist specializing in working with the family of people who are struggling with addiction. As a former addict with 35 years clean and sober, Candace knows that overcoming addiction is a family condition: everyone in the family is affected by addiction and everyone needs to heal. Learn more about Candace here:

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