Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Taking a Break

As you can see I have not posted additional information for about a month.  I am taking a break until the new year.  There is plenty of information and links on this blog to keep everyone busy for awhile. 

It is important to remember that the key to family recovery is to work on your own issues.  The more focused and obsessed you become with the addicted person in your life the less ready you will be to be helpful to them or yourself. 

The addicted person will attempt to manipulate you and will tell you what you want to hear to get what they want.  This is not personal this is what addicted people do to everyone, it is the nature of the disease of addiction.

Don't get sucked into their words, observe their behavior without trying to manipulate it. Don't take their behavior personally.  It's not about you, they can't see beyond their own needs so when they are selfish, self centered, manipulative and irresponsible the correct response from you is not "oh my god, look what they are doing now." But it is "of course, that's what addicts do." 

One more thing,  allow them to feel the pain they create in their lives.  Too many times the family members take on that pain and that is the wrong thing to do and it delays the chances that the addicted person will seek help.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How to have a "healthy" relationship with the addicted person in your family

If your family member is actively involved in their addiction you can still have a "healthy" relationship with them but it will look and feel a lot different than a normal healthy relationship.
You can't have a normal healthy relationship with someone who is actively using drugs.
What is different? Number one you should not trust them. Not trusting them even if you want to is a good thing because it is a sign that you are understanding the reality of their situation. It is also important to develop a non judgmental understanding of your loved one's condition this is an important step in having a healthy relationship. Non judgmental does not mean you like what is going on but does mean you understand what is going on, and are willing to avoid falling into a power struggle with your loved one.

You need to be very consistent in your communication with the addicted person and avoid trying to manipulate them like the plague. It is important to learn how to take back your life while you reduce your urge to manipulate them manage their life while your life falls apart.

People that care about the addicted person tend to get scared, or angry when they can't make something positive happen. When family members don't get support their relationship with the addict becomes driven by anxiety and is focused on trying to make something happen to change the situation. This sets up a power struggle and the addicted person starts focusing on you as the problem and you are focused on trying to manage their life while your life starts to disappear.

It is important for you focus on maintaining the quality of your life and give consistent messages to the addicted person in your family. The messages should be that you love them and you want them to get help for their addiction and you will hold them accountable for their behavior. Without the drama of a power struggle there is no resentment and anger that gets in the way of communication. This leaves an opening for the future when they are struggling and start to believe they do need help for them to talk with you.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Words and Action

At some point in the struggle with addiction in our families, we ran out of words. The only thing left was action. This is where the rubber hits the road. At some point, it is time to allow reality to demonstrate to the addicted person that there are consequences associated with addictive behavior. We don't have to create these situations, the addicted person will create them as a result of the way they live their life. What our part involves is allowing the consequences to impact the addict. Addicts will respond to experiences before they will respond to words. As long as they are still in denial about their addiction they will blame those around them for their suffering even though they are the source of their own pain.

The addicted person must understand that their addiction is their issue not yours or anyone else's. If they are to enter and stay in recovery their understanding that their addiction is theirs is absolutely essential. They will never acquire this understanding unless they are forced to figure out how to solve problems that they create in their own lives.

Family members and friends can play an important role here by reminding the addicted person that they are loved, that they have a medical condition and that treatment is available. Many times an addicted person's first step in solving their problems is to agree to go to treatment. When they think all their options have run out and there is nobody left to manipulate and they don't know what else to do, they remember that their mother or sister or friend kept saying go to treatment, so they go.

In order for family members to be able to have the will to allow their loved one to struggle on their own the family members need support and education. You can't do this alone and you must believe in what you are doing and have a clear understanding of why you are doing it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More About Boundaries

How do I create effective boundaries between me and the addicted person that I love? To begin you have to understand what you are doing and what is it that you are trying to accomplish? Also you want to know when a boundary is effective?

