There is an expression used in Al-Anon that I think is important to share with others because it captures the nature of living with an addicted love one perfectly. The three C’s are as follows: “You didn’t CAUSE the addiction, you can’t CONTROL the addiction, and you can’t CURE the addiction.”
You didn’t cause the addiction
This can be particularly difficult for parents to comprehend because we often see our children as a reflection of ourselves, and therefore, if my child has an addiction it is because I have failed as a parent. This is not the case. Addiction can affect anyone, anywhere, anytime – regardless of their age, sex, upbringing, education or wealth. There is some suggestion that some may be more genetically predisposed to addiction, but that is exactly what it is, a predisposition, not a full-blown conclusion. Ultimately, unless you forced your child to drink or take drugs, you are not the cause.
This can also be an issue that is raised within relationships – “my partner only drinks because I cause so many arguments” is a common misconception. We all argue with our partners, but we don’t all turn to addictive behaviours as a result of it. It is true that stress can contribute towards addictive behaviours, but it is the responsibility of the individual to develop a method of dealing with this stress in a positive way. A partner may blame themselves for the addiction, but it is probably the case that the person would have ended up addicted regardless of who it was they were with.
Unfortunately, the nature of addiction is to blame those around you, and so loved ones will often have to hear accusations that “I only do X because you do Y.” This is simply not true, and it is important to remember they are simply trying to find a way to justify their behaviour – this knowledge will help you to stay strong.
You can’t control the addiction
So much time and energy is wasted on trying to control a loved one’s addiction. You are not in control here, the addiction is. It is about step one and accepting that you are powerless over the substance; if your loved one has an addiction then the substance will be the biggest force in their life until they seek recovery.
Many people will do things such as tip away any alcohol that they find – this is a pointless act because an alcoholic will find alcohol no matter what you do. Short of locking the person in a room without alcohol (an extremely dangerous thing to do without medical supervision), you are just postponing the moment when the person will inevitably drink again. These sort of acts will only result in distress from both the addict and the loved one and can result in quite an unhealthy cycle – anger sadness and fear can make life miserable.
Your loved one will accept help when they are at a point when they are ready to, not because you beg, scream, threaten or bribe.
You can’t cure the addiction
Unfortunately, this is not something that will ever completely go away – once someone has an addiction they have it for the rest of their lives, but they learn to manage it; hence you will hear the expression “recovering addict” not “cured addict.” You need to be prepared that it is a long road ahead and it is not always a smooth ride – relapses may happen, but what matter is the way it is dealt with should it happen. Keeping your eyes open and being aware of what to expect can mean the addicted person is more likely to ask for your support should they have a slip-up because they know you understand what is going on for them.
Remembering the three C’s is perhaps the most productive thing you can do when living with an addicted loved one because it means you are taking care of yourself. Otherwise you end up with two sick people which is a recipe for disaster. There is no point trying desperately to save your loved one if you lose you along the way. If you need further support Al-Anon and Families Anonymous are always willing to listen and provide advice. Alternatively, call us and we will also be happy to help and provide family addiction support.