Sunday, April 20, 2014

Isolation And What Is Normal

Comment Received
Everyone in my family or origin is a non functioning alcoholic. My dad passed away three years ago, without warning, from the effects of the disease. My mom starts drinking everyday at noon and abuses prescription pills. My older brother and my younger brother are both chronic alcoholics and have many financial, personal and legal problems. I have tried to evolve and learn about this disease my entire life but because of the progression of this disease I find myself isolated .and struggling to be normal. I am grieving .the loss of my entire family, yet, they are still alive. Do you have any suggestions for me.

You are experiencing  universal issues connected to families and addiction and that is isolation, loss and the struggle to understand what is normal. 

Living in a family struggling with addiction changes the perceptions of all the family members.
Family members become embarrassed, or anxious, or angry about the addiction. They struggle to help and eventually as nothing seems works they take on certain chronic emotional roles in order to survive emotionally themselves. As the addiction goes over time the idea of what is normal is lost under layers of defensive emotional roles that buffer the pain.

Similar to you I grew up in an alcoholic family and I know that trying to be "normal", when you have no experience of what "normal" is can be very confusing.

While the importance of "family" cannot be overstated and having someone to trust is very important  this doesn't have to be a biological family member.  It is very important to have mentors that you can trust and work with in dealing with your emotions.  For some people these are counselors or sponsors or teachers. Anyone struggling with the issue of addiction in their family must identify mentors outside the family to begin learning the skills and insights needed to heal the emotional turmoil that addiction creates.

It is important to spend time with others who are also dealing with this issue such as in an Al-Anon, a Families Anonymous Group or a family class at a treatment center.

Please make every effort to understand that you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Read books articles about addiction and emotional healing.

Do healthy activities that make you feel both emotionally and physically good about yourself.

If you do these thing over time you will find that, at some point you have become a resource, and are a help to others who are beginning their own path to understanding.

Saturday, April 05, 2014


 By the time family members seek help they are pretty anxious if not very fearful. They haven't been able to fully grasp what they are dealing with. They are not dealing with their son, daughter, spouse or parent. They are dealing with a disease process. This is not easy to understand. There is a wonderful Japanese analogy of what happens in addiction. "First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man." When families seek help their loved one is usually in the second or third stage of this analogy.

The first step for the family is to realize that they have no control over the disease of addiction and then to learn what they can control how they respond to the addict, their environment and how they allow others to treat them. The second step is to learn how to implement these concepts.

Addicts get into treatment for only one reason and that is pain. It might be emotional , financial, medical  or legal that breaks through their system of denial.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Manipulation By The Drug User

Back in 2007 I wrote a piece on manipulation by the addicted family member. It has been the most visited entry in this blog. Whether your loved one uses alcohol, Chrystal Meth., Cocaine, Prescription Medication or some other drug of choice they will spend a lot of time attempting to manipulate you or other members of your family. In my recently released book we spend at lot of time on this issue. We help you develop ways to help you reduce your vulnerability to manipulation and to develop skills that will help you identify ways you are being manipulated so you can learn to reduce your susceptibility to continuing manipulation by the addict.

There are three things to understand about manipulation by the addict:

The first thing to understand is that all addicted people manipulate. This isn't personal, it's just what all addicts do as part of the symptoms of their disease.

The second thing to understand is that all family members and friends are equal opportunity targets of manipulation by the addict. Manipulation is not something to be surprised or shocked about. It is just part of the normal dance that occurs with the disease.

The third thing to understand is that family members will continue to be manipulated until they make a conscious decision to stop allowing this to happen and until they learn new skills and habits that make manipulation attempts unsuccessful. As long as addicts are using drugs they will not stop trying to manipulate.

Family members who don't understand what they can control and what they can't control spend tremendous amounts of energy trying to control the addicted family member's manipulating behavior instead of their response to it.  In order to reduce your susceptibility to manipulation you will need to develop what feels like "unnatural skills." A few examples of these "unnatural skills" are:  not trusting the most sincere promises of your loved one; developing boundaries as tools to prevent emotional blackmail by the addict; and, believing what you see rather than what you would like to believe.

These themes are covered in detail in our book, "Families and Addiction: How to Stop the Chaos and Restore Family Balance."  Over the past 8 years that I have been doing this blog I have received tens of thousands of hits from all over the world.  The questions and the help people are seeking are remarkably similar whether the family member is writing from the U.S.A., Canada, U.K., the Middle East or Asia/Pacific regions.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Now Available: "Families And Addiction: How To Stop The Chaos And Restore Family Balance" To Browse or Buy this book click on link under Important Resources on the right.


I and my co-authors wrote this book for one purpose - to teach family members and friends of people with substance abuse issues a specific set of skills that will help them survive the stress loving an addict creates in their lives. We share with the reader ways to deal with the fear, anger, helplessness and conflict they may experience in their attempts to help the addicted family member while trying to maintain some order to their lives.  We know from experience that there is no quick fix to addiction; recovery from addiction is a lifelong project.  For this reason this book focuses on: (1) providing accurate and useful information about addiction; and (2) teaching the specific skills that are essential for family members to learn and practice. What do family members need to know, what do family members need to do and how they can go about learning and doing these things. This book explains how to create and maintain healthy boundaries, how to work effectively as a team, how to find and use appropriate support, and how to improve communications with the addicted family member as well as other family members.  The emphasis throughout is on you, the family member or friend of the addict. When addiction enters a family the whole family embarks on a journey. This book is a unique guide for individuals or groups who want to learn the skills and behaviors essential for negotiating that path with the best chance for a positive outcome.

