If you are caring for an addict – someone who has a drug or alcohol problem – then you know that taking care of the addict while still taking care of yourself isn’t easy. Addiction is not a spectator sport; it drags everyone around the addict into the game. Addiction tears families apart, causing such chaos and turmoil that it may seem like things can never get better. If you are a family member or loved one of an addict, you likely experience a mix of emotions when it comes to the one who is using drugs or alcohol – love, hate, pity, disgust, hopelessness, despair. It may feel like your life is not your own, that it revolves around the addiction, and it probably does right now. But, there are some things that you can do to restore some balance to your life even though you are caring for an addict while still taking care of yourself.
Caring for an Addict Takes a Heavy Toll
The most important thing to do when you have an addict in your life is taking care of yourself. You have likely been living with lots of dysfunction, perhaps alternating between being a caretaker and being disengaged from your loved one. This kind of emotional roller coaster is exhausting, and you have to take time for yourself to recover – physically and emotionally. Set aside time for yourself to rest, do things that you enjoy, spend time with people who are supportive, and detach with love from the addict in your life.
Ways to Take Care of Yourself While Caring for the Addict
Other things that you can do to care for yourself while caring for an addict to help restore balance include:
- Educate yourself about addiction and recovery. Understanding the nature of addiction is important because often when you are dealing with an addict, his or her behavior results from the drug or alcohol, and not from who he or she is as a person. Knowledge is power, and it can help lessen the hurt you feel about seeing your loved one in that state.
- Avoid self-blame about your loved one’s addiction. Know that you cannot control the decisions that someone else makes, and you can’t cause someone to become an alcoholic or addict.
- Reduce stress in all areas of your life. Living with, or near, an addict is stressful enough. Try to find healthy outlets for your stress – exercise, meditation, journaling, reading, cooking – whatever relieves your stress, do that.
- Don’t engage when your loved one is drinking or using; it’s an unwinnable battle. Instead, try to remove yourself from the situation and talk to him or her when he or she is sober.
- Find support for yourself and your recovery. Maybe you should see a therapist to work through your feelings about your loved one. You may also want to try one of the 12-step groups for family members of addicts. Talking about what’s going on and peer support is extremely useful in dealing with your emotions about your loved one’s addiction.
Caring for an Addict Can Feel Impossible
Dealing with an addict is difficult and often unpredictable, and that makes it feel impossible to be supportive. There are things that you can do to support your loved one without getting sucked into the addictive behavior.
- Open lines of communication with your loved one. Let your loved one know that you will be there if and when he or she wants to talk about the addiction and the underlying issues that may be present.
- Be patient. It is said recovery takes as long as it takes. Be patient and understand that setting real or subconscious deadlines for your loved one’s recovery isn’t helpful and it lends itself to creating unnecessary stress and blame.
- Work on forgiveness toward your loved one. Harboring resentment is detrimental to both you and your loved one. Remember, forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you condone his or her behavior, it means that you are letting go of the resentment that can potentially make you bitter.
- Support sobriety. When your family member asks for help, be supportive. Make sure that he or she knows that you will do whatever you can to help with his or her recovery.
- Don’t enable your loved one’s behavior. Covering for or making excuses for an addict is not helpful. In fact, it usually perpetuates the addiction. It is extremely important for the addict to suffer the negative consequences of addiction. Real change is more likely to happen when he or she has to deal with the consequences.
- Set boundaries and stick to them. Well-defined boundaries are useful for the whole family, but they should not be used for blame or punishment.
There is no doubt that addiction is a heartbreaking disease that hurts everyone in the family. Many times though, the addict will reach out to someone for help at some point. If your loved one expresses a desire to stop drinking or using, getting him or her to addiction treatment as quickly as possible is the best thing you can do for your family. Hopefully, that day comes sooner rather than later. In the meantime though, remember the importance of taking care of yourself.