Families and Addiction - Raising the Bottom on the Addict

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Despite the best of intentions, families of addicts almost always take actions that end up keeping their loved ones from getting the help they desperately need.
Families often do whatever they can to protect the addict, desperately hoping things will change, especially if the addict can be shown how much he or she is loved.
Families will minimize situations, make excuses, lie, defend, take on the addict's responsibilities, pay their bills, lend them money, cover-up for them, and even buy the alcohol or drugs for them, all in the name of "helping" the person.
But what they are really doing is putting up a barrier between the addict and the consequences of his or her behavior.
Unfortunately, family members become more and more entrenched in denial and refuse to accept the seriousness of the situation.
As they move deeper in denial, they start feeling anger, guilt, shame, remorse, and self-pity, often without realizing the source of their upset.
They lose the ability to see reality and to deal with problems appropriately.
It often takes some kind of crisis for families to wake up and realize that what they have been doing is "enabling" the addict.
These actions contribute to making the addict sicker, not better.
There are many different reasons why families adopt enabling behaviors to cope with the situations they live in day after day.
Some family members live in fear of anger or violence being directed at them so they make sure they don't do anything that would rock the boat.
Others fear their loved one will leave, or they don't take action out of a sense of loyalty, pride, shame, guilt, or co-dependency.
For addicts who are masterful manipulators, enabling behaviors play right into their hands...
and into their addiction.
Family members have to learn about and understand addiction so they can bring an end their enabling behaviors.
There are several ways for family members to become educated: get one-on-one counseling with a therapist who understands addiction as an illness and its impact on families; attend meetings of a 12-step program for loved ones of addicts or an open meeting of a recovery program; attend a family program at a residential treatment center; and read about the illness (there is considerable information online).
My preference is that they do all of the above.
When family members are educated about drug addiction and the role they can play, the likelihood increases considerably that they and their loved ones will get the help they need.
It is common to hear people talk about the need for addicts to hit bottom in order to change, but every addict's bottom is different.
It is a fallacy that someone with a drug or alcohol problem has to have virtually lost everything before hitting bottom and be willing to reach out for help.
Addiction is like an elevator that keeps going down and down.
The elevator stops at different floors from time to time when something happens, and addicts can get off.
Sometimes the right information at the right time is all that is required for them to see they have to make a change, get off the elevator, and take advantage of available help.
The family can often help the addict get off the elevator at an earlier floor.
Recovery literature talks about opportunities that "raise the bottom" - this could be a crisis or an intervention.
However, if the addict chooses not to get off the elevator, it keeps going down and becomes much harder to get off.
Most addicts aren't convinced that they truly are alcoholics or drug addicts in the first place.
Generally addicts don't take any action until they have experienced a sense of loss, or fear that they are going to lose something they value.
This could be their family, friends, work, status, health, or freedom.
When family and friends stop enabling and hold the addict accountable for their actions, they can play an extremely vital role in raising the bottom for addicts.
The goal is to help them reach a place where the addict agrees he or she needs help.
Holding a family intervention where loved ones share their concerns with warmth and compassion can be an effective way to invite the addict to take steps to change their behaviors.
However, I would caution that formal interventions should really be done under the guidance of someone with expertise in addictions and interventions.
My experience is that whether addicts decide to pursue recovery because someone else convinces them they should, or because they decide to seek help on their own, the chances of success are the same.
The key is that they be willing to do the necessary personal and spiritual work.
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