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9 Things to Remember When Someone You Love Is an Addict

Illicit drug use can quickly lead to a dead end for addicts and their loved ones.
Illicit drug use can quickly lead to a dead end for addicts and their loved ones. | Source

When you realize a loved one has a problem

Sometimes you go into a relationship with someone who is an addict. You hear the classic "I can stop anytime," or "I only (insert addiction) on the weekends." Sometimes you may not even be aware that they have a problem at first. Other times, you may not realize the depth of the problem at first, as sometimes addicts can hide their habits very well. Still, other times, you may be in a relationship with someone who develops a habit over time.

Once the addiction (or the depth of the addiction) is discovered, many things will run through your mind. One of the biggest things that affects the loved ones of addicts is a sense of betrayal, as you realize that their word cannot be trusted. Knowing that there have been lies and things hidden from you is an enormous blow to the heart. There are some very important things to keep in mind as you process the reality of the addiction and begin to make choices in your own life.

1. Take promises at face value

Once you realize that you are dealing with the addict, you will begin to second guess everything they say. Addicts are notorious for breaking promises, so find a balance between holding them accountable for their promises while still bearing in mind that anything that is promised will likely not come to fruition, at least not at this point.

2. Define acceptable boundaries

Knowing that the addict is not going to change unless they are willing to do so, it is very important that you set your own boundaries as to what is acceptable to you. That may mean they are not allowed in the home when they are using, or you are not willing to speak to them when they are high. There are many variations of boundaries that may apply, depending on the particular circumstances. The important point here is that you set your boundaries of what you will accept and not to back down from them. Do not allow the addict to sweet talk, bully, or pressure you into changing your mind.

3. Apply a "show don't tell" mentality

Once you begin to set the boundaries with an addict, they often make promises, saying they will stop using, or they will make other promises of things they will do to prove that they are sorry for what they have done. Stand firm with a "show me, don't tell me" mentality - they need to prove the changes, not just tell you they will change. Words don't mean much, especially when someone has a proven track record of dishonesty.

4. Do not allow yourself to get sucked into volatility

Many substance abusers have a tendency to be argumentative, especially once they see that you are setting boundaries and not willing to accept their addiction. Certain substances themselves tend to make users aggravated. Realize that, if you find yourself in an argument, that you cannot win an argument, and the anger often will escalate. Take the wind out of the sails by refusing to argue. If the addict places blame on you or tries to say that you don't care for them, sometimes it is better to just put an end to it and walk away instead of arguing and trying to prove that you do, indeed, care. Don't allow an argument to escalate. Let it go. That is not to say that you should put up with abuse, either; simply don't allow them to bring you into their anger vortex. If you ever suspect that physical violence may occur, do not hesitate to call 911.

5. Recognize that you cannot force change

An addict is not going to give up his or her habit by being pressured by loved ones. Ultimately, addicts will get help when they are good and ready for help; often, pressure from friends and family that mean well can lead to the addict isolating themselves from the very people who love them the most, simply to avoid feeling "nagged." If they are not ready, they are not ready.

6. Put the yourself (and children) as priority

This is especially important when there are children involved - never allow yourself or your children to be abused or to be exposed to harmful chemicals, toxic smells, or any shifty people who may come around. Your safety and well being comes first. This is where the boundaries come in. Tell the addict that, if they insist on using, they must do it elsewhere.

7. Do not enable

It is very difficult when you love someone to not inadvertently become an enabler. If they ask for money, don't give them money freely. It is better to buy them a meal, or put gas in their car, than to give them cash that can buy drugs. Do not help them cover up for their mishaps. Make them accountable for their errors. As hard as it may be, do not try to step in and "fix" a problem that they have caused. It hurts to see a loved one fall, but in the long run you are hurting them more by allowing their destructive behavior to continue to cause harm to themselves and to you.

8. Make firm decisions - and stand by them

It can be very difficult to stand your ground, especially if you have been abused by the addict. It is very important to make the decisions and stick by them. Determine how much you are willing to help the addict recover. Are you willing to go to support groups? Are you willing to help them physically and mentally detox? Are you capable of dealing with the withdrawals that accompany the process of getting clean? And most of all, you need to determine at what point you will walk away. You need to be very clear on these points, and once you have made the decisions necessary, stand by them, as hard as that may be.

9. Realize that sometimes change is impossible

No matter how much you love someone, and no matter how much you may be willing to help that person, no matter how hard you try, ultimately, the decision to become clean belongs to the addict. Sometimes, no matter what, they are not willing or able to become clean. At this point you need to decide if you and your family should continue to pay the price for someone who is unwilling to change. The most important thing to remember is that, even if you must walk away from a relationship, it is never your fault that someone chose their addiction over their family and loved ones. Remember that it was their decision, and you have done all that you could to help, but for your own safety - and sanity - sometimes the only solution is to walk away, no matter how difficult that may be.

Do you love someone who was/is an addict?

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Comments 6 comments

Dr Billy Kidd profile image

Dr Billy Kidd 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Right, great stuff! Like you infer, don't let a person with an addiction guilt trip you. It's just a con to get you to support their escape from reality.

And remember, the drug itself--whatever it is--is more important to an addicted person than you are. And what is amazing, some treatment programs work.

A note of caution, only about 25% of the people who are dependent on a drug or gambling can understand what's going on at an AA meeting. So AA is not the cure for a lot of people (these figure come from analyzing my last 500 clients who had addictions, and where often dually diagnosed (having two problems, like depression and an amphetamine dependency).


