How To Live With an Addict

From Survival to Recovery: Living with an Addict

More than two-thirds of American families are affected by addiction. Touching all walks of life, crossing gender, race, and socioeconomic lines, nearly 10% of the American adult population qualify as addicts. Of that class, only 11% receive treatment. With such a pervasive disease at play in our daily lives, how does one successfully live with an addict?

There are three major categories, which will help classify the types of behaviors characteristic of an addict:

1. Active Addiction

A person in the throes of addiction is no lovely creature. The behavior patterns may be unpredictable, uncontrollable, and heartbreaking. During this time, the tendency for an addict’s loved one is to attempt to control, redirect, or arrest the problem at hand. Unfortunately, the disease does not respond to rational thinking, nor does it respect and honor important relationships. Boundaries are crossed; friendships tested; and relationships are strained.

It is during this most volatile time that the loved one of an addict must separate himself/herself from the addict in a way that is healthy for the individual, whether physically or emotionally. “Detach with love” is a common saying in the recovery rooms for those living with an addict. Attendance of 12-step recovery meetings specifically geared toward treating the symptoms of codependency are helpful in learning to live with an active alcoholic or addict, in their disease. Checking up on the addict, searching through their belongings, discarding drugs and/or drug paraphernalia; these are accessory behaviors associated with the loved one of the addict. These symptoms can be stressful, time-consuming, and ultimately, futile.

2. Rehabilitation

If you are one of the lucky ones whose loved one decides to get help with addiction, a celebration is in order. Most addicts do not seek treatment, nor do they accept it once it has been offered to them as an option, even in the face of legal consequences. (With the help of an interventionist, the likelihood of their acceptance increases.) 

Visiting a loved one in rehab is no easy feat for the person who has not experienced the dramatic swings of addiction. A person detoxing from addictive substances may appear moody, depressed, withdrawn, or anxious, as they adapt to their newfound sobriety. In order to adjust to the alternating moods and reactionary behaviors of the abstinent addict/alcoholic, taking care of oneself, attending self-help meetings, reading literature on the disease, staying connected to loved ones, fortifying oneself with religious or spiritual communities, and engaging in recreational activities are all supportive behaviors used to satisfy oneself, during this process.

3. Recovery

Once the addict is in recovery, you can let out a sigh of relief. The community available in the group therapy setting of 12-step programs, aftercare, and outpatient treatment, greatly increase the probability that your loved one will stay sober. In order to achieve long-lasting sobriety, there are a few things you can do to support your loved one, and yourself, as well. These are the "Do’s and Don’ts" of Al-Anon Family Groups, the sister program of Alcoholics Anonymous:

DO…

  • Forgive
  • Be honest with yourself
  • Be humble
  • Take it easy; tension is harmful
  • Play; find recreation and hobbies
  • Keep on trying whenever you fail
  • Learn all the facts about alcoholism
  • Attend Alanon meetings often
  • Pray

DON’T…

  • Be self-righteous
  • Try to dominate, nag, scold or complain
  • Lose your temper
  • Try to push anyone but yourself
  • Keep bringing up the past
  • Keep checking up on your alcoholic
  • Wallow in self-pity
  • Make threats you don’t intend to carry out
  • Be over-protective
  • Be a doormat

From survival to recovery, the journey toward self-realization and personal fulfillment is a transformative experience that, while challenging, is certainly a positive, life changing experience.