Three Ways You Can Sabotage Your Loved One’s Recovery From Addiction
It’s easy to look in from the outside and judge others by their behaviors. When someone we love becomes an addict or alcoholic, we just want them to quit, to get well, and to make better choices. Unfortunately, many of those without addiction don’t understand that it’s not quite that simple.
We are just beginning to really understand that addiction is a disease. And just like any disease, such as cancer or mental illness, you can’t just cure someone through mere common sense strategies. But many will try, under the mistaken belief that love and willpower is going to be enough. Usually, it is not.
There’s an old proverb that states “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
I can think of no circumstances in which this is more true than when friends and family try to help an addict or alcoholic during recovery from addiction. Although they mean the best – they really do.
But missteps can be made, and particularly early on, these mistakes can delay, impede, or downright sabotage a loved one’s chances for recovery from addiction. The following is a list of three common, related, yet critical mistakes often made by an addict’s supporters.
Mistake #1: Thinking you know what’s best for the loved one, and trying to distract him or her from their own path.
Everyone knows someone who has suffered from a substance use disorder – whether it is yourself, a parent, a friend – it’s just too common. Say, for example, that Alcoholics Anonymous worked for your brother. He drank heavily for a year or two after a bad breakup, but now he is happily sober and in recovery from addiction.
It’s very understandable that he (and you by default) would swear by this approach. But this route is not going to work for everyone. Recovery from addiction isn’t just about willpower. For many, its a brain-changer. AA is not going to fix brain chemistry or solve the problems that led up to the abuse in the first place.
AA works as a support mechanism, but for some – for many, actually – it’s not enough. And attending meetings everyday for years is not going to change that. Moreover, a lot of people do better with therapy and counseling in conjunction with group support.
Insisting that there is only one road to recovery from addiction is stubbornly naive. Trying to push someone into something they don’t want to do is only going to end in a stand off, and very likely, the person with the problem is going to crawl back into their addiction hole and flip you the bird on the way down.
Keep in mind, this isn’t just about AA. It’s about pushing for any approach that you deem appropriate for the your loved one, without his or her agreement.
Keep this in mind – just because someone doesn’t want to do it your way, doesn’t mean they don’t want to do it at all.
Rather, your best route is to identify what recovery options interests the loved one, and help him or her explore those options. Just remember, you have to work with your loved one, not against him.
And if he or she finds some approach is not working and wants to try another, you can’t necessarily take that as a sign that they are giving up.
Instead, consider it like this – if the addict knows something isn’t meshing, and yet they are willing to try another approach, that is actually a positive signal that he or she has the willingness to move forward – in spite of adversity or past treatment troubles.
Mistake #2: Insisting on always keeping track of the loved one’s calendar, actions, and whereabouts.
Nothing is more annoying that someone who continuously checks up on you. In order for someone to recover, they need to take control of their addiction and their own progress.
Moreover, if the loved one occasionally can’t make it to a support group meeting (or doesn’t want to) you can’t make them – nor should you debase them for it.
In fact, condemning someone for missing a meeting, or any lack of engagement in the recovery is likely to lead to a battle between the two of you.
You see, not only is the loved one fighting addiction, they are also fighting against the tyranny that is you.
Calendar-stalking is a really another symptom of the “I know what’s best for you” philosophy. But the addict – not you – is the one who has to do the work, and initiate engagement on their own terms.
What you should do instead is encourage him or her to continue taking steps (whatever they may be) towards recovery from addiction. Find out if they need help (i.e. a ride or a babysitter.)
Ask questions like “Is there a reason why you are avoiding meetings (or other engagements)?” Perhaps he or she doesn’t like that particular group, or dislikes this therapist or that counselor. Maybe it’s just time to search for other options.
In other words, instead of forcing them into a schedule of your own will, interact with the loved one to determine if a problem exists that you can help manage – support, hold up, but don’t hold on too tightly.
Mistake #3: Sharing privileged information.
Telling others about your loved one’s problem is not only a breach of trust, but it may cause further problems if there’s a confrontation. Very soon, the person may feel as if they are being ganged up on, and rather than forcing him or her into abstinence, the person is more likely to become defensive and retreat.
Yes, professionally-held interventions sometimes work. But unless you are a qualified professional with experience at holding successful interventions, something is likely to go wrong if too many people become involved.
And then there’s the matter of micromanaging. Same as calendar-stalking, giving everyone else around the addict updates when he or she slips up is just going too far.
These actions can cause the addict to become even more secretive about his or her behaviors, especially if there is a relapse.
Instead, keep information to yourself unless it’s a medical emergency. Everyone doesn’t need to know that Uncle Bernie fell off the wagon again. If you are the one closest to the situation, you are the one in the addict’s circle of trust. Once you break that trust, you may never get it back.
You may notice that there is a theme underlying all of these mistakes – it is the unwillingness to give the person trying to recover the agency to do is his or her own way, and to maintain some level of autonomy. Your support, regardless of what choices they make, is critical.
Addiction is about taking control of one’s life. If you continue to rob the addict of control, she will never be able to grasp any. Instead, you need to focus on support, constructive advice, asking questions, and helping out.
Everyone has a unique path to recovery, and as a supportive agent, your job is help the sufferer along that path – not block it or try to redirect her onto a path that you yourself have designed.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology