Living with An Addict
By Elizabeth Malamed, LMFT
Living with an addict can be confusing, stressful and painful. However, there
are ways to protect yourself, and in the process become a healthier, happier
- First of all, remember, it’s not about you. Research shows there
are widely recognized physical causes of addiction, and also biological changes
take place after one is addicted. At a certain point, using drugs ceases to
be about choice. An addict must keep using just to function. Addiction is not
a moral failure, nor is it something you’ve caused. It’s an illness
that can be treated.
- Learn about the drug(s) being used. Each drug is different, be
it alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamines, or opioids. Learn how each affects
the body and
the mind, and also what the symptoms are. There are a number of reputable
sites that you can go to for more information.
Find support for yourself. It’s not only the addict who needs help. You’ll
benefit from having people in your life who can support you. Find a therapist
who works with addicts or people who care for them. Consider attending meetings
at Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA), Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) or
Al-Anon Family Groups which is for friends and families of alcoholics. Parents
and addicts can check out Tough Love meetings. Schedules of meetings are
posted on the Internet. Find people who have experienced what you are going
Not everyone is able to understand, but those who do can be a source of strength
- Learn addicts manipulate the people around them to maintain their
addiction. Even when you try your hardest to help, you may actually be enabling
to keep using. Learn about new ways of behaving that can be more helpful for
and the addict.
Be aware there are no easy solutions. Sometimes, an addict’s behavior
will get worse when you begin to change your behavior to deal with him. This
is termed “change-back behavior,” because it’s an attempt
by the addict to get you to revert to the old way of doing things. If that
happens, it's important to keep going. Don’t allow the addict to control
the changes you need to make in your life.
- Look at yourself. Family members of addicts are more likely to
engage in behaviors that mirror those of the addict, like drug use, overeating,
Take stock of yourself and your life, and get help if you need it.
Find ways to keep yourself safe and independent. If your spouse drinks too
much at parties, bring cab fare, your own car keys, or plan to get a ride home.
If money is an issue, separate your finances, or save some money for yourself.
Find ways to do for yourself what the addict is supposed to do for you, but
cannot. You’ll minimize the damage to your life.
Get your own life. You may feel like you’re the only person who can keep
an addict from hurting himself, and that you have to focus your attention on
the addict. But it doesn’t help you or the addict to do so. Independent
activities: going to a movie, making new friends, or taking a class can get
you out of the house. Build a life for yourself away from the addict. You’ll
think more clearly and won’t feel so obsessed. Over time, you’ll
be able to enjoy your life again whether the addict gets better or not.
Consider leaving. It can be a lot easier to cope with an addict in your life
when you aren’t living under the same roof. If that isn’t possible,
make a safe place for yourself and spend some time alone. It may mean staying
up later or getting up earlier, locking your door, or wearing earplugs.
Be creative in finding ways to make time for yourself.
- Know that you can lead a happy and healthy life. You have the power
to make changes in your life for the better, and there are people willing
You can do it.
About the Author
Elizabeth Malamed is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with private
practices in Santa Monica and Encino. She specializes in working with people
who are coping with an addict in their life. She also teaches parenting and
relationship skills. Feel free to contact her at (818) 258-0069.
Copyright 2006 California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. All
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1Some sites to check are The National Institute of Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.govand The Betty Ford Clinic, www.hazelden.org.