How to Handle the Surprise of Discovering a Loved One’s Addiction

How to Handle the Surprise of Discovering a Loved One's Addiction

Nobody wants to hear that his or her loved one is using drugs or alcohol. It is even more painful to discover that a loved one has developed an addiction. Addictions affect not only the individual using the substance, but also his or her loved ones. When discovering that a loved one has an addiction, it is important to remain nonjudgmental, define clear boundaries, and seek help for your emotional needs.

Remaining Nonjudgmental

During the initial shock of discovering your loved one’s addiction, it is important to remain free of judgment. You must come to the understanding that anybody can develop an addiction, regardless of age, sex, race, or socioeconomic status.

Even good, moral people fall ill to addiction for a variety of reasons. Your loved one may have simply given in to peer pressure or may have become overwhelmed with life’s stressors. Abandoning your loved one will likely diminish the chances that he or she will come to you when help is needed.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to maintain your relationship with the addict, especially if he or she has hurt you physically or emotionally as a result of the addiction. For this reason, the next step is to define clear boundaries.

Setting and Maintaining Boundaries

Setting boundaries is one of the most important things you can do when you discover your loved one has an addiction. He or she must know that you are willing to help, but only under certain circumstances. These boundaries must have a clear definition of what is unacceptable to you and what the consequence will be if it occurs.

For example, the wife of an addict may tell her husband that if he comes home intoxicated, she will leave. A dad may tell his daughter that if he finds drugs in the home, he will call the police. While these boundaries may seem extreme, it is all a matter of what you consider to be acceptable or unacceptable.

Maintaining your defined boundaries is just as important as setting them. If your loved one crosses a boundary you have set, it is essential that you follow through with the consequence. Failing to do so will only enable your loved one by showing him or her exactly what they can get away with. While it may be emotionally difficult to follow through, it is the best thing you can do for yourself and your love one.

Caring for Yourself

Though it is important to support your loved one and to help initiate recovery, it is also essential that you seek help for your personal needs. An addict’s loved ones often suffer emotionally as a result of the addict’s choices. Instead of suppressing these feelings, it is necessary to acknowledge them.

Two great ways to do this is to enter psychotherapy or to join a support group. In therapy, you can work one-on-one with a trained therapist to work through your concerns and find a resolution. Support groups, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, are designed specifically for family and friends of an addict. These groups help to provide meaningful relationships and connections that can support you through your personal struggles.