So many family members live in a rigid world of automatic reactions to the addicted person in their lives and have no understanding of what they can do that is helpful. What they are doing doesn't seem to be working but they don't know what else to do. If they seek help they are told that it is important to take care of themselves and allow the addicted person to suffer the consequences of their behavior. These suggestions seem unnatural to many people. If someone you love is suffering you must help them, anything else seems selfish and cold. People feel they are not being a "good" wife, husband, parent, child or friend. This confusion is why it is so important to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it when creating boundaries.

It is true that an addicted person will not seek help until they experience a level of pain that breaks through their normal system of denial. It is also true that it is not the family's job to make the addicted person suffer and hope that this will make them go into treatment. This type of thinking is a recipe for frustration.

It is important for family members to be able to manage their expectations, and to understand that there is no perfect system for interacting with an addicted person. Creating boundaries means that you stop trying to manage someone else's life at the expense of your own.

Effective boundaries means that when an addicted person experiences a negative consequence because of their addiction you don't interfere to buffer the experience. You manage your expectations by understanding that this negative experience may not be the one that gets them into treatment but is necessary for them to experience and deal with because it is their life and they created this experience. You have issues to deal with in your own life that you have probably neglected in the past by coming to the addicted person's rescue.

You should always be experimenting with ways to live a normal life in spite of your loved ones addiction. You can start by experimenting with small stuff. I have had a number of mothers who have had their adult children wind up back home. The adult children don't pay rent, don't do chores but are using drugs/alcohol. The mothers do what many other mothers do, their kids laundry. The problem is that these kids are 23, 28, 34, or 46 years old. My first question to them is why are you doing their laundry? It seem that it was one of those automatic behaviors that is problematic when dealing with addiction. They thought it was just what a "good" mother did. I usually suggest they try an experiment and stop doing their adult kids laundry. Their laundry is their responsibility not yours. There are a variety of different types of small things like this such as cooking them dinner, buying them cigarettes, letting them use your car that you can decide that you don't want to do any longer. This is not punishment. This is about adults demonstrating responsibility for themselves.

Another aspect of creating effective boundaries is understanding that you cannot control their addiction but you can control your environment and how you decide to respond to your loved ones addiction. You start getting an idea that you are being successful at creating effective boundaries when you find yourself moving from rigid responses driven by fear and expectations to having a choice in how you want to respond in every situation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Creating Boundaries

Creating boundaries is an important skill to learn in order to respond in a healthy way to the addicted person in your life.

The key to your ability to create real boundaries is your willingness to hold the addicted person responsible for their addict behavior for the benefit of the family, not to manipulate the addicted person into better behavior. This is a skill that must be learned.

I have talked with family members that wanted to create "consequences" for their addicted loved one for a variety of bad reasons, because the family was angry at the addicted person, or because they wanted to punish the addicted person for being addicted, or the family wanted to manipulate the addicted person into treatment.

The first thing to understand is that the family does not create consequences. The family creates boundaries, and the addicted persons behavior results in consequences. One aspect of boundaries are clear rules or limits on behavior that everyone in the family is expected to honor, including the addicted person. Developing boundaries involves both perception and emotion. Being able to see that your loved ones addiction is not your issue can be very difficult. Boundaries help create a dividing line between the issues the addicted person must deal with in order to get help and issues that the family members must deal with for their health. Family members often spend too much time trying to solve their loved ones addiction and as a result they begin to loose touch with their own needs and identity.

Some family members have asked the question, what are examples of creating boundaries.? The most important examples of creating boundaries are invisible and are created through support and education. They involve an internal shift involving the understanding of addiction and learning to not overreact to your emotions. Family members are able to create healthy boundaries when they begin to understand that their loved one can only recover when they take responsibility for their own issues, family members can't do it for them. Healthy boundaries are created when family members can overcome the guilt, the anger, the disappointment, and the perception that they are responsible for this situation and are expected to make it better.

Remember the three C's: You didn't Cause it, You can't Control it and You can't Cure it.

When family members begin making this internal shift then they can create healthy boundaries that don't involve manipulation, anger, punishment and they will be able to follow through and uphold these boundaries.

