Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Creating A Healthier Relationship With The Addicted Person In Your Family (Part 2)

If you are so busy trying to manage your loved ones life your life will suffer. If your life suffers you will be less prepared to be of help to your loved one when they seriously seek help.

Over focusing on the addicted person can lead to resentment, hurt, anger, loss of your own identity, stress, guilt and physical illness. It is important to avoid this situation by getting support to help you with the skills needed to learn to have as much of a healthy relationship with your loved one as possible.

As you learn about addiction you are going to need support to be able to implement some of the new behaviors that you will learn about. Having support gives you the opportunity to talk with others who have been dealing with this issue and have practical skills in this area.

One of the most important skills you will learn about in having a healthy relationship with an addicted loved one is building boundaries. Building boundaries is not easy and feels abnormal but will begin to feel normal over time. Remember the goal of building boundaries is to take back your life and allow your loved one to experience the natural consequences of their addiction. Your part in this is to not to do many of the things that you may have previously done. Don't do for them what they should be doing for themselves, don't rescue them from the natural problems that occur as a result of their addiction, don't try to solve their financial, legal, or other problems or crisis's that occur in their life. You will need help with this and getting the support to do this is very important for you to be successful with building boundaries.

The importance of building boundaries with the addicted person in your life is that it gives you breathing room to put together the pieces of your own life. Remember the instructions for safety when you are on an airplane. If the oxygen mask drops down you put it on yourself first before you help anyone else. You are not abandoning your loved one but you are learning the difference between what their issues are and what your issues are. Without boundaries those lines get blurred and we take on there issues and neglect our own. Ultimately the addict must take responsibility for their addiction to be successful in recovery. You can't do it for them but you can start taking responsibility for your issues.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Creating A Healthier Relationship With The Addicted Person In Your Family (Part1)

Because of the ways your loved ones addiction is effecting their brain they are totally focused on their drug of choice and they do not think in the same way they did before they became addicted or that you do now.
It is important to learn how to be very consistent in your communication with the addicted person. Avoid arguments and manipulation like the plague. It's fine to be honest with your loved one about their need for treatment or help of some kind. Trying to manipulate them with guilt, anger, threats or money doesn't work and is destructive to the relationship.
When we are trying to fix them or rescue them or manipulate them anxiety becomes the major force in driving the relationship with the addicted person and all the interactions with the addicted person become about trying to gain control. The relationship becomes a power struggle marked by confrontations or fearful avoidance.
The main problem is that family members know their loved one is addicted to drugs but they don't accept this fact and they try to fight it.
By accepting your loved ones addiction doesn't mean that you like it, or support it, or don't work toward alternatives, but if you want to have a relationship with your loved one that offers some hope you need to accept the reality of the situation. When you wind up in power struggles the main issue actually gets shoved to the background and the addicted person can focus on their resentment toward you and you can struggle with trying to manage their addiction. It is quite a dance and needs at least two or more people to coordinate the steps.
If you want to have some control in the relationship you need to give your loved one a large field in which to roam.
The more effort you put into trying to control the details of their life the more they will fight against you. You will become increasingly frustrated and feel increasingly powerless.
Addicted people ask for help when they experience serious enough consequences because of their addiction that break through their denial. These are generally the natural consequences of their addict lifestyle. Sometimes this  change comes on gradually and sometimes if is sudden.

Friday, August 29, 2014


To Control or influence a person or situation.

All addicted people will try to manipulate the people around them and the situations they are in so they can get their drug of choice. This is not a maybe or might this is a fact. If you are in a relationship with a addicted person you know this is true. Of course family members of addicts also attempt to manipulate the addict to get them to stop using or go into treatment. This power struggle is a negative consequence of addiction in a family and if allowed to continue will go in only one direction and that is down.

People ask all the time if addicts manipulate.  They just can't believe the addicted family member's change in behavior such as the lies or the stealing they have begun to experience from someone they used to trust.

For an addict the only thing that makes life worth living is getting and using their drug of choice. They are not thinking of career or job or responsibility or their financial security or the future. Of course, other family members are thinking of those things, and they get blindsided when the addicted person they care about does not.

What family members must learn to do is to not trust the addict, and understand that this lack of trust is a healthy behavior for them. It helps to create an emotional boundary between them and the addict. This should not be done out of anger. "Not being trustworthy is just what addicts do"

Family members need to be very clear that if the addicted person's lips are moving, they are lying.  No matter how much family members want what the addict is saying to be true, they need to learn to trust only the addict's behavior, never what they say.

It is also important for family members to understand that addiction is not personal. It feels personal but it is not. The behaviors you are experiencing are the result of changes on the brain as a result of repeated use of the substance they are addicted to. Addicts all over the world display similar behaviors. Again "It is just what addicts do"

It is healthy for family members to stop responding to the addicts attempted manipulation gradually as they are able to. They will be able to do this as the result of a greater understanding of addiction and the choices they have and as the result of developing and maintaining a healthy emotional boundary with the addict. (Boundaries not based on anger and resentment but understanding of the disease and a desire to help yourself and your family).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Impact of Addiction on Families

I read with interest the article “Epidemic Coming” by Rob Perez in the Sunday 6/22/14 Honolulu Star Advertiser.   I certainly agree that drug addiction and drug abuse is a very serious public health problem.

The purpose of this blog entry is to highlight the impact that addiction has on the family and to acknowledge the suffering that families experience while their addicted family member or drug abuser is focusing on their drug of choice. While treatment programs focus on the addict, it is also important to understand that addiction is a significant issue for families and has serious consequences for each member of the addict’s family. Families struggling with addiction need help with the stress and chaos that addiction brings to the family. I facilitated the Family Program at Hina Mauka Recovery Center for 12 years and based on that co-authored the book "Families and Addiction, How To Stop The Chaos And Restore Family Balance"

The people attending the family class at Hina Mauka shared how they struggled with feelings of shame, hurt, anger and confusion related to having an addict in the family. They said this made it difficult to reach out for help and as a result by the time they started attending the family class and spoke openly about the issues drug use created in their family, they were stressed out, isolated and exhausted. We found that it was common for family members to put so much time and energy into trying to help the addict in their family that their own life started to shrink and they began to lose sight of their own needs and interests. Many times it was the non-addicted family member that was seeing a doctor for some condition related to the stress of addiction in their family.

There is a temptation for family members to think they must be instrumental in creating a cure for their addicted family member. We found this was especially true for parents of addicts and is true whether the addict is 16 or 46. Family members would try harder and harder to find the solution to this problem as they believed it was their job “as parents” to find the key to overcome their loved one’s addiction. Trying to fix the addict is a trap for members of the family because it prevents them from seeking the type of assistance that might be helpful to themselves and as a result may have a positive impact on the addicted family member.

We found at the family program that what was most helpful was for family members to learn the skills needed to be able to respond to addiction in their family in a healthy way. These skills included learning to: create and maintain healthy boundaries with their addicted family member; find and use appropriate support; manage the loss of trust; give up trying to control outcomes for their addicted family member; and improve communication with the addict and other family members.

These skills take time to learn and are developed one small step at a time. We found that many family members were able to begin this process and make important progress in improving their lives and their relationship with their addicted family member. Family members can learn to stop reacting from fear and learn to respond to the addict with a plan that is based on accurate information and new skills.

It is important for family members to understand that they can begin their own process of recovery regardless of whether their addicted family member is willing to seek treatment.  We found that when family members decided to “take back their own life” and started making changes the addict took notice.

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.