Seven Ways to Love the Addict in Your Life

Frightened. Confused. Angry. These are just some of the things you might feel watching a loved one become consumed by addiction. So how do you love somebody when they’re hell-bent on destroying themselves? How do you care about someone you hardly recognize anymore? Obviously, every situation is different but here are ways I felt loved and supported when I was in my addiction, as well as some things I find helpful when dealing with other addicts.

  1. Don’t take their addiction personally. It’s not about you. They aren’t trying to hurt you. And just as you didn’t create their addiction, you can’t control or cure it. No matter how much you love them, your love cannot stop their addiction. Don’t think it can or should. They are in a deadly compulsive cycle and their perception is warped. It might help you to read books, watch documentaries and learn about addiction. Both my parents could teach a substance abuse course at this point; they wanted to understand and “know the enemy” so they could help me more effectively.
  2. Shelve the shame. The addict is already riddled with shame. They are using to blot out shame in fact — of who they are, how they feel, what they’ve done. On top of that, they are ashamed that they’re using and can’t stop. The last thing they need is to be told they are a disappointment. Try to have compassion. Remember that somebody who is in active addiction is in tremendous pain and very out-of-control. You can still accept them without approving of what they’re doing.
  3. See them as a sick person, not a bad person. This one is related to #2. Although I did many bad things (like dealing drugs to being verbally and physically abusive to people I loved) while I was an active addict, I was not a bad person. I was a sick person and my addiction made me do things I wouldn’t normally do. How do you view mentally ill people? They are sick, even when they do bad things. The same goes for drug addicts. Addiction is truly a type of insanity. Try to remember who they were before they fell into addiction and know that they can be that person again. Hold on to their humanity.
  4. Communicate. Being around an active addict can be a lot of drama and very draining. If you need a time-out, communicate that to the person you love in advance. This is very different from giving them the silent treatment or abandoning them. I choose not to talk to any of my sponsees if/when they’re loaded. They are free to call me again when they are sober. When I was in my sixth rehab, my father was just done. He was so angry and frustrated that he didn’t want to speak to me for a few months. He made it clear beforehand, though, that he still loved me and was not punishing me, he was just taking care of himself. My mother, on the other hand — a recovering alcoholic herself — never needed to pull back her emotional support.
  5. Don’t lose hope. The addict has lost hope. They need you to believe that they can get better because they probably don’t think they can. Remember that many people do recover. The only thing that kept me trying to get sober at certain points was that my parents and friends believed that I could — even after years of relapsing. “You can get this,” they’d tell me. “I believe in you.” Thankfully, and rather miraculously, they never lost hope. I believed that they believed and that was enough to start again.
  6. Recognize that tough love can backfire. My father would not let me wear short sleeves around him because he didn’t want to see my track marks. He felt that I was oddly proud of them and he wanted to see me as his daughter and not just an addict. He drug-tested me and threatened to cut me off financially if I tested dirty. But that’s not what got me clean for good. I got clean when my addiction stopped working for me and when I hit an emotional bottom and a terrifying physical bottom that were unbearable. As my sponsor says, “People cease a behavior when what it is doing to them is worse than what it’s doing for them.”
  7. Stay flexible. Every person’s addiction and journey to recovery are different, personal and ever-changing. My parents were adamant about staying open-minded and flexible about what or how they would help me. They were never rigid and never took a “you cross this line and we’re done” attitude. They also never pushed AA or any type of specific methodology on me. Addicts are innately defiant and do not respond well to being forced to follow a code of any kind. I do the same with my sponsees. I’m no fundamentalist; I don’t care how they get sober, only that they do.

Finally, remember that the addiction of a loved one isn’t only their chance to change and grow. It’s also yours.

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14 Responses to Seven Ways to Love the Addict in Your Life

  1. Robert Macaulay September 8, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    This should be required reading for everyone in Alanon, especially parents.

  2. Yvonne Delet September 11, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Nothing’s worse then dealing with people that have no idea how to ‘talk to’ an addict. Wonderful article – Amy gives us the truth unparalleled.

