Relationships in which one person abuses drugs or alcohol is often dysfunctional in more ways than one. This can be a romantic relationship, a platonic friendship, or a family relationship. There may be times when you feel trapped for one reason or another, and the dysfunctional relationship is often very difficult to navigate. You care for the other person, but you also care about yourself and your own well-being. Here are ways that you can maintain a healthy relationship without losing your sanity.
Don’t Feed into Their Bad Behavior
Most often one of the biggest issues in a dysfunctional relationship is that the person with the addiction does not recognize that they have a problem. They may try to place the blame on others, or they rationalize their behavior and make excuses for themselves. For example, a person may say that the reason that they drink nightly is that their job is so stressful and it’s the only way that they can relax. When this happens, the best thing to do is not argue and try to get them to see the errors in their thinking and behavior. This often backfires and makes the person angrier and more likely to indulge in their addictive behavior, creating a pattern. Try to stay calm and avoid yelling, and wait until they themselves are calm enough to have a discussion.
Tap into Their Problems
If the person is receptive to talking, try and discuss things with them. Ask if there are reasons that they drink or use drugs to excess. It’s important to find out how they perceive their problems and how they think drinking/using solves anything. Actively listen, and be open to their responses. Many times through open and honest discussion, a person is better able to realize the error in their perception of their problems.
For instance, the husband that drinks too much every night and blames his boss might really be afraid that he’ll lose his job and be unable to support his family. Through talking it out he may recognize that his drinking is actually causing additional problems with his family and maybe at work as well. You should recognize that these fears are real to him, and discuss how he feels these fears can be managed without resorting to drinking every night. Stress the importance of seeking professional help, and let him know that you’re there to support him through rehabilitation.
Don’t be an Enabler
An enabler is defined as “a person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behavior in another: one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (such as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.” More often than not, enablers aren’t aware that they are doing anything wrong, just like the addicts themselves. In this type of dysfunctional relationship, the enabler often views their behavior as caring, however their “caring” usually does more harm than good. Enablers lie and make excuses for the other person, shielding them from the consequences of their actions and frequently threaten to take action yet don’t follow through. The problem with this is that the addict never has to confront all of the problems that their substance abuse causes and allows them to live in denial.
Financially supporting someone while they are struggling with addiction is also an enabling behavior. It may seem cruel or unhelpful to cut someone off, especially if others will be affected, but sometimes having to face these types of problems is the only way in which someone truly recognizes their severity of their addiction. Many enablers fear speaking out about their loved one’s dangerous habits because to do so would put them at risk of destroying the relationship. It’s important to realize though that in the case of substance abuse, continuing to provide assistance or remain silent puts their loved one’s life at risk. Counseling is effective for both the enabler and the addict and helps each to learn ways to deal with destructive behaviors in a positive, healthy way.
Don’t Fool Yourself
Thinking that there is going to be a magical moment in which you say the right thing and suddenly the addict in your life realizes the error of their ways is not only unhealthy but extremely unlikely. This often goes hand-in-hand with enabling. You obsess with thinking of exactly the right thing to say or do, and you believe that when this happens they will have a “light bulb” moment, where they suddenly seek help and all of the problems are solved. Thoughts like these are usually because it’s a way for you to try and make sense of things and gain a bit of control of the situation. The reality is, the only way that things will get better is for your loved one to seek professional help.
Empathize with Emotions, not Behaviors
When you care for someone it’s only natural to want to be supportive and to show compassion for what they are struggling with, but you should not excuse their behaviors. If they become abusive, physically or emotionally, they should be held accountable. Don’t make excuses for what is happening; seek help. Denial will only allow them to continue and puts you at risk for more abuse. This type of empathy in a dysfunctional relationship is the same as enabling.
Contact Clearbrook Today
While it may seem impossible to deal with a dysfunctional relationship, there is hope. For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Center has offered both programs for the suffering addict or alcoholic, as well their loved ones. Along with our 28-day inpatient treatment program, we also offer the Clearbrook Family Program designed to help the family of a person struggling with substance abuse. These programs go hand in hand and can help to ensure that your relationship with your loved one continues in a mutually beneficial and healthy way after treatment is completed.
If you or someone you know and love is currently struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism, please contact our Admissions Specialists today.