Anyone who lives with an alcoholic or drug addicted person knows just how much the disease affects the workings and happiness of the family, and though it would be best if your loved one could achieve permanent remission, this isn’t often the way it goes.
Therefore, if you have decided that you wish to continue living with a person struggling with addition, you would be wise to learn how to minimize the disease’s negative influence on the family as you also create a family dynamic that supports everyone in the family - including the addicted person. Ideally, in doing so, you will also create a dynamic within the family which gently encourages positive change instead of one which reinforces negative and harmful behaviors.
So, from the experts at The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), here are 12 tips for living as healthily and happily as possible in a home you share with an alcohol or drug addicted person.
12 Tips for Happy and Healthy Living with an Alcohol or Drug Addicted Person
- Do not let negativity rule. Do not attempt to change your loved one’s behaviors through nagging, threats, punishments or other forms of coercion. The odds of success are very low and it’s not very healthy or pleasant for anyone in the family to live in a household dominated by such negativity.
- Don’t make it about you either. Getting emotional and acting out as the victim may help your loved one to feel more guilt, but it probably won’t help them change their behavior.
- Do not take on the burden for yourself. You did not cause anyone to become an alcoholic or drug addicted person so you should not feel guilt or responsibility for the disease of another person. Losing misplaced guilt helps you to focus your energies on what’s true and on what can help to make things better
- Get support and advice from al-anon, from a therapist or from a self help group of others in similar situations. Inform your addicted loved one of what you are doing to get support and why you need it.
- Talk about the drug or alcohol use normally and openly. Don’t get emotional but don’t try to hide the facts either as you talk to others in your family, including the substance abuser, about the reality and consequences of the behaviors.
- Using age appropriate language and concepts, explain alcoholism and addiction to children. They need to know that addiction is a disease and that though it can be difficult, it is not shameful and does not need to be hidden.
- Try to maintain a healthy and happy home, whether or not a loved one is drinking or using drugs, and try to include your loved one in family activities as you would any other member of the family.
- Don’t worry about hiding the evidence. If there are 20 bottles of wine in the recycling box out front then that’s how many there are and it wasn’t you who drank them.
- Don’t worry about cleaning up anyone's messes. You don’t want to enable substance abuse behaviors so you’re much better off not covering for a hung-over spouse or helping a hard-partying high school kid get his assignments done. It is important that all people experience the true consequences of their actions, otherwise, how can any of us learn to change for the better?
- Try not to have important discussions or arguments with a person who is drunk or high. They are a waste of energy and can be needlessly volatile.
- Don’t try to keep up with them. If they drink too much you won’t become closer or better as a family if you try to drink a bit more too; it just doesn’t work that way.
- Encourage your loved one to engage in interests and hobbies that aren’t associated with the use of alcohol or drugs.
Nothing groundbreaking, but these above are 12 very sensible rules that make a very difficult situation – living with an alcoholic or a drug user – as healthy as possible and which create a family dynamic which moves away from needless and non constructive conflict and towards meaningful change for the better.
Page last updated Nov 18, 2011