Addicts are addicted to their drug or activity of choice. Families and friends are more often than not addicted to controlling the behavior of the addict. Because we do not wish to see our loved ones hurt or go to jail, we often will take extraordinary steps to keep them from using and getting them out of trouble.
I would share with you the story of a wife, a very respectable, generally tea totaling lady who was arrested for a DUI. At a party, her alcoholic husband was as usual drinking far too much. In order to slow the amount he was drinking, she finished each of his drinks. Since in spite of her efforts, he was passed out on the back seat of the car she was driving home– and you can figure out the rest of the story.
In my discussion I must begin with two unalterable truths. They are:
1. People must recover for themselves. Like going to the bathroom, the actual act of recovery must be performed by the addict. No one is able to do it for them. If that were the case there would be no addicts, as families and therapists would have gladly done it for them.
2. People get better “when the pain of their illness becomes less than their fear of changing.” To recover, one must decide that the benefits of using are far less and more painful than a sober life.
When as well meaning family members and friends we seek to protect the addict from the consequences of their actions, we are actually encouraging their disease. Think of it this way, a young child begins to climb a fifty foot ladder. Each time he climbs we laugh and say cute it is. We stand behind him and make sure he does not fall. A few days later you are not around. He climbs to the top of the ladder and falls. How much better would it have been if we stopped him from climbing by giving him a consequence? (Either natural falling off the ladder, or a time out etc.)
I repeat, addicts get better when the pain of their disease becomes less than their fear of changing. When we bail the addict out, we are allowing climbing that ladder higher and ensuring that consequences of their addiction will be that much greater. Remember the consequences of addiction uninterrupted are always resulting in institutions, insanity or death.
Let us look at the dynamics that posed by the Addict Dysfunctional Family Relationship.
Most families are rescuers. They try in every way that they can to protect the addict from the inevitable consequences of the addict’s addiction. They will bail the addict out, make excuses for the addictive behavior etc. Their fallacious belief is that they can make the addict change by protecting him or her. They in turn, recognize the illogic of the addict’s behavior attempt to institute controls. They in practice become jailers. They take what they believe are appropriate steps to ensure that the addict will stop using. These might include but are not limited to:
1. Attempting to baby-sit the addict.
2. Making sure that the addict is attending meetings.
3. Setting up all types of questions about the addicts activities
4. Following the addict around.
5. Checking his/her cell phone calls
6. Insisting on curfews.
7. Confining the addict to the house
8. Making sure the addict has no money
9. Making idle threats
10.Taking away the addicts car etc.
At the same time the addict sees him/herself as a victim. In active addiction, the addicts never view themselves as being at fault. Because of their ability to rationalize and justify their behavior, they feel put upon and the recipient of unfair treatment. After all they are different from other people. They minimize their disease. The crack addict will say, “Well at least I don’t use a needle like those heroin addicts” The heroin addicts will rationalize, “well at least I am not using heroin.” It is important to remember throughout this process that the addict is not ready to give up drugs and/ or stop using. In fact, the more controls that are placed on the addict, the more likely he/she is to attempt to use more drugs. Let’s face it, that is an addict’s response to all uncomfortable situations. When pressure is placed on the addict to control their behavior it results in two things. The addict will:
1. Use more
2. Become very angry
When this occurs the addict usually becomes very angry. The addict will yell, scream and argue. He/she will say things like:
1. You can’t tell me what to do. I am an adult.
2. If it were not for you, I would not be an addict.
3. You know, I might just as well kill myself.
4. You don’t understand how sick I will get if I don’t have my drugs.
5. If you don’t give me the money to pay the dealer, he will kill me.
6. What will the family say if they find out that you are not helping me.
7. If you don’t do this for me, I might lose my job and then how will you live.
8. If you had the job I do, you would use also.
9. If you had to live the way I do, you would use also.
10.The Dr. is giving me these medications. Who are you to tell me to stop?
11. So you want me to hurt.
The family in turn now feels like they are the victim. They respond with pleas like:
1. How can you do this to us?
2. We have given you everything?
3. Weren’t we good parents?
4. We put you through school, how could you do this to us.
5. You are killing your mother, father, grandmother etc.
6. We love you so much. Please stop for our sake.
The addict then will feel guilty. They will now have to rescue those around them. The only way to perform this rescue is to agree to do what the family is asking, i.e. stop using. This is not what the addict wants so they again become the victim and the vicious cycle begins again.
For this reason it is extremely important that the well meaning family/friends break the cycle of their own addiction. In order to do this they must learn and accept the fact that giving the addict what they want instead of what they need is neither helpful nor loving. In fact while it is easier to give in, than to give the addict what they need. Facing the anger and displeasure of someone we care about is definitely not a pleasant task. None the less, if the addict is to get better, this will have to be done. Think of it this way. Is it not far better to have the addict angry at you for a few days, (or even weeks or years) than be angry with yourself because the addict has died of an overdose or ended up in jail?
Try to think of it this way. The person you love has a physical illness. There is an operation that succeeds one in one hundred times. Ninety nine times the patient dies. On the other hand if they receive no treatment they will die a horrible death one hundred percent of the time. Placed in this situation would you not then drag that person to the table kicking and screaming? I expect that you would do whatever it takes to give them that chance. The same applies to the addiction. Being tough with the addict is the only way that they can be saved.
I am often asked how to be tough. The following is the technique that I recommend for intervening.
1. Gather together everyone who is concerned about the addict.
2. Decide on those things that you can do to encourage the person to go to treatment. This might include withholding financial support, divorce, loss of job, inability to see relatives. (The list will be different for everyone, however; if it will hurt, it will contribute to making the pain of the disease greater than the fear of changing. It is for the addicts own good.)
3. Choose a treatment center to make sure they have a bed.
4. Choose a date for the intervention.
5. Have everyone write a letter to the addict.
a. Tell them how much you love them.
b. State specific instances of behaviors that you are worried about. E.g. On Friday September 7, you ran over our son’s bicycle in the driveway. You might have killed him. I am afraid to have our friends over the house and/or go to parties where alcohol is being served because I never know how you will act.
Then ask the person to accept the gift of treatment. If they agree, leave for treatment immediately. If they resist, go to step c.
c. Tell the person what will happen if they do not go. See step 2 above. Again ask them to accept the gift of treatment.
d. If the addict still refuses implement the consequences. It is essential that you hold firm. When the addict calls ask, ‘are you ready to go to treatment?” If the answer is yes, go. If the answer is no, with no further discussion say, “call when you are ready and hang up.” This is tough, but you need to remember that you are saving the person’s life.
e. Repeat step d till the addict agrees to go to treatment.
In some cases you may wish to consider a professional interventionist. These are therapists and individuals who specialize in helping families encourage their loved ones to seek treatment.
Finally having decided to take these steps you will probably need support. Alanon, Naranon and Gammanon are places for the families of addicts to go and share their hopes, strengths and experiences in dealing with their own family members and friends who are addicted. It is a place where those that are there will usually understand where you are coming from and give you the great support that can only come from those who have walked the same path as you are.
It is also a good idea to seek professional therapy for yourself and other family members. We often feel that the problem is the addict’s and fixing them will make everything ok. Unfortunately we to have been damaged by their behaviors and it is very important that we heal as well.
Understand the road to recovery is not only for the addict, but for all those with whom the addict interacts. Remember the damage that they have done is not only to them. Like the addict, you are a good person with a bad disease.