Available in paperback now at  Category: Books; Families and Addiction.

Also,  This book is now available as an e- book at Kindle Books.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Letter of Resignation

This was brought to me by one of the family members in the class. You may use it as a guide or at some point fill it out as you are able and submit it to the addict in your family. As a reminder, don't resign from anything you aren't ready to follow through on. This is a process that takes time and support.

Letter of Resignation

I, ____________________________, do hereby resign from the following:

___ Being preoccupied with your problem.
___ Being Controlling.
___ Being a Caretaker.
___ Worrying.
___ Getting in the way of you being responsible for yourself.
___ Protecting you from the consequences of your actions.
___ Snoopervising.
___ Shaming, blaming and being an all around pain.
___ Walking on eggshells.
___ Taking your inventory.
___ Being responsible for your recovery.
___ Enabling you with money, or the type of support which keeps you dependent on me.
___ Being a martyr.
___ Being miserable.
___ Supporting you if you leave treatment before the recommended discharge date.
___ Other __________________________________________________

I submit this letter of resignation to you, _____________________________ as my gift to you
       and to myself as a sign of my wish for a full life for you and me.

Signed by ______________________________________________   Date __________________

Monday, August 26, 2013

What is Important to Understand?

Addiction is a condition that neither the family member nor the addicted person have control over. The behaviors that the addicted person displays are not the disease. They are the result of the disease acting on the brain/central nervous system. Addiction creates changes in the brain that effect how people think and perceive their world. Their drug of choice becomes what makes life worth living and replaces relationships, career and family.

The Three C's represent the following concepts. You did not cause the addiction. You can not control the addiction and You can not cure it. Family members spend an enormous amount of time and energy struggling with these issues.

Addiction is not logical. Addiction does not respond to logical thought. Addicted people can be very intelligent in every aspect of their lives but blind to the destruction they are causing in their own lives and the lives of their family. Remember, addiction effects the central nervous system and addicted people see reality differently. What makes life worth living for them is their drug of choice. When addicted people make bad and hurtful choices as a result of their addiction there are no surprises here. That is what addicted people do.

Addiction is not personal. Addiction in your family affects you deeply because it is hard to see someone you love possibly destroying themselves. The addicted person is not doing this to you on purpose. They are just doing what addicted people do and you happen to be a witness. Your family member didn't suddenly decide to become an addict, destroy their life and cause you misery because they thought it was a good idea. The more you can learn to remove the personal aspects of your response to the addiction in your family the better able you will be to respond to the reality of the situation.

Loss of Trust. This is an important issue. Many family members struggle with this and they trust what the addicted person say because they want them to be trustworthy or they think they should or they believe if they don't they are abandoning them. It is important for family members to understand that not trusting the addicted family member is in their own best interest. If an addicts lips are moving they are lying. If you want to trust the addict then watch their behavior. the only thing you can trust is what they do. You can only learn to trust their words again if they earn it. When what they say matches up with what they do over time, on a consistent basis. Until such time the best response is to just observe.

Create a Team. Family members need to work together on finding the issues they all can agree on and build on that. Respect each other. Learn to accept each others different emotional styles and support each other. Addiction will destroy the family unless the family members make an effort to prevent that from happening.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Some Thoughts About Your Comments

I am very humbled by the people who have made comments on this blog. You remind me of how hard it is to care for someone and at the same time not be able to make it all better for them.

A person wrote recently about how everyone in their family of origin is a non functioning alcoholic. they find that they have lost their family but their family members are still alive. This actually reminds me of my own experience. As a result I also found out I didn't have the skills needed to reach out for help. When you grow up with addicts "silence is golden" reaching out is not encouraged. I found that I actually needed to find a way to re-parent myself. I needed mentors that I could trust. By the way you are never too old for a good mentor. As a matter of fact some of the people I have learned from have been younger than me. Reach out, reach out, reach out. Develop positive resources in your life.

Other people wrote about trying very hard to do the "right things" such as cutting off money, not allowing the use of the car, or any number of things to not "enable" the substance use. Then the question becomes "is there anything else we can do". If the goal is to somehow stop your loved one from using I have no answer. If the goal is to reduce the possibility that you are assisting in their use you are already doing the right thing. Do not forget...The first goal of an addict is to get and use their drug of choice, not to do well in school, or pay the bills or take the garbage out. This is just what addicts do. What you can do is remind them, in a non judgmental way, that you know they love their drug and you think they need help. Don't pay to much attention to the rejection. that's normal.  You must seek out help for yourself and find a place where you can talk with members of other families who are going through similar experiences.

What I found in teaching the family class is that repetition is good. People come to the class or this blog and they are stressed. People needed to be reminded of what to do a number of times before it begins to sink in. In Malcolm Gladwell's book "The
Tipping Point" he said that to make learning "sticky" meaning that the message sticks. The message must be connected with what the learner already knew. For the message to stick it has to have meaning for the learner. When you tell your loved one that you know they "love their drug of choice" You are acknowledging reality and prefacing the message they don't like "they need help" with the truth.