What to understand
Addiction is a condition that neither the family members nor the addicted person have control over. The behaviors that the addicted person displays are not the disease. They are the results of the disease acting on the brain/central nervous system. Addiction results in changes in the brain and effects how addicted people think and perceive the world. Their drug of choice becomes what makes life worth living and replaces relationships, career and family.
The three C's represent the following ideas; You did not cause it, You can not control it, and You can not cure it. Family members spend an enormous amount of time and energy struggling with these issues.
Addiction is not logical and not personal.
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 their family member's lives. What is behind that? Remember addiction affects the central nervous system and addicted people see reality differently. What makes life worth living for them? The answer is, their drug of choice. So 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 affects you deeply because it is hard to see someone you love possibly destroying himself or herself. 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 son, daughter, wife, or husband didn't suddenly decide to become an addict, start destroying their lives and causing you misery because they thought it was a good idea at the time. 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 effectively to the reality of this situation.
Loss of trust is an important issue.
Many family members trust what an addicted person says because they want to trust them and want them to be trustworthy. They trust what they say because they think they should because that's my son, daughter, husband, or wife. They trust what the addicted person says because they think if they don't they are abandoning them. It is important for family members to understand this about the addict in their family; If their lips are moving they are lying. Never trust what an addicted person says, even if you want to. The only thing you can trust is their behavior. You can learn to trust them again only if and when they earn it. When what they say matches up with what they do on a consistent basis over time. Until such time the best response is to just observe.
What to do
Getting support is probably the most important behavior a family or individual family members can do for themselves and the addicted person in their family. Addiction thrives on isolation, fear, and anxiety. If family members don't reach out to others who are experiencing similar issues they may stay frozen in fear and shame. It is important to be able to feel free to be yourself and learn how to live a healthy life even with the stress of addiction in the family.
Create boundaries between you and the addicted person in your family. Learn to understand the difference what their issues are and what your issues are. For example, your loved one's addiction is not your issue. Your issues have to do with how you are trying to respond to their addiction. You can only take responsibility for what is yours. Their addiction belongs to them and they must learn to manage it. Family members drive themselves crazy trying to take responsibility for their family member's addiction. You are ultimately not responsible for your loved ones addiction or their recovery from addiction. Only they can take responsibility for that. Learning to take responsibility for what is yours is very important. Your job is to learn to respond to the addicted person in your family in a way that is healthy for you and others in your family while offering appropriate assistance to your loved one. Getting support will help with this and you will start to learn the resources available in your community.
Respond to the addicted person based on the reality of the situation. We find ourselves responding out of anxiety, anger, hurt, embarrassment and/or guilt. None of these motivations for responding to the addicted person in your family are helpful or appropriate. They are not effective and will not help you accomplish your goal of being of assistance to your loved one and staying healthy yourself. Learn to allow the addicted person to experience the consequences of their addiction. Each time you rescue them you prevent them from learning how to take care of themselves. Without pain no addicted person ever got help for their addiction.
It is important to deal with anxiety, anger, hurt, embarrassment and guilt feelings but that is one of the reasons for developing a support system. Remember it isn't personal and it is not your fault.
Create a team. Family members need to work together on finding the issues they can all agree on and building on them. Many time people will respond differently to the stress of addiction in the family. One person may be very emotional and another may be very stoic and keep their emotions inside. This can lead to family members misunderstanding each other and then that becomes an issue and gets in the way of responding appropriately to the addicted person. Don't let each others emotional style get in the way of working together. Usually family members all want a positive outcome. Even though they display their feelings differently family members generally have the same concerns. Respect each other. Learn to accept each others different emotional styles and support each other in becoming a team. Addiction will destroy the family unless family members make an effort to prevent that from happening.