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9 Things to Remember When Someone You Love Is an Addict

Jen knows that loving an addict can be difficult and is here to share advice on navigating the complexities of these sensitive situations.

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.

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 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, 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.