Learn How to Deal with a Loved One’s Addiction

Every day it seems like the same thing. You come home and your loved one is high on marijuana or cocaine or has been drinking heavily. Your partner could even be addicted to painkillers.

You’ve talked to your loved one until you’re blue in the face, begging them to get help, but nothing changes. What more can you do? How in the world can you make him or her stop abusing drugs or alcohol? Learn how to deal with your loved one’s addiction below. The advice may surprise you.

You Cannot Change Someone Else

Your first recognition has to be that you cannot change another person. It’s as simple and as complex as that. Sure, you want to change them, but it’s just not possible. Why? It has to do with inner motivation and genuine desire. Think about when your parents, or siblings or friends (even a supervisor at work) told you to do something that you didn’t want to do. Your heart really wasn’t in it, since it wasn’t something that you initiated. The same principle applies when one person tries to enforce their will on another with respect to getting help for drug abuse. But the consequences are more immediate and severe.

When a person is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, they are supremely resistant to any hint that they have a problem. They may react violently to threats or even encouragement to get treatment. The bitter truth is that until the person is ready to accept that they have a drug problem and seek treatment for it, nothing you or anyone else can do will change their mind. So, since you cannot change the addict, what should you do? Read on.

Take Care of Yourself

In order for you to be a helpmate in your partner’s (hopefully) eventual healing, you have to take care of yourself first. This is not a selfish motive, but one that ensures that you are physically, psychologically and emotionally able to assist your partner at the time he or she is ready to get addiction treatment.

Make sure you get enough sleep, exercise regularly. Maintain your social network — which may be difficult if you feel you have to stick around and monitor your partner’s actions. You need to have an outlet for your own sanity, whether that’s a hobby, recreational pursuit, going to movies or concerts, or just taking a walk in the neighborhood, nearby park or strolling the beach.

This also means that you have to set aside time to devote to your own personal development. You may wish to enroll in a class, pursue getting or completing your degree, or learning a new skill that may benefit you at work or to enable you to get a different job.

Of course, taking care of yourself will not go unnoticed by your drug-using partner. He or she may be jealous of your time away, forbid you to do anything outside of work, or insist that you only do things together. What can you do then? Here are some tips:

  • Be creative — Don’t lie to your partner, but find ways to communicate the point that you need to do this, that it’s important for you and list the reasons. Recognize, however, that rational arguments probably won’t work – especially if your partner is high.
  • Pick your time — If your partner is more clearheaded in the morning, choose that time to have a discussion about your needs in the relationship — relative to having time to take care of yourself. If you know that mid-day or dinnertime is better, aim for a talk after a meal — but not during. People tend to be more amenable to ideas when they have a full stomach, as opposed to being agitated or easily upset when they are hungry. If your partner doesn’t eat regularly or has nutritional deficiencies due to drug use, that’s another problem. You know your partner’s moods best. Select the appropriate time to talk about your need to do things for yourself.
  • Enlist help of others — Who is closest to your partner beside you? Is it their parent, sibling or another friend? Perhaps they can join you in a discussion with your partner about your need/desire to take a class, participate in a hobby, recreational activity or something else. You may even start out by doing things with that person. Maybe all of you can do things together to begin with. That may satisfy your partner that it’s important for you to do things outside the house. Eventually, your partner may be convinced that it’s okay for you to do them alone, or with other people.

Educate Yourself about Addiction

In order for you to deal with your partner’s drug abuse, you need to know what it is that you’re dealing with — not in a general sense, but specific to the substances your partner is addicted to. One benefit of the internet is that you have ready access to information and resources through a number of 12 step groups, federal, state and local organizations, and various treatment centers.

If your partner is addicted to cocaine, for example, check out the website of Cocaine Anonymous. Download literature or read what they have online to find out as much as you can about the addiction. Narcotics Anonymous is a 12 step group for numerous substance addictions and there are other groups for particular addictions, such as Marijuana Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous.

You may ask why you should look into those resources when you are not addicted. It helps because these sites have information on symptoms, what you can do, books, tapes, articles and newsletters that may offer invaluable insight to you as you prepare for the time when your partner may be ready to get help — either through treatment or attendance at a 12 step meeting.