Anyone can look as though they are creating a "boundary" but if it is done for the wrong reasons it just keeps the addicted person and the family members more enmeshed in an unhealthy dance.

If you enforce a rule or boundary and you are doing this because it is good for you and your family your on the right track.

If you enforce a rule or boundary and it is about trying to manipulate the addicted person your on the wrong track.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

What People Ask!!

The last 50 people who have come to this blog have asked about information related to, the manipulative behavior of addicted people, being able to trust the addicted person again, the creation of boundaries and how to say no, enabling behaviors and coping strategies to deal with the anxiety, stress and fear associated with living with addiction in the family.

Over the past 12 years of talking with family members who are struggling with addiction in at least one or more of their family members these questions make up about 90% of what they are dealing with and want to get better at managing. The other few 10% of issues has to do with whether addiction is a disease and questions about specific drugs.

I would like to make a small statement related to the addiction as a disease question. Forget the word disease. I call it a medical condition, you can call it anything you want. All reputable medical organizations in the world will say addiction is a disease process. The most important concept to understand, no matter what you decide to call addiction, is that you can not control this condition and the addicted person can not either.

The addicted person can learn to manage their condition only after they have acknowledged their addiction and become willing to take responsibility for managing their own recovery.

It is important to clearly understand that addiction is a medical condition which results in changes in brain chemistry that alters the normal perception and decision making process in the brain. These changes are caused by chronic use of the addicted persons drug of choice, whether it is alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine, etc.. The primary message that addicted persons are giving themselves is that their drug of choice is what makes life worth living. The drug replaces you, other family members, education, career, economic responsibility and hobby's. I'm sure you can add many others through your own experience. The primary activity for the addicted person is to acquire and use their drug of choice.

All addicted people will manipulate those around them and their environment to ensure that they meet their goal of getting and using their drug. Manipulation is the normal behavior of an addicted person. It is not personal, it is just what addicts do. When you begin to understand this you can better decide on your choice of strategies for not allowing yourself to be manipulated by the addicted person.

Yes, addiction is not personal!! It is hurtful because you can see that the person you love is hurting themselves and others but it is not aimed at you. Addicted people, because of the changes in the brain brought on by their compulsive drug use can not see other peoples suffering. Addicted people are trapped in a narrow focus of getting and using their drug of choice. Because you are thinking logically you see offers of help and support. Because the addicted persons brain is altered they see the offers of help and support as roadblocks to be overcome or manipulated out of the way to meet their goal of using their drug of choice. You are simply a witness to their addict behavior. The more you are gradually able to learn to lessen the personal aspects of your response to your loved ones addiction the better able you will be to respond effectively to the chaos they create in their lives that effects your life.

Trust issues are important family issues. 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. They trust what they say because they think if they don't they are abandoning them. It is important for family members to understand this about addicted people, if their lips are moving they are lying. Never trust what an addicted person says, even if you want to. Remember just as addiction is not personal neither is this. Addiction happens to the most wonderful people. This isn't an attack on their character. This is an acknowledgment of the realities of addiction.

Learning to trust again. Nobody deserves your trust just because they are breathing, or they are related to you. If you think about people you really trust it is probably people that follow through on what they say they will do. They may not be perfect but their behavior matches up with their words.

What about the addict? If you understand addiction, and that the primary goal of that addict is to acquire and use their drug of choice they also follow through. The problem is they won't tell you the truth. If you understand that no matter what they tell you it is all for the drug it is easier to say no. Never call an addicted person a liar. The information about not trusting them is for you to understand when responding to their very predictable addict behavior. If you want to learn to trust them again remember it is all about the behavior, just observe. As they begin a program of recovery you may note that they are beginning to "walk their talk", as they say in 12 step programs. Start out slow and allow trust to be earned, no judgments.

Creating boundaries between you and the addicted person in your family is an important skill to learn. Without boundaries you can not learn to respond effectively to help improve your emotional well being and also be helpful to others in your family. An important part in creating boundaries is coming to the understanding that the addicted person you love has different issues than you. For example, their addiction is not your issue. In order for them to begin any process of recovery they must take responsibility for their condition. Many family members try and try take responsibility for their loved ones recovery and they become more and more frustrated and hurt. The issues you need to be focusing on are related to you and are separate from your loved ones medical condition. These issues need to be addressed for you to be successful in your own recovery.

