There is nothing that makes a person feel more helpless than watching a loved one suffer from drug addiction, especially when it seems they don’t want help. Al-Anon teaches that we are powerless over alcoholism and while that may be true to some extent, there are steps we can take that will help an addict in the long-run, and may even lead them to get the help they so desperately need.
There’s a widely held belief that people with substance use disorders need to “hit bottom” before they are willing to seek treatment. Unfortunately, loved ones can actually prevent addicts from experiencing the negative consequences necessary for them to reach that point. This is called “enabling” and it can take many forms. If you have found yourself covering for your addicted loved one when they can’t make it into work, or picking them up from the bar when they are too drunk to make it home, or explaining away their behavior to your kids, then you are enabling them to continue using.
The good thing about being a loved one in an addict’s life is that you can actually bring their bottom “up” by stepping back and allowing consequences to take their natural course. In the book, “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, there are some ideas which can help you navigate the treacherous waters of truly helping an addict begin their journey toward recovery.
Sometimes, experiencing well-deserved karma is a good thing. There is a law of “sowing and reaping” Cloud and Townsend say that all of us live out. It is especially important to allow this sowing and reaping process to be happening in the life of your loved one. Don’t get in the way. If they lose their job for being late or showing up drunk or high, then so be it. Those are consequences that can help that person get in touch with their addiction. If they get drunk at a party, let them know you don’t intend on getting into the car with a drunk person, then take a cab home with their money.
If you have a son or daughter who is using and doesn’t have a job or isn’t paying rent, then it may be time that you show them the door. Give them the addresses of some homeless shelters. This may be the very thing that helps them to sober up. Yes, it is difficult and painful and it may not work, but enabling them to continue in their addiction is worse. We can talk to addicts until we are blue in the face and this will not matter to them, only when they receive some actual negative consequences for their behavior will they wake up and smell the coffee.
One of the most loving actions I ever saw a parent take was when this man’s daughter was sent to jail because of drug use. He could easily have bailed her out, but instead, brought her a recovery book and a toothbrush and said, “I love you, but this is the best place for you right now.” She is sober today.
One thing you can expect when you allow natural consequences is your loved one’s anger towards you, especially if you have previously been enabling their behavior. This is unfortunate, but normal. The important thing is for you to not retaliate. Otherwise, they will just blame their use on their “crazy” spouse or parent. What you can do is empathize with them that negative consequences are difficult and ask them if they are ready to get help with their problem.
Finally, it is important to remember what real love is. Real love is not rescuing the addict from pain if that pain is a natural consequence to their behavior. People learn good life lessons when they reap what they sow. Hitting bottom is possible before that bottom is death, and not getting in the way of that process is the most loving thing you can do for your loved one.