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Helping the Family

Of utmost importance is this: The family needs to get better in order for the addict or alcoholic to get better. So much of the family’s life is consumed with riding the addicted person’s roller coaster, and rarely if ever is there any self-care on the family’s part.

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How To Help

Change Begins with the Family

Addicts and alcoholics take advantage of people, places and things – generally through manipulation – to maintain their lifestyle choices. There are almost always actions that a family or a group of enablers can take to change their own behavior to make recovery possible.

It isn’t just about changing behavior; it is just as important to understand why the family system needs to change.

Most alcoholics want help, but won’t initiate or follow through because they don’t have to.

This is largely for two reasons:

  1. The belief that they don’t have a problem.
  2. An enabling family system.
What to Do

The Family Roles in Addiction Recovery

For an addict or alcoholic to become clean and sober, the addicted person and the affected family must make changes. Chances are the addicted person is not going to take the first step, leaving that responsibility to the family.

Addicts and alcoholics act like professional victims and can be emotional bullies. As a result, families may be led to do or say things they normally wouldn’t.

When families call us for help, it’s not just to inquire about the drug or alcohol abuse of their loved ones. They’re also concerned about their own behavior and the harm they’re inflicting on themselves and others.

Family members play different roles that are determined by how much or how little they are being manipulated or affected, as well as by past experiences in their own lives.

How Interventions Treat the Entire Family, Not Just the Addiction

Until a family is educated on the addiction intervention process and begins to understand how the addict or alcoholic thinks and operates, the addicted person will continue to hold every family member hostage, each in a different way. The family is broken down as the addict or alcoholic continues the substance abuse, comfortable in the addiction and manipulating the family with mind control, passive aggressive behavior, promises, anger, fear and playing the victim while offering the illusion of hope.

Addiction can bring a family to the point of exhaustion, helplessness and hopelessness, and to the belief that nothing will ever work. In fact, the loved one has to want help or hit bottom. Until that day, addiction intervention would be a waste of time. In the end, it’s not just about the result of the intervention; it’s equally important that the family try to do something about it.


Understanding Codependency in Families

In the world of addiction, codependent behavior occurs when families suffering guilt and shame are there for others but not themselves. Codependent family members feel that if their loved one is OK, then they’re OK.

When family members are codependent, it is nearly impossible for them to set necessary boundaries and hold their loved one accountable.

Because the addict and the alcoholic are codependent, they are unable to stand on their own two feet and take ownership of their addiction and behavior. This is why they feel the problem is everyone else’s fault and not their own.

How Interventions Treat Codependent Behavior

Addiction is a family disease. The codependent behavior and comfort provided by a family make it nearly impossible for the addict or alcoholic to experience the consequences of their own actions and behaviors. Through the intervention process, families are shown the roles they play and how they have contributed to the addiction.

The role of the interventionist isn’t to dig skeletons from the family members’ closets or throw them under the bus for the guilt and shame they may bring to the family system.

The interventionist functions as a mediator to help the family identify the behaviors that need to change so that both the family and the loved one can get well. Addict and alcoholics use the role of a victims to exploit the guilt, shame and codependency of distraught family members while preying on their vulnerabilities.

The interventionist introduces an emotionally detached, educated approach to an otherwise chaotic and out-of-control situation. As part of the problem, the family cannot possibly offer a non-emotionally-driven solution.

Without the help of a third-party mediator, the family is left to address the situation on their own. An intervention provides education, comfort and closure to the family. More than that, family members can feel that something is being done to change any behaviors that have contributed to the addiction.

With an intervention, the family can stop being an impediment to their loved one’s growth by helping to fix the problems behind the drug or alcohol abuse.

The addict or alcoholic getting better alone isn’t sufficient. The family system must also change and grow in order to be more functional and sustainable.


The Dangers of Enabling Addiction

Enabling is providing someone with the resources or means to do something. In terms of addiction, however, enabling means encouraging dysfunctional behavior.

Enabling an addict or alcoholic impedes that person’s ability to want or to get help. If the loved one had any fatal illness other than alcoholism or drug addiction, enabling behaviors would likely be classified as helpful.

Helping provides what is needed to complete a task or to satisfy a need – i.e., doing something for someone who may not be capable of doing it himself or herself.

Enabling addiction does not help an addict or alcoholic recover. Rather, it allows the sickness to continue.

Addicts and alcoholics can’t fix their addiction problems themselves; they need help. The same applies to family members who can’t fix the problem themselves either. They need help as well.

Identifying Helping vs. Enabling Addiction

Many families feel they’re helping their loved one by providing a place to stay, food, money and other resources. Oftentimes, people say if they knew their actions were hurting their child and preventing them from getting better, they wouldn’t do it. Most people do see that what they’re doing is hurting their loved one, but many don’t grasp the underlying reasons behind their behavior.