  3. Amy Selman September 16, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    This is so Awesome! I really wish that everyone in my life when I was in active addiction could have read this, though it’s too late for that I really hope that it helps someone who’s dealing with a loved one in addiction it’s the truth and could really help them!!! #Wisdom

  4. Holly Hill September 17, 2015 at 3:49 am #

    And perhaps find a S.M.A.R.T Recovery meeting for Friends and Family in your area.

  5. Nancy VanAlstyne September 17, 2015 at 5:41 am #

    We have a daughter in addiction, and like your parents, we are reading books, going to al anon, and open AA meetings. Your blog encourages us that we are on the right road to once again see our wonderful daughter for whom she is destined to be. She is in recovery now, and we are learning as much as she is….God is good, and I really appreciate your blog.

  6. Liane Samarco September 17, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    This was a really good read for me. I haven’t had professional help dealing with my son’s addiction, but it reassured me that I am right on track. Thank You

  7. Terry Granger September 17, 2015 at 11:15 am #

    My son is in recovery – 7 months. I love this perspective, your perspective because you are speaking from the other side of the table. This article is eye opening and great advice for those us who love an addict. It’s so hard to know what to do sometimes and there is so much rhetoric in the literature. This was a refreshing look through the eyes of someone who’s really been there. Thanks, and keep on writing!

  8. Ann Harlan September 17, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

    I found your piece to be infuriating. If I take #1 as fact, then really what do 2-7 have to do with me? And the kicker…your last statement saying that a loved ones addiction is a chance for their family/friends to change and grow. Do you mean change in a good way? Grow how? Are you actually saying that your addiction was a good thing for your parents? Have they thanked you yet?

  9. Alcoholic's Ex September 18, 2015 at 12:40 am #

    With all do respect, this article is all about the addict and absolves them of responsibility for their actions. If families of addicts allow themselves to be abused by the addict and do not set boundaries, they remain in the insanity thus perpetuating the notion that addiction is a family disease. You can only turn the other cheek for so long until you crumble.
    Using is not an excuse to inflict pain upon your loved ones and it’s selfish to think your family should bend over backwards until you make the decision to get help.

    • Anne November 8, 2015 at 12:34 am #

      I can understand what you are saying but I am an addict and I can assure you that I do not expect my family or friends to just bend over backwards till I decide to get clean, in fact I put in a huge effort to hide my addiction from them because seeing their pain as a result is just so awful that it makes me run for another shot…I struggle with the shame and guilt every time I use drugs, and when I relapsed after many years clean, I kept it a secret for more than two years before I admitted what was happening. You have no idea how hard that was to confess and face up to, so perhaps you should focus on dealing with your anger before making such statements about the addict. We are still human and we do feel badly a lot of the time when using. Its not a party you know….

  10. Lisa January 25, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    Anne, to put it in perspective. Moms, Dads, spouses don’t feel bad a lot of the time like you do…we feel bad all the time. Alcoholic’s Ex has a right to be angry and there’s really no good reason to make her/him feel guilty about it.

  11. Shirley September 5, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    Agree with Lisa and Alcoholic’s Ex. My daughter has been to rehab 4 times and relapsed each time within a week. Even after spending 1-1/2 months in jail. She is rebellious to the point of stupidity. She just will not listen to anyone, no matter what, because she wants to do everything her way. One of these days, her pride will be her downfall because either God or 2-1/2 years in jail will bring her to her knees. Each relapse we’ve told her “we will get thru this.” How many times are we supposed to do this without losing it entirely? People DO get clean because they choose to. She has a choice.

  12. B duncan October 6, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    This helped me a lot as the love of my life is addicted to meth…i love her to death and i completely believe she can beat this. Sometimes i feel at times the only thing i can do to help her is simply loving her and being there for her without enabling which is a challenge in itself.

    It sucks being powerless against addiction, but i will never give up on her and her desire to get better. I just hope im doing the right thing.

  13. Marie October 6, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

    uhm…yeah. Great article. But. The reality is sometimes addicts DIE because they keep using. WAITING for them to CHOOSE to GET clean is AGONIZING because in the meantime you are (potentially) watching them slowly kill themselves.

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