But your education doesn’t stop here. Let’s say that you’ve been trying to deal with your partner’s drug abuse for a long time, or it’s become particularly difficult and you feel you just can’t cope anymore. You may be considering leaving your partner. There may be children involved, which makes the situation even more difficult. You need help to sort things out for yourself, help which can only come from others who are in a similar situation. There are 12 step groups for partners, spouses, family members and close friends of drug addicts, many of which are listed on the above mentioned 12 step sites. Since many drug addicts are also alcoholics, you may wish to consider those partner affiliate sites in addition to those dealing with drug addiction. Some of these sites for family/partner/spouse/friends of those with an addiction include:

  • Al-Anon/Alateen – Toll-free at 888-4AL-ANON (888-425-2566), L.A. number: 818-760-7122
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics – L.A. number: 310-534-1815, or Torrance, California at 562-7831
  • Co-Anon (Cocaine Addicts Family Groups) – Toll-free at 800-898-9985, or Tucson number: 520-513-5088
  • Nar-Anon – Toll-free at 800-477-6291, or Southern California: 310-547-5800

Many offer in-person, online or telephone meetings, so there’s always help and support you can receive. Similar to the 12 step groups for drug addicts, these fellowship websites have a wealth of information that you can read online or download for later review. Sign up for newsletters or search out their books (many of which may be available in your local library or bookstore). The point is that you need to hear how others in your situation deal with the problem of a drug-addicted spouse. While each person’s circumstances are unique, you will undoubtedly hear something that can help you in your own situation.

Attend 12-Step Meetings

After you’ve identified the appropriate 12-step family/partner support group, start participating in meetings, either in-person or online or by phone. Since those affected by another person’s drug use often cannot immediately discern the right or most effective thing to do or say when there’s a flare-up or a crisis, having the support of others who have been in the same situation is invaluable. If nothing else, it will show you that you’re not alone. Others have been there and have made it through. Some of their stories and strategies may work for you, or you can adapt them to your own situation.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that your partner will ever decide to get help for his or her addiction. If you plan to remain in the partnership, however, you will need emotional support and resources to be able to do so. Take advantage of what is available to you through family support groups for addiction.

Ensure Your Own Safety

Never jeopardize your safety or that of any others in the family due to your partner’s drug abuse. If there’s even a hint of domestic violence or sexual abuse, leave as soon as you can safely do so (and take the children with you). There’s simply nothing productive that ever comes out of remaining in an abusive situation. The other person may promise to never hit you again, but when under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, those promises will be worthless. Instead, you and your children will be at risk.

Have a plan in place for when and if you need to leave in a hurry:

  • Know where you’re going to go, whether that’s to a friend’s home, that of your parents, a church-sponsored or other shelter. This doesn’t mean that you leave forever, however, just that you remove yourself and others from possibility of harm. Whether or not you ultimately decide to leave your partner is a decision that only you can make after careful deliberation.
  • Keep a list of phone numbers handy for emergencies, including someone to pick you up if necessary.
  • It may also help to have an emergency fund set aside that your friend or family member holds for you so that you can be on your own for a few days or however long it takes.

Stop Enabling

Getting an addict to quit doing drugs is never easy. One thing that you will need to do at some point — when your partner is serious about quitting drugs — is to stop enabling his or her drug use. You will need to learn how to say no. This also means that you stop making excuses for your partner’s drug abuse. Although painful, the truth about your situation is probably something others are already aware of. By denying its existence, you are only giving your partner leeway to continue the addiction.

Give It Time

Nothing will happen overnight, that much is certain. Not your healing or ability to deal with your partner’s drug abuse, and definitely not your partner’s willingness and readiness to accept that he or she has a problem and agreeing to get help. The best that you can do now is to follow the practical tips to take care of yourself, realize you cannot change someone who doesn’t wish to change, become as educated as you can about addiction, seek support from others through 12 step groups for those who are affected by another’s drug use, stop enabling and make sure you’re safe.

As for your decision to stay or to go, ask yourself how strong your commitment is to the partnership or marriage. What are the benefits to sticking it out and what are the disadvantages? Do you feel that you are abandoning your partner if you leave? Do you feel his or her drug addiction is somehow your fault? Before you make any decision, seek counseling and or help to determine what’s real and what may only be an unnecessary fear. Above all, recognize that there are many millions of Americans who have either a drug or alcohol addiction or problem, or a combination, and their partners somehow find a way to deal with the situation.

Find the strength inside you and do what is necessary to move forward. Use resources available to you and don’t feel that you have to go it alone. Yes, you can deal with your partner’s drug abuse. But first, you have to do what’s right for you.

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