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Addiction not only rips apart a life, it does the same thing to the relationships and loved ones held most dear by the addict.

It is a very difficult thing to watch a loved one slip into addiction. Suddenly, someone that you once knew so well has become a completely different person, a person that you can’t trust, a person who seems to fight every helping hand and seek out every harmful situation they can possibly find, a person who pushes away love, a person who pushes away you.

You know that this is the addiction working, taking control, but you can’t help but be affected by it. You can’t help feeling hurt, angry, helpless. You can’t help feeling like you want to give up.

And, unfortunately, many people do give up. They try and try until they’ve had enough – enough betrayal, enough rejection, enough hurt. Their addict loved one has hurt them so many times, maybe even betrayed their trust as well, that the need to protect themselves from more hurt and more harm has overtaken the love that they feel for this person who has been changed so drastically by addiction. And they give up. They cut ties, they banish, they forget, they toss aside. 

But then, there are others. These people don’t give up on the addict. They see them through, they support them, they hold them up, and they find the person they once knew beyond the addiction as the road to recovery becomes more clear.

Often, there isn’t much difference between these two sorts of people. There’s a fine line between supporting and distancing. So, how do the loved ones who support do it? They’ve been hurt and betrayed just as much as those who decide to cut off their addict loved ones. What gives? How do they do it?

The answer to that question isn’t easy, and it varies widely. But, there are some points to keep in mind when addiction is ravaging a loved one, some things that will help guide you through a successful relationship with them, keep your own emotional stability safe and secure, help them achieve sobriety, and ensure that your relationship with them stays strong and intact.

Understand reality

It’s very easy to believe that a loved one is OK, not an addict, just likes to party, they’re extra fun, that’s all! It’s very easy, but also very damaging, to both your loved one and to you.

The reality is that they are an addict and they need help. Understand that reality, come to terms with it, understand that your relationship with your loved one will need to change, you’ll need to be different, you’ll need to leave old behaviors behind, and you’ll need to do that for them.

Discover your new relationship

This new relationship will require new boundaries to be set and maintained. Not only will you need to understand that you cannot be a part of their addiction anymore, you’ll also have to set boundaries in areas that never occurred to you. Loaning money, offering help during times that they might be trying to escape the challenges of sobriety (a ride to a place you know won’t be good for their sobriety, etc), and more. Make sure that you understand what is helpful for them, and what is harmful, and set your boundaries accordingly.

You cannot “fix” them

You cannot change a person, control them, or fix them. So do not try. Instead, love them and support them. An addict can recover and live very well within sobriety, but they need to be the one that takes the initiative to make that happen. And you need to love them, and support them when they are doing well, and love and support them when they are not doing well – but in a way that does not enable them to continue to fail in their addiction. Do not ever let them doubt that they are loved, but ensure that your love does not extend to their addiction.

No blame game

Don’t blame them, don’t blame yourself. Addiction is a disease. Just like you wouldn’t blame someone who has endometriosis, you should not blame an addict. Everyone’s body is different. Just because you can drink until you don’t want to anymore and then stop for long periods of time doesn’t mean they have that same power. Addiction is crippling in its effectiveness of life takeovers. Blaming them for that addiction will do them no good in their fight to recover.

Do not enable

No matter what your relationship was before the addiction recovery journey began, it will never be that again. Your drinking buddy, that quirky friend who crashed at your place every now and then, the rides to weird parts of the neighborhood, all of that is over. Your loved one needs a rock, not clay that they can easily manipulate. Love them, support them, but do not allow your love and support for them to cloud your judgement. Enabling behaviors that facilitate addiction only serves to make their recovery that much more difficult. Do not be an enabler.

Having a loved one who struggles with addiction is no easy thing. Once their journey to recovery has begun, you will be their rock. But, with your love and support, your loved one can achieve sobriety and, with your help, maintain it. And then, a whole new chapter in your relationship with them can begin.

Brooks V.
Brooks V.
Brooks has been a freelance journalist for the better part of two decades, as well as spending a decade as a crisis intervention counselor. Through his own work and researching the work of others throughout the many facets of the detox, crisis intervention, and mental health worlds he has been able to tell the stories of those worlds in an effort to help addicts and those with mental illnesses understand and navigate them.