Families of Substance Abusers Can Redefine “Help”

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When people we love hurt themselves by abusing drugs or alcohol, we want to help. We want to do whatever we can to mend broken relationships and prevent further chaos. For families and friends of alcoholics and addicts, help often creates more of a problem than it solves. Even the best intentions end up enabling the addict or alcoholic to keep on doing what they are doing, much to the pain and frustration of others who are involved. Family members end up making excuses for the addict’s behavior, telling lies to employers, threatening consequences but then not following through on them, shouting in rage and frustration and crying themselves to sleep. Living with and loving an alcoholic or drug addict takes a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual toll on the family unless they learn to redefine the word “help.” A new way to look at help is through an acronym:

  • H: honesty
  • E: education
  • L: love
  • P: patience

By taking steps in those four areas, families and friends of substance abusers will help themselves and their loved ones.

Self-honesty Breaks Barriers Of Denial

Denial is the major symptom of drug and alcohol abuse. Users and their families will go to great lengths to deceive, manipulate and place blame.  Family members start to break through denial when they take an honest look at the facts, leaving emotion out of it. Facts include things like actual financial statements, hours missed at work, late appointments, traffic citations and no-shows for commitments. Feelings, such as shame, guilt and fear, while real, are not facts. Self-honesty means taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and not blaming someone else for causing them. Education about addiction, including recognizing symptoms and how they progress with time, helps family members and loved ones to understand their loved one’s affliction. Love and patience, practiced without enabling, also make a difference.

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