It is not all easy living under the same roof as an alcoholic or addict. The addict’s belligerent, abusive behavior can be very difficult to deal with. Every member of the family of the alcoholic gets affected – living in an inevitable, predictable pattern of dysfunction and denial.
Learning to Live with an Addict
There are some common behavior and belief patterns in family members living with an individual who is abusing substances. These issues should be addressed before any attempt can be made to bring balance and harmony in the family:
1. Denial – If you do not accept that your loved one is addicted to alcohol or drugs, you cannot take the next steps in addressing the addiction issue. This way, any hope of a harmonious relationship in the family is doomed from the start.
2. Reaction – You need to stop reacting to the often erratic or provocative behavior of the addict. Your reaction should not trigger an escalation of the situation.
3. Attitude – You must not demand that the alcoholic ‘improve’ his behavior. Stop lecturing or blaming the addict. Get professional help instead.
4. Socialize – Do not stop your social life by isolating yourself from friends or avoiding enjoyable activities. If you isolate yourself, you may get further depressed or fatigued and will not be in a position to help the addict in a rational way when you are ready to do so. You will also not be able to develop the skills required to keep the family together in difficult times.
5. Respect – All family members must respect each other as a rule. If the alcoholic or addict is abusive, he or she must be asked to get out of home. Similarly, if any other family member mistreats the alcoholic, he or she also needs to find another home. A home that does not respect the concept of love and respect has not hope for restoration. This is the time for ‘tough love’, not disrespect.
Guidelines for Living with an Alcoholic or Addict
We all have different personalities, even differing belief systems. Still, we choose to live and thrive together. That’s what a family or society is, since time immemorial. However, living with an active alcoholic or addict needs reinforcement of the guidelines for living together:
1. Do not try to control the alcoholic - you just cannot.
2. Do not take over his or her responsibilities; you are invalidating the alcoholic as a person and not allowing him or her to face the consequences of their behavior.
3. Do not think of yourself as a victim. You are not. You are an independent individual capable of taking care of yourself.
4. Do not be an enabler by encouraging alcoholic behavior. This does not mean removing all alcohol or drugs from the addict’s presence. That has never worked. It means that you do not support the addiction by tolerating, rescuing or covering up for the addict.
5. Do not try to force the addict to change. Change comes from within the person, not from without. Only when there is a felt need to change, will he or she begin the process of recovery.
7. Do things for yourself. Take a break. Get involved in activities that are outside the constant trauma of chasing or worrying about the addictive behaviors at him. Join a self-help group such as Al-anon. Al-anon has helped many in similar situations and is invaluable in providing support and guidance to a family member of an alcoholic.
8. Get professional help. Alcohol and drug rehabs are designed to provide support to the addict for sustained recovery. A good rehab will look at the whole family and facilitate recovery for each member by education and counseling.