Families wait for their loved ones to hit bottom or ask for help. At the same time, these same families’ enabling actions make it nearly impossible for their loved ones to be held accountable or grasp the gravity of their behavior. People facing no consequences have little reason to do things differently.

Given that addicts and alcoholics seek to avoid discomfort, enabling provides them all the comfort they need. Only the family knows why they are enablers, just as only addicts and alcoholics know what they are running from.

The common denominator is this: Enabling provides families a level of comfort similar to what drugs or alcohol provide their addicted loved ones. 

A Snowball Effect of Enabling Addiction

Generally, enabling addiction starts off innocently, but in the end, it becomes all consuming. It can destroy nearly everyone in its path: the addict, the alcoholic and many family members.

The longer enabling continues, the more entitled the loved one becomes, expecting things as they throw temper tantrums or ridicule members of the family. The selfish behaviors of addiction rip through lives like a tornado, and enabling behaviors can rip through family members’ lives, too.

Families need to ponder these questions:

How many more times are you going to believe your loved one’s lies as you give them money for things they say they need, knowing full well that the money will be used to buy drugs or alcohol? How many more times are they going to lie to you about where they are going or where they have been – and you believe them?

How many more times are you going to bail them out of jail and pay for their attorney? How much longer are you going to let them live in your house, rent and consequence free? How many more times are you going to put their addiction before all your family’s wants and needs, including your other children?

The ripple effect of addiction is enormous, and enabling impacts much more than the addict or the alcoholic’s life. It destroys many other people’s lives as well.

Next Step

Dealing with Family Shame and Guilt as Barriers to Intervention

Guilt is I did something bad; it is about what I do.

Shame is I am a bad person; it says who I am.

Guilt and shame are the basis for addiction and codependency.

When shame is internalized, it becomes the foundation of our identity and keeps us behind a wall. It is also a barrier to intimacy and all relationships. When dealing with an addict, an alcoholic or a family, whether codependent or not, guilt and shame act as a ping-pong ball thrown back and forth between the two parties, each being used against one another.

Addicts and alcoholics carry shame and guilt passed on from their parents, feelings of being unwanted and rejected, and vice versa.

How Family Shame and Guilt Hinder Addiction Recovery

Addicts and alcoholics don’t seek help because their families carry the guilt and shame of their addiction and behaviors, relieving them of that burden. What parents won’t deal with, or what they keep secret, will be acted out by addicts or alcoholics because they think it’s about them.

Shame-based people have a hard time believing people are there to help because shame says that you don’t have the right to receive help. Those suffering from shame have no problem helping others. They just have a hard time accepting help from others, and this is called codependency.

Shame along with ego, especially in men, is one of the principal reasons why families will not do an intervention. They feel that doing so shows the world their imperfections and their families’ problems. In order to move past shame, the person suffering from it has to see where the shame is coming from.

Is it coming from you or from another person? If the person suffering from shame is feeling inadequate, then they are carrying someone else’s. The only time we see families move beyond the fear of exposing family secrets to allow an intervention is when they experience some form of anger or fear.

The pain or fear of not intervening has to become greater than the pain or fear of burying the guilt and shame and doing little or nothing at all. 

Interventions Are Not About What We Say; It’s How We Say It

One of the most dangerous things we hear from families is, “Why do we need a professional interventionist? Why don’t we just talk to our loved one ourselves?”

Families also frequently say, “We’ve talked to our loved one countless times.  What is it you’re going to say that’s different than what we’ve already said?”

Addicts and alcoholics carry shame and guilt that have been passed on from their families, most likely their parents. Anything said by a family member about the addict or alcoholic is likely to be perceived as criticism or shame.

No matter what or how it is said, the person on the receiving end feels pain, fear and rage and then retaliates, seeking revenge. This holds true for the family hearing from the addict or alcoholic as well.

Professional interventionists could put a microphone in family members’ ears and tell them precisely what to say to the addict or alcoholic. The message would be perceived completely differently coming from us because the loved one doesn’t resent us. The individual neither carries our guilt or shame, nor can they be blamed for any problems.

This is why families can’t do an intervention themselves. Being viewed as a problem by the loved one, they cannot offer the solution and be heard as offering anything other than criticism. This explains as well why families communicate with written letters at the intervention. Letters are designed to contain as little criticism as possible of the loved one.

Beyond what is said in the intervention, it’s also what the family does that matters. Professional drug and alcohol interventions are successful because of what is said, of course, and because the family follows through with the instructions they’ve been given.

Many outcomes can happen in an intervention. The family’s first instinct is to react as they would in any other setting, causing arguments, chaos, confusion, criticism and anger. By having a professional interventionist in charge, we’re able to keep the chaos to a minimum and to keep moving forward with the task at hand.

Without a professional present, the addict or an alcoholic can easily take control of the room and manipulate the family’s emotions, causing the intervention to go south quickly.

Until a family experiences some level of anger, pain or fear without bitterness and then decides they will no longer allow themselves to feel guilty or shamed by their loved one, the disease of addiction and codependency will most likely persist.

