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.