Jennifer Silagy profile image

Jennifer Silagy 3 years ago from California Author

Thank you for the comments and for sharing those statistics. It is a very sad epidemic indeed.


andy 2 years ago

thanks for the advice. but keep in mind, we don't choose who we fall in love with. the world/fate/god chooses that for us.

that said, be sure to protect yourself. if you live with an addict, make your boundaries clear upon first discovering their problem. and be willing to sacrifice along with them to make it work. (for example: you may be fine just drinking on weekends or your nights off, but you might have to cut that habit in order to help your alcoholic spouse stay off the sauce.)

you might also have to go to boring meetings and listen to a bunch of people who aren't addicts complain about all the addicts or drunks in their life. and of course that's going to suck, but look at it in the long run.

in the end, it's easy to say "just walk away" - but doing that is a lot harder when the chips are down and you're wondering whether or not to kick your partner and best friend out the door - perhaps along with half your rental payment.

now I know it sounds petty, but that's life. and it's always easy to say "there are plenty of fish in the sea" but the hard reality is, there aren't. some of us lucky people will only find one true love in life, so you have to be willing to fight with - and for - the one you love to make the relationship work.

if YOU, the sober one, aren't willing to do either, then by all means, just walk away. but for the sake of your loved one, don't do that until you've exhausted every other option.

remember, addiction is a disease. it's a physical dependency brought on by a mental or spiritual compulsion and fueled by bad habits along the way. the addict isn't a bad person - or inherently dishonest, even - but their minds and souls only become fixated on one thing as their addiction progresses - how to get more. so you must learn to divorce yourself from their promises and truly hold them accountable. that might mean freezing your bank accounts, or hiding money (or even car keys) from them for a time. it might also mean trips to the ER to help them detox, or trips to meetings in the area to help them focus on staying drug or alcohol-free. it might mean inviting their sponsor over for dinner, or attending meetings with them. and it might mean changing some of your activities together - like nixing those drunken saturday nights in exchange for popcorn and netflix - but don't give up on them. they aren't bad - they're just sick. and just as you would never break up with someone for having a heart attack, remember it's just as ridiculous to break up with an addict for having a relapse. using is normal for addicts, no matter what they're addicted to. it's what their disease programs them to do. so you shouldn't see it as a break from their love or devotion to you - just a return to what they've always felt is comfortable and secure - as dangerous as that may be.

so once you accept that, what's usually required is a multifold approach - counseling, therapy, recovery, and staying together as all the unpleasantness unfolds.

if you guys are doing it right, then there will be PLENTY of unpleasantness, but if you truly love this person and care about them - and yourself with them - you'll be willing to work just as hard to help you and your loved one recover.

my basic point is to not give up on your addict. that is the main cause of ultimate failure in recovery - the perceived notion that your loved ones have given up on you. it's what drives many addicts to suicide, and many more to repeated relapse and the hellish cycle of never relapse and semi-recovery. and while I'd never suggest that an addict's recovery is in their loved one's hands, I'd also never suggest that their loved ones have nothing to do with their success or failure.

in the end, weigh it. if you love the person and want to help them, then know when to hold them and when to fold them. but don't let your head decide either one. make that decision with your heart, and nothing more. as corny as it sounds, my own personal experience as a recovering addict - and the lover of another recovering addict - has taught me that love is the only cure, period. that's why we've both been clean for nearly five years ... not that we're counting anymore:-)


Jennifer Silagy profile image

Jennifer Silagy 2 years ago from California Author

Thank you for your comment. While you raise some very valid points, in my defense, every situation is different. As a mom of two children from a previous relationship, I had to make the difficult decision to leave, not because I didn't love him, but because I had to do what was best for myself and my children. After going through three cycles of his addiction, getting clean, going back on drugs, and consistent lying and emotional abuse as the result of the drugs, not to mention all of our family money being spent on drugs, which was taking away from the ability to care for my children, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. That turned out to be best for him as well as my children and I. He has made some very big changes in his life and has now been clean for a couple of years. But I'm not willing to risk my emotional wellbeing or my children's on a gamble that it may happen again. The stress of the situation took a serious toll on my mental and physical health.

I'm all for being there for someone and helping them when needed, but you have to make sure you take care of yourself too. When a promise is made that they are going to stay clean, you can't continue to give chances. I told him plain and simple, when he was in trouble, if he got clean, I would stay. But if he ever got into the meth again, we were gone. He knew this. He still chose the drugs over us.

Congratulations on your recovery. I do know that it isn't easy. But you can't help someone who isn't willing to help themselves. It took us leaving for good for him to finally get clean, and we have both since moved on with our lives. I put too much pressure on myself to help him and began neglecting myself. It's all about setting healthy boundaries and deciding what you will and will not tolerate, which is true in any relationship.


Caim 11 months ago

Thank you! I am so emotionally drained by my boyfriend whi has been an addict for a long time. I know i need to leave but just dont know how. No one knows that he is an addict. I feel so embarrassed to actually tell someone, i don't want to judged or ridiculed for being with him for so many years knowing that he has a bad addiction to heroin. I dont want to be labeled as a bad mother for allowing myself to still be with him. He is a great person to my children, never hurt them in anyway. It's hard to just pack up my stuff and leave. He works and pays the bills (just barely) i have nothing and no place to go. I dont know what my first step would be. I am lost and so emotionally drained by his constant mood swings towards me. This has been going on for over 4 years and i feel like a shitty person to myself and to my kids for allowing this to happen...


noor 3 months ago

unemployment is a cause of death and when people suffer worried then cause of death when people fall in love when they not find love then is a cause of death and some people not talk to anyone they not forcus any person

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