You Cannot Change Their Behavior, Only Your Own

Often times, family member or friends plagued by addiction don’t know what to do. Do you remain silent and stay with them or confront them and leave? Should you use tough love or tread gently?

If there is someone in your life that is having problems with drugs or alcohol remember that you didn’t cause the addiction, nor can you cure it, but you can contribute to the recovery of a loved one. You cannot change their behavior, only your own. Below are some tips.

  • Don’t regard Alcoholism/Chemical Dependency as a family DISGRACE.
    Recovery from this disease can and does happen.
  • Don’t nag, preach, or lecture.
    Chances are they have already told themselves everything you can tell them. They will take just so much and shut out the rest. You may only increase their need to lie or force them to make promises they cannot possibly keep.
  • Guard against the “holier than thou” or martyr-like attitudes.
    It is possible to create this impression without saying a word. Begin to look at your own attitudes and behaviors.
  • Don’t use the “if you loved me” appeal.
    Since the drinking/using is compulsive and cannot be controlled by willpower, this approach cannot work. It’s like saying, “If you loved me, you would not have sugar Diabetes.”
  • Don’t do for the alcoholic/chemically dependent persons what they can do for themselves… or that which must be done by themselves.
    You cannot take their medicine for them. Don’t remove the problem before they can face it, solve it, or suffer the consequences.
  • Begin to understand and live ONE DAY AT A TIME.
  • Begin to learn the facts about this disease and the role that you have in it.
  • Be willing to assume responsibility for your own life completely and abandon any attempt to change him/her – even for their own good.
    Stop trying to manage their lives and begin to manage your own.
  • Begin to learn the 12 Steps as taught by Al-Anon and apply them to your life on a daily basis as a recovery program.
    Start with Step 1, admitting powerlessness over another person and recognizing unmanageability in your own life.
  • Be willing to recognize that your former methods have not worked.
  • Hold On.
    Change is never easy. The addict will probably accuse you of abandoning them, put guilt trips on you, or even threaten you. You must realize that this is because the addict does not want the current situation to change, no matter what they say. They need your help to continue the way they have been living, and losing you means they may have to face up to their problems they have been avoiding with their substance of choice. You are not responsible for them, their choices, or their actions, only your own.
  • Take care of yourself.
    Remember that you choose how to live your life, and you make choices of how you react to what happens to you. It’s not your fault that someone else has an addiction. But you don‘t have to allow that person to negative impact your life because of their actions.

Living With an Alcoholic/Drug Addict Often Results in Co-dependent Behavior
Often times, the presence of an addiction is mistakenly viewed as a problem of the identified individual alone and not as a family disorder. Family members, just like the addict, experience pain and dysfunction as a result of the addiction. That’s called codependency.

Family members of addicts are often viewed as codependents. “Co” from Webster’s dictionary means “together, with, or joint.” Dependent is defined as “influenced, controlled, or determined by something else. (the addiction)” A codependent is someone whose life is intertwined with the addicted person. Unknowingly their attitudes and actions enable the addict to continue their behavior. By enabling the addict, a dysfunctional pattern of interaction within the family contributes to the dysfunction in one’s own life.

Codependents often feel that if they can only control the disease, everything will turn out OK. Codependents usually start off trying to help the addict by giving support and trying to reward the desired behaviors. When encouragement and reward do not work, the codependent changes strategies and delivers subtle threats. These threats quickly escalate, culminating in the ultimate threat of all, leaving the relationship. This threat is usually withdrawn, leaving the codependent feeling helpless and guilty. The investment in controlling the disease is so great because they not only want to save their loved one but also their self esteem is at risk.

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