When a Loved One Has a Substance Abuse Problem by Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC

Clients often come to me with concerns regarding a family member’s substance use.  It can be challenging to live with or to set boundaries with someone in the midst of an addiction.

Loved ones are often confused, frustrated, and unsure how to respond to addictive behaviors. While not easy, there are things to consider and some concrete steps you can take.  Sometimes, when you begin making changes in your life and set boundaries with the person abusing substances, they as well are encouraged to get the help they truly need.

Consider the following when examining your own behavior:

Increase your awareness of anything you may do that keeps your loved one from facing the consequences of their addiction.  These are enabling behaviors. Some examples would be repeatedly bailing your loved one out of jail, calling in sick to work for them, buying them alcohol or drugs, drinking and/or using drugs with them, listening to their excuses to drink or use, etc.  Expect that your loved one may protest when you stop some of these behaviors, but consider that facing consequences may be a big motivator for change.  Also, if you set a limit with your addicted family member, it is important to follow through so they know you mean it.  If you want to help financially and you have the resources to do so, consider paying for their treatment, and possibly, basic needs.  Giving cash or paying for unnecessary items is likely to prevent your loved one from dealing with the reality of their situation.

Look at getting yourself into treatment, if possible.  Through treatment you can learn what you can and can’t control.  Sometimes a loved one becomes so wrapped up in trying to manage their loved one that they lose their sense of self and have extreme difficulty with boundaries.  This is codependency- basically, the belief that “I’m okay as long as I can make sure you are okay!”

I do not recommend couples counseling when one partner is active in an addiction, especially when an addicted partner doesn’t believe their use is a problem.  The reason for this is partly because it is important for the non-addicted partner to realize they cannot force a person to quit, and they cannot control that person. Through individual work they can learn helpful techniques in setting boundaries and can work on themselves.

Participate in Al-Anon meetings.  Al-Anon is designed for family members of those with addictions.  It is a place to talk with others who may be experiencing similar issues. In Al-Anon you learn the 3 Cs, that “I didn’t Cause it, I can’t Cure it, and I can’t Control it.”

If you have tried Al-Anon and found it to not be helpful for you, another option may be Smart Recovery’s Family and Friend’s program.  Learn more here:  http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/family.htm

When someone you love has an addiction, you may feel helpless, sad, or angry.  All these feelings and more are common.  If you are used to “over-doing” for your loved one, expect that some of these new behaviors may feel foreign to you, or perhaps even harsh.  It is important for you to explore how you can truly help your loved one while setting healthy boundaries and also taking care of yourself.

If you have a loved one with an addiction and would like to set up an appointment, contact Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC at 847-336-5621 x151.