Family members of addicts and alcoholics can experience their own difficult path when dealing when a loved one who have drug and alcohol problems. I am a family member in recovery, which means I have loved ones whose addiction has impacted me in a negative way. I chose to seek help and join an organization that deals with these types of issues
One of the first things I learned when I joined the family recovery support group was the three C's: I didn't CAUSE it, I can't CONTROL it and I can't CURE it. Those three concepts can set an individual on a pathway to freedom from the devastating and demanding toll that a family member can experience when dealing someone's addiction. Often parents of addicted children have overwhelming guilt laden thoughts such as "Maybe I was too hard on him" or "Maybe I didn't spend enough time with her" and "Maybe that's why they started using." We might even entertainment other possible causes such as divorce, poverty, where we lived, and even our own role modeling concerning alcohol or drugs. But the fact is that addiction is a disease and you cannot cause a disease to develop in another person based on your own behavior.
Over the years as a drug and alcohol counselor I have met people who have grown up in dysfunctional and abusive environments who did not become an addict. They may have had other issues but it was not a drug or alcohol problem. And same is true for some individuals, seemingly raised in a loving environment with lots resources available to them who ended up with a dependency issue. In those cases, there is usually alcoholism or addiction in the family history and so they may have inherited the problem. I believe the genetic pre-disposition (or hereditary factor) is a strong factor in creating the problem. It's the old nurture vs. nature debate.
That being said, an unhealthy environment can definitely increase the risk factor of becoming susceptible to it. In other words, just like with heart disease, there are a lot of factors can make you more apt to develop heart disease but don't actually cause it and the same is true with addiction or alcoholism. There is also research that shows if a parent uses substances or alcohol as a way to handle feelings, have fun, or deal with stress, the offspring is more likely to travel down that path and use something in order to cope.
In family recovery I learned about how I tried to control the disease and outcome of other people's lives. I tried a variety of ways to try and stop, change, alter, prevent, fix, rescue, and manage the addictions of people I cared about. Some of those methods included saying the same thing over and over with the notion if I said it just right, the light bulb would come on, and they would stop. I also tended to use a lot of anger, hostility and threats to get the other person to stop. Cleaning up the problems and consequences of other people's choices was also something I did under the guise of 'helping them out' so that they didn't have to suffer the pain of their choices. Learning to detach, let go, set boundaries, mind my own business, take of myself instead of obsessing on another person's life was part of the recovery process for me.
This is not always an easy path if the person lives in your home. This is where learning how to set firm boundaries becomes important and is vital to our recovery (and our sanity!) The most important part of boundary setting is the follow-thru and maintaining the consequences you set in place should the person decide to cross the boundary. If you cannot follow through with the consequence do not set that particular boundary, because not following through with a stated consequence sets them up and makes you look weak and untrustworthy. Implement a boundary that you can adhere to and maintain. It is always good to remember that the boundary is for you and not about changing the other person.
Developing an understanding that there isn't a cure for addiction/alcoholism allowed me to stop searching for that "magic answer" that was going to make it all go away and things would go back to normal or that the person would be cured. The only way an addict or alcoholic makes a healthy lifestyle that can last is when they get ready to do what they need to do in order to make it happen. They may have to experience a lot of pain and go through a bunch of misery, but most of time those are the experiences that motivate a person to change. With hard work and commitment recovery is possible, if they want it. In the meantime, the family member can learn to reclaim their lives and their happiness and they do not have to wait until the addict gets clean in order for that to happen.
Angie Carter, CRADC, SAP is a certified reciprocal alcohol and drug counselor and DOT certified Substance Abuse Professional. She is in private practice at Carter Counseling & Consulting Services. Angie sees local clients in office and is also available for telephone coaching and/or consultation. Click here to contact Angie with appointment requests, questions, or feedback.