Caring for a partner, family member or friend who has a drug and/or alcohol abuse problem can leave you feeling isolated and alone. It may be hard to talk to others about your situation, particularly if they haven’t had the same experience as you.
It’s difficult to accept, but often we make someone else’s problem our own. This can be a result of living life to “fix” someone else’s drug problem, rather than working out which are their problems and which are our own.
We tell ourselves all sorts of things to avoid starting a sometimes painful process of concentrating on our own problems rather than someone else’s.
- “Maybe I’m only imagining it…”
- “It will get better if I’m patient…”
- “Maybe it’s not as bad as I think…”
- “I can’t do anything to upset him/her – it’ll only make their problem worse…”
- “Maybe I can live with it…”
In the same way as the person dependent on alcohol or another drug will need to face their behaviour if they want to get off the drug they’re using, in the end, you have to face what is happening to you.
But it is possible for you to improve your life, whether or not they decide to change their behaviour.
How to tell the difference between your problems and theirs
Sometimes it’s hard to decide whose problems are worse. The following check-list may help you tell the difference between your problems and theirs:
- Do you worry about how much they use?
- Do you lie about their drinking and drug use?
- Do they get angry if you try to discuss their drinking or drug use?
- Do you complain about how much time or money they spend on their alcohol or other drugs?
- Have you been hurt or embarrassed by their behaviour when they’re drunk or stoned?
- Do you resent doing jobs around the house that you think are their responsibility?
- Are you scared or nervous about their behaviour a lot of the time?
- Do you act or make decisions on the basis of what you think is best for them, rather than listening to your own feelings?
- Have you lied or covered up for them because of their drinking or drug use?
- Do you cover up your feelings by pretending that you don’t care about them or their drug use?
- Are you afraid of the future?
- Do you sometimes wish they or you were dead?
- Do you lose your temper a lot?
- Do you believe no one could possibly understand how you feel?
- Have you ever thought of calling the police because of their drinking or drug use?
- Have you threatened to leave because of their drinking or drug use?
- Have you ever left because of their drinking or drug use?
- Do you feel nobody really loves you or cares about what happens to you?
- Do you sometimes think that you are going crazy?
- Do you ever change your plans because you’re scared of what they might do?
- Have you ever play-acted to keep everything calm?
If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of these questions, then you have problems which are probably affecting your life. You may benefit from talking to a psychologist who can help you to understand the way you’re feeling.
The more you worry…the less they care
It may seem hard to believe, but it is quite often the very people who take on someone else’s drug and alcohol problem who unintentionally encourage the very behaviour that they want to change.
The following check-list lists some of the ways in which families reinforce destructive attitudes and behaviour:
- Accepting unacceptable behaviour
- Worrying about what the neighbours will think
- Using trial and error
- Hoping it will go away
- Thinking it’s self inflicted
- Believing they are to blame
- Thinking it’s loyalty to watch someone you love slowly drink themselves to death
- Keeping it a secret
- Keeping a stiff upper lip
- Feeling powerless to change
- Thinking this is just my lot in life
- Feeling guilty about asking for help
- Feeling a failure by asking for help
- Staying to the bitter end
- Paying for their mistakes – financially, emotionally, and socially
- Doing their jobs for them
- Covering up and lying for them
- Being angry, critical, nagging, hostile, sullen, speechless
- Being sugary sweet, placating, always compliant, always “good” and agreeable
- Feeling responsible for other’s behaviour
- We have to learn to understand how and why we encourage destructive behaviours which can ruin our lives and relationships.
So what can I do?
When someone you love is suffering from addiction, or trying to succeed in addiction recovery, it is normal to want to help. But in order to properly help the addict, you must first take care of yourself.
When someone you love is suffering from a drug addiction or going through recovery you want to help in any way possible. However, if you are not caring for your own physical and emotional needs it is very difficult to help someone else.
The following tips can help you care for yourself while trying to care for someone you love who is dealing with addiction as well as recognising the difference between ‘helping’ and ‘enabling,’ so that you and the drug addict you love have the greatest chance of being and getting well.
Tips for Taking Care of Yourself when you Love a Drug Addict
The agony faced by those who care for an addict is great. You may worry each day that your loved one will end up either in jail or dead. Unfortunately, you have no control over the life or choices of your loved one. You can, however, choose how you care for your own life.
- Eat well
It can be easy to neglect healthy eating habits, but caring for yourself means caring for your body. Avoid too many high-fat and sugary foods which will slow you down and compromise your overall health. Make sure you are getting the nutrients you need by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Sleep well
It can be difficult to sleep well when you are worrying about the drug addict in your life. However, sleep is an important aspect of physical health and mental well-being so make getting enough sleep a priority.
Exercise is important for everyone, but can be particularly helpful for dealing with stress — which anyone who loves a drug addict has a lot of.
- Do something you love
Doing something you love will help you find balance in your life and bring joy into difficult times. Make a point to designate days or times that are solely for you to do anything that you enjoy.
- Understand that self-care is not selfish
Too many people get these two ideas confused and mistakenly believe that by putting their own needs first they are being selfish. Taking care of your physical and mental health by spending time doing things you love and prioritising your eating, exercise, and sleep habits is not selfish and is in fact necessary if you want to have the energy to help someone else.
- Learn about addiction
Educating yourself about addiction and recovery will allow you to deal more compassionately and effectively with the drug addict in your life, which in turn will lower your level of stress.
- Avoid self blame
You cannot control another person’s decisions. Nor can you force them to change. You did not cause the addiction, and blaming yourself will only hinder both your own and the addict’s ability to be well.
- Recognise and stop enabling behaviours
This may be the most difficult task that those who want to help and care for a drug addict face. It can be very difficult to recognise that much of what you are doing to ‘help’ an addict is actually enabling their addiction. As hard as it can be to see your loved one struggle, giving them money, letting them live with you while they are still using, and making excuses for their behaviour are all actions that allow the addiction to continue and shield the addict from facing the consequences of their addiction. It will feel counter-intuitive, but to help an addict you must recognise and stop all enabling behaviours.
- Ask for help
The best thing you can do to help yourself if you love a drug addict is to reach out for support. Seek your own personal counselling, join a support group
Although it can feel very lonely, you are not alone in your pain and there are many people who can help you learn how to best help an addict you love.
There are millions of people worldwide who have successfully recovered from an addiction. Never give up hope and always let the drug addicted person in your life know that you love them and believe in them and you are willing to help them get into treatment, or actively work on recovery when they are ready.
Information sourced Health Direct, NIDA, reachout,
Lifepath Psychology practitioners are experienced in all facets of issues relating to drug and alcohol addictions – from family support to communication facilitation and addiction recovery counselling therapy.
To book an appointment at Lifepath Psychology, or request further information about our services, please feel free to email your query to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 6496 0039 and one of our friendly staff will more than happy to assist.
If you feel you may be suffering from anxiety or depression due to your loved ones addiction, seek the advice of an experienced mental health professional. Visit your GP and discuss your concerns, book a longer appointment so there is time to explain your issues and how you are feeling.
Your GP may write a referral to a psychologist, which may entitle you to access Medicare rebates under the Federal Governments Better Access to Mental Health Care Rebate scheme.
If your loved one is ready to seek help for their addiction they can access Medicare rebates under the Federal Governments Better Access to Mental Health Care Rebate scheme. Their GP will write a referral to a psychologist.