Getting support is probably the most important behavior a family or individual family member can do for themselves and the addicted person in their family. Addiction thrives on isolation, fear and shame. Part of your recovery is learning how to be yourself again and to live a healthy life even with the stress of addiction in the family.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


My wife recently lost both of her parents. One died in December 2007 and the other died three weeks later in January 2008. That has been quite an adjustment for the whole family. Now with Mothers Day coming up it is a fresh reminder of that loss. The whole personality of the family structure has had to adjust to that loss in order to heal.

Loss is a common theme with family members who are experiencing the disease of addiction in their family system. The big fear is that the drug use will actually kill the person you care about. The more common experience though is not the death of your loved one, although that is a possibility, but the death of your dreams for that person. The loss of who that person was, their personality, their potential and the relationships within the family structure that have changed in serious ways.

The feelings of loss are a normal result of addiction in a family system and family members make extraordinary efforts to attempt to solve this problem, get their loved one the help they need, to take control and help the addicted person. They want their loved one back. This is a very frustrating experience.

In general most of these extraordinary efforts do not work and lead to more feelings of loss, hurt and anger. So what do you do?

My wife could not make the fact that her parents had died go away. In order to heal she had to mourn, understand that her feelings were normal and eventually accept the reality of the situation.

Family members who have a loved one lost in addiction must go through a similar process. The person they once knew doesn't seem to exist any longer family members are mourning this loss and are trying to get that old person back. It is important for family members to let go of that past because if and when the addicted person begins the process of treatment and healing a new person will emerge like a butterfly from a caterpillar. If the family members have not moved on and are still focused on the way things used to be they will miss the opportunities to build a new relationship with their loved one.

Addiction changes everyone in a family. The longer the family struggles with this issue the more they need learn to manage these changes in a healthy way. This is why it is so important for family members to focus on taking care of themselves.

So, How do you help someone you love who is addicted? First you stop trying to control them. You need to observe their behavior and begin to control your environment, such as who or what you allow in your house, what you spend money on, how you allow people to treat you.

You actually do not have any control over your loved one's addiction. You can keep trying to control it if you wish but it will continue to be a very frustrating and bitter experience. You do have control over your environment. It is in your environment that the addict is most likely to begin feeling the consequences to their behavior. Again remember, you have no control over the addiction but you have control over how you allow the addiction to impact you. When you start taking control of this area of your life you will disrupt the addicted person's status quo and they will have to adjust.

Remember addicted persons only seek help when they are uncomfortable enough to try something different. No addict seeks help because things are going good but might get bad.

In order to begin to do any of these tasks you need to learn about addiction. You need to seek out and use a support system. Your family has to be willing to form a team and work together. Everyone in the family doesn't have to agree on everything but you must respect each other and do not sabotage the efforts of the family. Honesty is a requirement for family health. Also it is assumed that the family would like to have the goal of all these efforts be that their loved one enters treatment, completes treatment and lives happily ever after. This can not be the goal because there is no direct pathway to that end. What a reasonable goal might be has to to with improving the emotional health of the entire family no matter what the outcome for the addicted person.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What is the wisdom attached to the facts?

I hope all of you that celebrate Easter had a happy and peaceful time. I have said in the past that if you want to find out about drugs you can find all the information you want and probably more than you wanted on the internet. "Just the facts" are a good thing to have if you are writing a paper for a class and if you are struggling on a personal level with addiction in your family or with close friends. But what is the wisdom, the insight attached to the "facts"?

Fact: Addiction is a disease process that changes the way the brain functions and results in distorted perceptions and impulsive, self centered behavior.

Fact: Everyone in the addicted person's family is negatively impacted by the disease
of addiction and needs help.

Fact: Both the family members,friends and the addicted person need information about their condition.