When a family member refuses to move forward with an intervention, the source is almost always the dad. If he can’t fix the problem, then running from it, burying it or making it all about the addicted loved one is the easier, softer way. Many times, the family member will make various excuses without acknowledging the underlying fear.

Addiction is a family disease, as is codependent behavior. With the assistance of an intervention professional, families can break the cycle. Doing nothing, staying in the problem and throwing guilt and shame back and forth at one another rarely, if ever, fixes the problem.

Setting Boundaries

Why Setting Boundaries within the Family Is Crucial

Boundaries are a way to protect oneself and one’s family. Boundaries are created by those who set them, of course, and when people are not taught to honor boundaries, they become entitled.

Families have the right to set limits with their loved ones, and family members have an obligation to respect each other’s limits.

If boundaries between people vary, the person establishing the greater distance comes out on top.

Think about how many times your family has bargained with your loved one who has infringed upon your boundaries, and yet the addict or alcoholic prevailed.

When you bargain, negotiate or placate an addict or alcoholic, you inevitably lose ground. And in the end, you allow yourself to be violated and shamed.

How Interventions Help Set Boundaries with Family Members

When presented with an intervention, an individual either chooses to accept the gift offered or chooses to be an addict or an alcoholic. If they choose the path of addiction, his or her own resources – not yours or the family’s – are involved. Setting boundaries at the time of the intervention establishes guidelines and allows you to respect your loved one’s right to be an addict or an alcoholic – and for that person to respect your boundaries and your decision to no longer participate in the addiction.

Prior to an intervention, families have either failed to set boundaries or they have allowed their loved ones to cross the few boundaries in place. Family members have the right to be angry with their loved one’s behavior, to draw a line in the sand and to resist the manipulation. This also gives notice as to where you and the family stand in the relationship, how the family wishes to be treated and what you all are willing or not willing to do going forward.

What we say and how we say it matter when doing an intervention. Until families take action, most have not learned how to communicate with their loved ones. Some families may not even feel they have the right to set boundaries.

Interventions are neither punishment nor direct orders. Rather, they are a means to let our loved ones know that we will no longer permit them and their addiction to run our lives. Addicts and alcoholics live in chaos and confusion.

By setting boundaries within the family, you bring order to your own life as well as to the rest of your family.

As a rule, actions have consequences, but when consequences are not forthcoming, the addict or alcoholic continues to operate without fear of repercussion.
Accountability represents a willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. Most addicts and alcoholics count on families’ resources – financial, emotional, physical, mental and/or spiritual – to get drunk or high. They then continue in their addiction with no accountability and almost with impunity.

As a result, many addicts and alcoholics do not feel they have a problem, and in a certain sense, they are right – since they are not held accountable by the family for drinking, getting high and constantly crossing boundaries.

How Interventions Help Teach Accountability

Drug and alcohol interventions are not designed to ruin one’s life. Rather, they are designed to bring a family together and to put them on the same page, so that the loved one can be held accountable for his or her behavior.

If addicts or alcoholics want to drink or take drugs, they most certainly can. But the people who are helping them have the same right not to participate in that behavior.

When a family doesn’t set boundaries, entitlement results, enabling addicts and alcoholics to operate instinctively in chaos. In the end, the family pays the price by taking on the pain of their loved one’s addiction.

How many more times is a family going to:

  • Lie for their loved one?
  • Pay their loved one’s debts?
  • Be on the receiving end of verbal abuse?
  • Allow themselves to be doormats?
  • And allow the loved one to create havoc in their lives?

Until a family does an alcohol or drug intervention, they will live in their loved one’s addiction while trying to navigate the insanity of the addict or alcoholic’s behaviors. Waiting for loved ones to change won’t happen until families make the addict or alcoholic’s life uncomfortable.

An intervention will occur at some point: It will either happen the easy way with the family taking control under the guidance of a professional interventionist; or, it will happen the hard way with the addict or alcoholic running himself or herself and the family into the ground.

Helping Families

Interventions Provide Help for Families of Addicts

Interventions are focused on fixing family behaviors in order to improve the likelihood of recovery.

Families become fixated on their loved ones’ addictions, putting their wants and needs before their own. This results in enabling behavior, a lack of boundaries and a failure to take action.

When considering an intervention and discussing codependency, the family begins to realize the addict’s wants and needs have become the family’s sole focus and purpose. The family’s guilt and shame make them feel they don’t have the right to set boundaries.

A family’s codependent and enabling behaviors prevent their loved one from getting the help needed, thus reducing any chance of recovery and getting well. By not changing the family’s behavior, the situation continues with little or no change, essentially stuck in a holding pattern.

By putting all of the focus on their loved one’s addiction, the family overlooks their role in keeping their loved one sick. Until a family comes to grips with the part they play in the addiction and is willing to change their behavior, the chances of long-term recovery are rare.

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