If you’re living with an addict, you probably have more than a few horror stories to share. Your life has undoubtedly been filled with stress and uncertainty as you watch someone you love spiral into addiction. Living with an alcoholic or drug addict can seem hopeless. Many times, people come out on the other side of addiction into a better, more fulfilling life. Until that time comes, here are some tips for living with an addict as well as some hard truths you need to face.
How to Live With an Addict
Living with an alcoholic or drug addict is tricky. Sometimes what you think is helpful behavior is actually keeping them stuck in their addiction. Here are some tips for living with an alcoholic or drug addict:
Enabling is one of the most common mistakes people living with addicts make. Most loved ones of addicts don’t even realize they’re doing it. Enabling an addict means you’re keeping your loved one in the cycle of addiction by not letting them suffer the consequences of their behaviors. It’s easy to confuse enabling with caring. Enabling may come in the form of caretaker, excuse-maker and fixer. It can feel like you’re helping your loved one, but if they never experience the consequences of their actions, what motivation do they have to get better?
Set Healthy Boundaries
A way to stop enabling an addicted person is by setting healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries are good for both you and your loved one. Boundaries say, “I love you, but I won’t aid in your addiction.” Healthy boundaries often include:
- Not making excuses for your addicted loved one to friends and family when they mess up
- Not allowing your loved one to be in the house or attend family gatherings if they’re drunk
- Not bailing them out if they get into legal or financial trouble
- Not letting addict behavior interfere with your self-care, social activities, job and other responsibilities
Remember the Needs of Your Family
Alcoholism and drug addiction touches the lives of everyone in its path. Their problem affects their partner, children, siblings, parents and other loved ones. If you’re living with an addict that’s also your partner, you need to consider other family members.
Take Care of Yourself
Living with an alcoholic or drug addict drains you physically and emotionally. Taking care of yourself is critical to your health. It’s also a way of empowering yourself by minimizing the effect your loved one’s addiction has on you. Some ways you can take care of yourself include:
- Seeing a mental health counselor
- Attending Al-Anon, an AA meeting for families and friends of alcoholics
- Practicing self-care like exercise and mindfulness
- Taking part in activities you enjoy
- Spending time with friends and family whose company you enjoy
Effects of Living with an Addict
Taking care of yourself is probably the most important thing about living with an alcoholic or drug addict. Living with an addicted loved one isn’t just frustrating, it can cause health issues for you. Your life is consumed by their problems. You may neglect self-care. You worry constantly. You clean up when they mess up. Research shows loved ones of alcoholics are at risk for:
- Misplaced anger toward others
- Poor self-care
- Substance abuse
If you have children, they’re also at risk for problems from living with an alcoholic. A review of research found that children of alcoholics are at risk for:
- Behavior problems
- Relationship issues
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Mental health issues like depression and anxiety
5 Hard Truths of Living with an Addict
Living with an addict isn’t easy and leaving them isn’t any easier. If you’ve decided to stay with an addicted person, especially if they’re your partner, here are some hart truths you’ll need to accept until they get help.
#1 Others may not want you and your partner around.
It won’t take friends and family members long to figure out that your partner has an addiction. In fact, you might still be in denial long after they’ve reached that conclusion. Once it becomes obvious, you can expect your social invitations to decline as others start to avoid both of you. What’s happening isn’t your fault but you’ll find yourself caught in the crossfire of the relationships your loved one has damaged. Living with an addict often means feeling isolated a lot of the time.
#2 Your partner won’t be responsible or reliable.
When you’re living with an addicted person, you should expect to be let down over and over again. They’ll break promises, forget important dates and miss events with family and friends. No matter how many times your partner says they’re sorry, they’ll continue abusing your trust. Addiction breeds irresponsible behavior. Even the best intentions won’t make a difference if the addict or alcoholic continues to abuse substances.
#3 Your partner won’t be honest.
Addicts deny the truth about their substance abuse problem to themselves and to everyone else. They also won’t tell you the truth about where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing or who they’ve been doing it with. They won’t be honest about where your money is going, why the car got dinged up or why they were late getting home. Most disturbing of all, they will repeatedly lie about their intentions to get clean and sober. Drugs and alcohol are their priority. They’ll tell you what you want to hear to get you off their back.
#4 You can’t make them change.
You can offer support, advice, encouragement and unconditional love to the addict in your life. You can issue deadlines or ultimatums. You can enlist the help of friends and family to convince them to get help for their drug or alcohol addiction. But no matter how much energy you expend, you can’t do the work for them. While recovery outcomes for people who enter treatment voluntarily tend to be better, many people in drug rehab centers are there because of external factors. These can include legal problems, work problems and ultimatums from loved ones. Sometimes people find internal motivation to get better once they’ve sobered up and are immersed in recovery activities in drug rehab. Regardless, only the person with the addiction can choose to stop alcohol or drug abuse. Until they’re ready to make that commitment, nothing you do will have the impact you hope for or expect.
#5 You may need to leave.
When you’re living with an addict, you can only hope, pray and put your needs aside for so long. If your partner stubbornly refuses to seek help or is in and out of addiction treatment centers with no intentions of staying sober, there may come a time when you’ll have no choice but to leave. This is especially true if there are children involved. Some drug addicts need to hit rock bottom before they’re finally ready to admit the truth. That doesn’t mean you need to hit rock bottom with them. You deserve better. If you decide to leave before things go that far, you’re justified in doing so. Leaving an alcoholic or drug addict isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s for the best.
What You Should Know About Addiction
Addiction is a disease of the brain. In a way, it has hijacked your loved one’s brain. It’s making the decisions for them. Substance abuse changes the structure and chemical balance in the brain. This makes your brain think it needs drugs and alcohol to function. It will do whatever it takes to get them because its job is to help you survive. Substance abusers will often lie, cheat, steal, miss work and ruin relationships. Their life centers around the drugs and alcohol they need for “survival.” When you understand this, it can help you understand why the addict is the way they are. People struggling with addiction may also have mental health disorders that contribute to substance abuse. They may use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety. Many times they’re unaware that this is what they’re trying to achieve. The underlying mental health disorders need to be addressed to help them get sober. This doesn’t excuse the way the addict is ruining both of your lives. It doesn’t excuse the way they treat you and others. It may help you unload some of the blame you’re putting on them (and yourself). Addiction is a chronic disease that often needs medical attention and behavioral therapy before it improves. There’s only so much you can do if your partner doesn’t want help. Living with an addict can be a daily battle. It can take over your life. It can isolate you from friends and family. It can ruin relationships and finances. It can leave you feeling helpless and depleted. Addiction recovery is possible with hard work and the right treatment. Only your addicted partner can put in the work to get better for themselves and you.