Coping with a loved one’s addiction is not easy.  Addiction affects not only the person who is using, but often others around them.  There may be lies and arguments.  There may be late nights wondering when they’ll come home or if they are safe.  Or perhaps none of these instances occur yet you believe your significant other (be it your spouse, child, sibling, parent, friend, etc.) is using drugs or alcohol to the point where it might start to be a problem.  Whatever the case may be, coping with the situation can be stressful, worrisome, and even downright debilitating. 

There is something that can be learned from Al-anon, the 12 Step support group for the families and loved ones of the alcoholic.  Al-anon talks about the 3 C’s which includes remembering you didn’t cause the addiction, you can’t control the addiction, and you can’t cure it.  The first C lets us know we are not at fault for our loved one’s use, we are not to blame.  The second C reminds us we are powerless over the addiction, no matter how much we wish it would go away and no matter what we try to do to stop it in its tracks.  Lastly, the third C lets us know we can’t remedy the problem.  Rather, addiction is an illness that often requires professional intervention.

At this point you may be asking, “But what can I do regarding the addiction?”  This brings us to the coping piece.  Because we can’t control our loved one or their behavior, we need to now focus the attention on us and develop coping strategies.  “Easier said than done!” you may say and I would agree.  However, doing so allows us to move forward despite whether or not our loved one decides to seek help or decides to continue using.  As they say, the show must go on.  Here are some suggested coping strategies:

  1. Talk about it!  This may seem difficult at first.  The stigma of addiction, our desire to protect our love one’s reputation, etc. are understandable reasons why talking about it might be hard.  However, if we identify trusted sources (e.g. a family member, a friend, a professional, a member of clergy, a support group such at Al-anon, etc.) we are bound to find someone who exhibits a non-judgmental stance, who is willing to listen, and who will understand.  Talking about problems can relieve some of the pent-up feelings we are experiencing.
  2. Engage in self-care. Self-care is a critical component in coping with stress.  From making sure we are eating healthy (or eating at all!) to getting enough sleep to finding other ways to take care of ourselves, it is important we do these things.  Self-nurturing activities (e.g. getting a massage, engaging in a hobby, taking a relaxing bubble bath, etc.) are also important in self-care.  They remind us we are important, help us to relax, and simply feel good.
  3. Empathy through education. Educate yourself about addiction and recovery.  The more you know, the more you can understand what your loved one may be going through.  If you aren’t sure if a loved one has an addiction, education can also help you to identify signs and symptoms associated with the use of various drugs of abuse.
  4. Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT). CRAFT is a scientifically based intervention that teaches families and significant others skills for dealing with a loved one’s addiction.  These skills include but are not limited to steering clear of confrontation, using positive rewards to reinforce desired behaviors, and allowing natural consequences instead of engaging in “rescuing” behavior.  When used accordingly, these skills have been proven to help reduce depression, anxiety and anger for family members/significant others and increase submission to treatment or reduce use for the addict. For more information on CRAFT visit HBO’s website here or Dr. Robert J. Meyers’ website here.
  5. Realistic expectations. It is extremely easy for significant others to get their hopes up when the addict decides to get help or quit using.  However, remember not to set expectations too high.  Recovery is a process that usually takes time and multiple attempts.  It is estimated that on average addicts will make 5-7 serious attempts at recovery before it actually sticks.  Of course, each person’s journey of recovery is different and some may get it on the first try.  However, most behavior change (e.g. changing to heathier eating habits, incorporating an exercise program, quitting smoking, etc.) takes time and is a process that sometimes includes a return to old behaviors.  The same holds true for addiction.  Keeping realistic expectations helps to not become void of hope should there be a return to use and helps us to be patient with the process.
  6. Relapse is not a failure. Remember what was said about keeping realistic expectations?  Relapse is more common than not.  Therefor it is NOT a failure.  Relapse can be a powerful learning experience that clears the path for recovery. 
  7. Seek professional help when needed. It’s okay to ask for help.  Sometimes dealing with a loved one’s addiction simply becomes “too much”.  Addiction can cause deep wounds that may require therapy to heal.  It is also not uncommon for family members and significant others to experience their own depression, stress, and anxiety that requires professional intervention.

If you are struggling to cope with a loved one’s addiction there are professionals that can help.  If you would like to learn more about addiction, treatment options, etc. please contact me at