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Sharing your life with an addict.

Far too many people have experienced the pain of an incoherent life. Particularly those who are addicted, and their loved ones, know all too well the profound pain of a chaotic life. When life does not make sense, and has no orderly or predictable structure, purpose or direction, our thoughts are disordered, tortured and non-life affirming. Emotions are either numbed, depleting or tumultuous, and behaviour is impulsive, compulsive, erratic and destructive.

In such distress, whatever we try to build up, no matter how hard we try, will fall into disarray. We abandon our goals and projects, and we repeatedly summon up resolve, only to be pulled back into chaos. It is an insidious and pervasive state that anyone who shares their life with an addict can attest to. Eventually the dynamics of such internal chaos will ripple across all realms of one’s life, taking its pain and destruction with it. Our lives always reflect what is happening inside us.


Order and chaos work out in life and occur on many levels—in how well our bodily organs work, if our immunity is high or low, if our emotions are stable or not, and whether our mental processes support a sense of meaning and purpose or leave us lost, afraid, anxious and depressed. Beyond that, we see evidence of our inner worlds in external life. Our internal states are reflected in such things, for example, as the status of our relationships and the overall trajectory of our lives.


An addiction destroys families as much as it destroys individuals. Living with an addict is both heart-breaking and exhausting. Family members are torn between how to help the addict and how to avoid being sucked into the addict’s world.

Here are some helpful suggestions that I have found from working with addicts and their families. I hope they can help you.


Things You Can Do For the Addict

  • Educate yourself on addiction and recovery.

  • Try not to accuse or judge. Avoid name calling. This is a difficult time for both of you.

  • Replace judgement with compassion.

  • Provide a sober environment that reduces triggers for using.

  • Encourage the addict to seek professional help.

  • Allow the addict time to go to meetings.

  • Understand that your lives will change. Do not wish for your old life back. Your old life to some extent is what got you here. You both need to create a new life where it is easier to not use alcohol or drugs.

  • Make sure that you both have time for fun. People use alcohol and drugs to relax, escape, as a copping mechanism and as a reward. The addict needs to find alternative ways to relax, escape, and as a reward otherwise they will turn back to their addiction.

  • Do not enable. Do not provide excuses or cover up for the addict.

  • Do not shield the addict from the consequences of their addiction. People are more likely to change if they have suffered enough negative consequences and learned from their own experiences.

  • Set boundaries that you all agree on. The goal of boundaries is to improve the health of the family as a whole. Do not use boundaries to punish or shame.

  • If you want to provide financial support, buy the goods and services the addict needs instead of giving them money that they might use to buy alcohol or drugs.

  • Recognize and acknowledge the potential the addict has within them.

  • Behave exactly as you would if your loved one had a serious illness. What would you do if they were diagnosed with heart disease or cancer?


Things You Can Do For Yourself

  • Take care of yourself. Living with an addict is exhausting. You also need time to recover. You must be well before you can effectively help others.

  • Avoid self-blame. You can’t control another person’s decisions, and you can’t force them to change.

  • Replace self-judgement with self-compassion.

  • Do not work harder than the person you’re trying to help. The best approach is to not do things for the addict, but instead to be an example of balance and self-care.

  • Being a caretaker is not good for you or the addict. Understand that there is only so much you can do to help another person change.

  • Ask for help. Talk to a professional. Join a support group.

  • Do not argue or try to discuss things with the addict when they are under the influence. It won’t get you anywhere.

  • If at all possible, try not to be negative when dealing with the addict. That may only increase their feelings of guilt and push them further into using.


The Three C’s of Dealing with an Addict

  • You didn't Cause the addiction.

  • You can't Control the addiction.

  • You can't Cure the addiction.


“You can’t stop drinking or using for another person.”

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