Addiction: A Guide for Friends and Family (8)

Written by David Partington.

You can download the PDF of this resource here. 

Before you can effectively help the addict in your family you are probably going to need to face up to yourself as you really are. 

To do this is incredibly painful, because it means coming face to face with your own needs, your own vulnerability and weakness. Whilst it's not an easy thing to do, choosing to do so means that not only will there be one less casualty, in the long run you will also begin to build deep foundations in your own life as well as for other members of the family.

I am very aware, however, that at this point in time you are in the midst of an ever-growing crisis. It is a crisis where you recognize those ways in which you personally have contributed to it - a view which has been reinforced by the addict's manipulation of you in order to achieve their own ends. You have probably coped with years of being manipulated, lied to, threatened, shouted at, stolen from, cheated, maybe even physically hurt - the list of abuses may be endless.

It may be that you have also hurt, desperately, for other members of the family you have neglected, in seeking to limit what has been happening in the addict's life. You are almost totally broken by the grief of that neglect and by the knowledge of what that could mean, for them as well as the addict, in the future. Finally, while all that has been going on, you have seen or are seeing, a husband, wife or child slowly but surely degenerate through their addiction before your eyes into someone who is a pale shadow of all you hoped and dreamed they would be.


If you're involved with someone in your family with an addiction problem you will sooner or later come across this word. Someone will probably have suggested that you are co-dependent! What the term implies is that you are too ‘wrapped up’ in the addict's life for your own well-being! Maybe there's some truth in that for you; maybe you feel guilty about that as well. Many of the phrases about ‘co-dependency’ may relate to you, but if they do, it's for very good reasons:- 

·         ‘You worry too much about the addict and too little about yourself.’ Yet what else are you supposed to be, they are your own flesh and blood?

·         ‘You believe yourself to be responsible for the feelings and behaviour of others.’ Of course you do - you gave them birth, brought them up, nurtured them, guided and, apparently, mis-guided them!

·         ‘You are obsessed with controlling other people’s behaviour.’ Too right! Anything to stop them destroying their lives!

·         ‘You feel guilty and ashamed.’ Of course you do!

·         ‘You get angry and resentful.’ What else do people normally do when they are abused?

·         ‘You want to cover up problems.’ If you faced them all at once you would go crazy!

·         ‘You avoid family and friends.’ You have not got the energy to spend time with other people!

·         ‘You have medical problems.’ Of course stress at this level is going to have a physical consequence!

·         ‘You escape into work and other interests.’ Hardly surprising!

·         ‘You are part of the problem.’ Tell me about it!

 Believe me, you're not a freak, you're part of the normal human race; and, as with everyone with a problem, things can get out of balance. So how do you restore balance so that you can find the security to bring love into the lives of all your family?

Balance - dealing with guilt and shame

There are too many people walking around feeling guilty when their problem is not something they did wrong, but something that others did wrong to them. So many of our lives have been powerfully affected by what other people have done wrong to us, and consequently we have grown up feeling shame. We are ashamed of so many things: the fact that our dad got excessively angry with us; the fact that our mother was a drunkard; the fact that we weren't encouraged or were always put down. Somehow or another we mistook shame for guilt, and we have spent our lives trying to make amends for things that were not our responsibility. On top of all that we have now replaced shame with guilt because someone in our family is an addict!

It's vitally important to deal with guilt and shame in the right way. Shame is dealt with by recognizing it for what it really is, and acknowledging that we have no responsibility for it. Dealing effectively with shame also involves accepting the situation for what it is and choosing to accept it - as we do, it loses its power. We can't do anything about the fact that our mother was a drunkard, but we can choose to accept it rather than deny it. We can choose to accept that we were desperately hurt by our dad's anger, rather than carry on assuming it was all our fault. Guilt, in contrast, is dealt with by being realistic about something we have done wrong, rather than trying to justify it or rationalize it. Guilt is dealt with by saying we're sorry, to the person that we've hurt if that's possible. It's also defused by choosing to be different and, for me, seeking a greater source of love.

 Balance - in relationships

Right relationships, healthy, dynamic, loving relationships, are at the heart of dealing with problems. Better still, healthy relationships are at the heart of preventing more problems, and especially more problems relating to drugs and or alcohol. Getting relationships right when we are dealing with anyone who is addicted is critical, but none more so than when the addict is a family member. The problem is that one minute we are too close to them, and the next minute because of circumstances we have distanced ourselves or they have distanced themselves. The problem is exacerbated when we make the decision to stay distanced. 

But as psychologist James Hammock says, ‘If we become disengaged from people, it is because we are enmeshed with something else - because all human beings are made with a need to become involved, to have intimacy.’ Accepting that you need the relationship with the addict, and communicating that you want the relationship restored to the person you love, will bring new hope to you both. 

Balance - getting rid of the garbage

If we are going to find freedom for ourselves and the person we are helping, we have to choose to bury the past. We have to make a conscious decision to completely cut off the negativity of the past, or it will continue to limit the potential for the future. Floyd McClung once said that the only place able to take ