August 25, 2014

Addicts and Their Families-How Spouses Can Get Help

Are you in therapy because you are married, in love with or living with an addict? Many people enter therapy trying to cope with the stress of living with an addict and they are always asking, “how can I get her to stop”, “what can I do to make him change”. That’s great! You’ve taken an important first step. How do you make the most of this opportunity.


Keep the focus on YOU! The addict in your life isn’t the person sitting in that office, looking for help and guidance, you are! Talk about the impact on you. Are you anxious, are you depressed? Are you pre-occupied? Do you find yourself withdrawing from your own friends and social activities because of your focus on the addict? Don’t repeat the problem spending the better part of your therapy hour talking about the behavior of the addict, talk about your response and reactions to what the addict is doing. You are there to learn what you can do to help yourself. That may have a positive impact on the addict or it may not, that is out of your control.

A famous quote from Tolstoy is that each unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way but the particulars are less important. We therapists talk to many family members of addicts and the issues are very similar. The addict lies, the addict disappoints, the addict is wasting their life and ruining the family. You know that and we know that. You and your therapist need to talk about: 1) What you can do to cope
2) How you can stop helping (also known as enabling) the addict to continue their behavior


Alcoholics Anonymous has led the way and now there are multiple spin-offs; Gamblers Anonymous, Families Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous. While an addict has about a 50/50 chance of recovery through the use of support groups, the benefit to families from participation in family support groups appears to be much higher. In all likelihood you are a healthier and stronger person than the addict. Let’s keep it that way. The support and acceptance of others who have walked in your shoes can be invaluable. You need all the help you can get dealing with the heartbreak of loving an addict so don’t go it alone. It can be embarrassing to talk to friends. Others may not really understand addiction and how it impacts you. It’s easy for an outsider to say, “just forget about him” or “kick her out”.  A very complicated spider web of love, grief, hope, responsibility and guilt keep us enmeshed with our addicts.  Someone who has been through a similar experience can help you by showing what they have done that worked for them. We also learn from the failures and frustrations of those in similar circumstances.


Keeping a written record of your experience can help you to think more systematically about how you are coping. If you are working with a psychologist, your journal is useful to your doctor as well as yourself to understand how you are reacting. A written record gives you a history of your reactions. It can help you to see growth and progress or help you see how stuck you are, trying the same strategies even if they are not helping.

If you love an addict of any kind, it will take a toll on you. Get help for yourself. It may or may not help the addict, that is out of your control but taking a step to change can bring you enormous benefit and may help the addict to have the courage to grow.


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