Watching someone you love suffer through the pain of addiction can be devastating. So painful is this experience that some family members devote themselves full-time to encouraging the addict they love to seek help to get sober. You can’t force an addict to get better, though. Indeed, trying to force an addict to seek help can be so damaging to your own life that some addiction experts say that addicts’ loved ones have their own disease, called codependency. Codependency only makes addiction more damaging to your family and life. By recognizing that you are not responsible for a loved one’s addiction, you begin to free yourself from the pain of codependency and to empower yourself to lead your own life, completely independent of the addict’s decisions.
Addiction and Control
To an outsider looking in, it can seem like addiction is a choice. But addiction is a disease. The addict in your life has little control over his or her ongoing use of drugs or alcohol. When you try to exert control over an addict’s life, though, they typically respond forcefully. You may be shut out, or the addict you love may begin using drugs or alcohol more frequently. Getting into a power struggle with an addict is inevitably a losing battle because drugs or alcohol ultimately have control over the addict’s behavior.
The Strength of Denial
Denial is a powerful drug in its own right. Most addicts spend an inordinate amount of energy convincing themselves that they can stop any time or that their addiction is perfectly acceptable. When you try to force an addict to get help, you’re fighting against his or her denial, and this is a battle you’re doomed to lose. When you confront an addict with his addiction and try to force him to do what you want, denial kicks into full swing. The addict you love may do anything, including cutting you off, to avoid confronting the realities of addiction.
The Challenges of Sobriety
Sobriety requires incredible willpower coupled with lots of effort. The first few weeks are extraordinarily difficult, and the overwhelming majority of addicts relapse. Thus, even if you force the addict you love into treatment, you can’t force her to stick with the treatment program. As soon as the addict you love gets the chance, she will likely use drugs or alcohol again. When treatment is forced, the desire to use drugs or alcohol can be even stronger.
Rather than bullying the addict you love, it’s much better to serve as a loving presence. Let the addict in your life know that you want him to get clean. When he’s ready to quit, be prepared to offer support, resources, and time. But until that time comes, you can serve as a loving presence and a reminder that sobriety is possible. If watching someone you love use drugs or alcohol is too painful, consider telling the addict you love that you can’t continue your relationship until she seeks treatment. This can be a strong incentive to get help. More importantly, though, it helps you protect your own well-being. In so doing, you’ll be more equipped to help the addict you love when and if he decides to finally pursue sobriety.