When you learn your loved one is an addict it rocks your world. The first thing you have to understand is that life will never be the same. Whether the addict is your spouse or your child, your life is now going to be different. I realize that is a rather hopeless statement on face value, but it doesn’t have to be. Life not being the same doesn’t mean it will always be bad and chaotic; it means it will be different.
The realization that your spouse or child is an addict is horrifying and terrifying. Suddenly all the crazy things that have been happening make sense. Their moodiness, anger or rage, isolation, disappearing for periods of time, financial problems, secrecy, all these things come together in an ugly realization. When you really think about it, life has not been “the same” for a while now. The difference is, now you can identify the reason why. Now you can make changes that will help you and your family—including the addict—to adjust to the changes.
As terrifying as learning the truth about your loved one is, there is something strangely comforting about understanding the reason behind all the crazy things that have been happening in your lives. Now you can arm yourself and become informed about what you are dealing with. You can learn how to respond and what not to do. So while life will never be the same, and no one ever wishes for these kinds of changes, you can now at least meet life on life’s terms and deal in reality. Accept what you are dealing with and that you will grieve and endure suffering in this process.
Life with an addict brings suffering and it brings sorrow, but you already know that. You have taken steps into suffering and sorrow already. Having a loved one that is addicted to alcohol or drugs tends to be seriously distressing.
Having an addict in the family causes problems in a wide range of areas. An adage that you need to remember is, “Addicts don’t have relationships. They take hostages.” An addict is interested in having a relationship with only the substances that he ingests. There is no room in his heart for a relationship with any person that will detract or distract him from pursuing what he really loves: His addiction.
The people in the addict’s life are tools to help him get what he wants which is drugs or alcohol. People are there to be used. I won’t deny that the addict may still love you on some level, but if the choice is you or the substance he ingests, any good addict will choose the substance over you. This is why in families the addict can cause such a disruption. They are highly manipulative, skilled in lying, and playing on the sympathetic heartstrings of those who love them. When they are denied what they want, you see their true love and allegiance come out as they scream, and tantrum, and threaten, and rage against anything and everyone that gets in the way of them getting high.
Why “Stop it” Won’t Work
The addict’s life becomes all about self-gratification – meeting the felt needs of excitement, pain relief, escape, or comfort. They are inward focused and all that matters is getting their needs met in whatever way possible, whether it is begging, borrowing or stealing from you. The pursuit of self-gratification becomes all-consuming.
Please understand, you cannot fix or change your addict’s behavior.
We consider attaching the label “addict” when a person’s desires have become idols. The addict is an idolater because he worships something other than God.
We have been created to worship God, but the addict’s sinful lusts have driven him to worship and idolize other things; the things of the world. This is why having an addiction is a kind of worship and why addiction is a worship disorder. The addict has a heart/soul problem, not a medical or psychological problem.
Continually feeding the idol of drugs or alcohol will eventually create a physical dependency, but the heart which Jeremiah. 17:9 identifies as self-focused, deceptive and desperately wicked, has been enslaved long before the body becomes addicted. The addict’s heart—his thoughts, beliefs, and desires—were hooked first.
The mind is focused on the flesh. Therefore it becomes hostile to the things of God, and the person becomes a commandment breaker and very often a lawbreaker (Romans 5:8).
“Addiction” becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of self-worship and self-abuse as the addict becomes a slave of self. What he or she once controlled, now controls them.
You can’t fix it, but here is what you can do
While you can’t stop them from sinning, you also don’t want to continue to do things that will enable them to get high or drunk. The phrase “don’t be an enabler” may be familiar to you as coming from the 12-step world of Al-Anon. Don’t discard the principle because you don’t like the source. Other words for enabling are: allowing, permitting, empowering, aiding, assisting, facilitating, making possible. In other words, don’t willingly help them to get high, and don’t do things that make it easier for them to do so.
Implement boundaries to detach yourself financially from your addicted loved one. You do not control whether the addict uses or not, but you can control whether (or how much) you contribute to funding the addict’s chemical use. Do not give money to your addicted loved one. (Most people I counsel this way refuse to implement financial boundaries. The result is usually more of the same.) Do not provide vehicles, insurance funding, or tuition to addicted persons. I commonly see parents let addicted children live in their homes rent free. Ousting the addict into independent living will not necessarily stop chemical use but it will require them to divert more money from funding their addiction to paying for their independent room and board.
If your son, daughter, or spouse makes the decision to live as a homeless person, it will hurt you terribly. But please understand that they will do this until it is time for them to change. You cannot change them or those circumstances. It will not help them for you to give them a bed in your home if they continue to live the lifestyle of an addict. In fact, you will be hurting them.
The emotional struggle to truly turn the addicted loved one over to God and the fearful “natural consequences” that the addict may encounter (or possibly die from) such as crime, personal neglect, or intoxicated accidents commonly prevents family & friends of the addicted person from truly “letting go.” This requires a leap of faith, and constitutes a trial for friends of the addicted person. I have heard transformed (repentant) former addicts refer to it as “Coming to the end of one’s self.” Often a similar dynamic holds true for the family & friends of the addicted person and their unwillingness to trust God in the full vent outcome for the addicted person. This may seem harsh and unloving, but I assure you, pain is a strong motivator for change.
If you are in such circumstances, please seek help from a knowledgeable Biblical Counselor for yourself and your other family members to deal with the pain and resulting emotions from having an addicted-idolater in your family.