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Mental Health Matters

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 person:

  • 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 of alcoholics 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 through. Not everyone is able to understand, but those who do can be a source of strength and support.
  • Learn addicts manipulate the people around them to maintain their addiction. Even when you try your hardest to help, you may actually be enabling them to keep using. Learn about new ways of behaving that can be more helpful for you 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, or compulsive gambling. 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 to help. 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 rights reserved.


1Some sites to check are The National Institute of Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.govand The Betty Ford Clinic, www.hazelden.org.

2 http://coda.org http://www.adultchildren.org/
  http://www.al-anon.org/

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