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January 5, 2012

Living with an Addict

Living with, or caring for, someone with a substance or behavioral addiction, can be stressful and traumatizing. Just because you recognize a family member has a problem doesn't mean he or she is willing to change. If you find yourself coping with the addiction of a family member, the most important thing you can do is to take care of yourself. Here's how: First, address the situation. Covering up your family member's addiction, or pretending it doesn't exist, allows the behavior to progress and worsen. Know that your loved one will most likely deny any problems, but it's okay to let them know you're concerned about their health. Second: find someone you can talk to. Living with addiction is extraordinarily stressful, and you shouldn't have to go through it alone. Opening up to a psychologist, clergy person, or support group can help you take stock of the situation and gain perspective. Consider joining Al-Anon or a similar peer support program, where other people dealing with a loved one's addiction can share their stories. Having a network of people who have been through similar experiences can help you to navigate day-to-day issues. Third, don't forget about yourself. It's easy to neglect your own needs when you're living with an addict. You might be so caught up in the worry for the other person that you don't take care of your most basic needs. Make sure you're getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet; and exercising. It may sound like an odd recommendation, but regular physical activity helps relieve your stress and anxiety, and builds self-esteem-all of which can help you cope with your loved one's addiction. Next, don't blame yourself. You can offer to help your loved one find treatment programs and encourage them to get better, but you can't make them change. An addict will get and remain sober only when he or she is ready. Remind yourself daily that it is not your fault. You did not cause them to get sick and you cannot make them get better. Finally, don't take on their problems. It's hard to watch someone you love slip into a spiral of bad decisions and consequences. And it's natural to want to help. But covering up for them, or straightening up their messy situations, isn't going to help them or you. Protecting them from their own actions may, however, keep them from realizing how bad their problem is. If they have to hit bottom in order to seek out treatment, you have to allow that to happen. Recovery is a process that can take a long time. The addiction didn't happen overnight, and getting sober won't either. As hard as it may be, try not to judge their addiction. Addiction is a disease that requires lifelong vigilance. Figure out what your own personal limits are as well. Just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to put up with their addiction. You just have to decide what's right for you.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012