Fact: Family members and friends can be very helpful to themselves and may have an impact on the addicted person but they have to be willing to implement new ways of thinking and new behaviors that will be difficult to maintain without support.

Fact: None of the above can happen unless the family members and friends actually believe the facts, and are open for change based on the facts.

What are some of the behaviors related to a new way of thinking and implementing a healthier family life.?

1. Allowing the addicted person to experience the consequences of their addiction.

2. Finding a support group or class where you can talk about the struggles with addiction and what was helpful to others.

3. Learning to take the "crazy" behavior of your addicted loved one less personal. Once you understand the disease concept you will see that it isn't personal. You just happen to be there as a witness and have a vested interest in their well being.

4. Learn what you have control over and what you don't have control over. So many people try to control the symptoms of the addiction ( the bad behavior, their friends, their irresponsible use of money, etc.). We spend so much time and energy trying to control what we can't we start feeling depressed, frustrated, angry, and powerless.

5. You can control two things, your response to the addiction by learning to respond based on the reality of addiction, on the facts, rather than trying to force an outcome that you don't have control over and your environment, what is in your house and what is in your head. You can come to a decision as to what, who and under what conditions people are allowed into you life. You can require a certain quality of behavior if your addicted loved one wants to be in your environment. This is the beginning of creating boundaries.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sometimes We Need To Hear It Again

I have been receiving hits from people in many different parts of the world. North America, Europe, Middle East and the questions are all very similar. How does one deal with manipulation, loss of trust, or how do I learn to trust. "My life has been turned upside down by the person I love who is an addict." "They said one thing but did another, they lie, they spend too much money, they disappear for days at a time." "They blame me."

This is the typical experience of the family member who is involved in the life of an actively practicing addict. NUMBER ONE thing to do is get support and eduction for yourself. If you are in a relationship with an addict you need recovery. This is very important for you to internalize. You didn't cause it, You can't control it and you can't cure it. The more obsessed you are with your loved one's addiction the more help you need.

Learn to create boundaries between you and the addict you love. My next statement makes people nervous. "Your loved one's addiction is not your issue." What does that mean? Yes, it effects you but it isn't yours to learn to manage. It means that in order for them to recover from their condition they must take responsibility for their addiction and acknowledge they need help. Then they must begin the process of recovery and learn to manage this chronic condition over time. Nobody else can do it for them. The more others assume responsibility for the addicted person's recovery the less likely they will assume responsibility for themselves.

If you are busy trying to manage their life how are you going to manage your own? You will not!! You will only become more focused on the addict and soon not have a life of your own. If you don't learn to have a life of your own you will fail at having a relationship with the addicted person if they do get help for their addiction and start living a different lifestyle.

Remember if their lips are moving they are lying. Loving someone is not a good reason to trust them. Trust is built on experience. When someone walks their talk, Does what they say they are going to do consistently over time you might consider trusting them.

The most important thing in the addicted person's life is not you, or jobs or hobbies or children, it is their drug of choice. Because of changes in the chemistry of the brain caused by addiction, addicted people believe that their drug of choice is what make life worth living.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Family Members Need Support

Happy New Year, Welcome to 2008.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends that all members of a family that is struggling with addiction receive treatment.

Have you ever thought that if you were only a better husband, wife, or parent the addiction of your loved one might not have happened? Do you feel shame and isolate because of your family member's addiction? Have you felt frustrated, hopeless, angry, stressed, depressed? This is the disease of addiction playing havoc with family members. You need help to get through this. One of the goals of getting help is to learn that the addiction is not your fault, no matter how hard the addict works to convince you it is.

If you are dealing with addiction in your family YOU need help. YOU need support and YOU need to make a point in 2008 to get it. Don't get stuck thinking it is your job to save your family member, their life is NOT in your hands. The three tasks that are a must for for family members are to get education about addiction, To participate in an ongoing support group and to give up trying to control or believing you are responsible for the outcome for someone else.

Remember the three C's

You didn't CAUSE it, You can't CONTROL it and You can't CURE it.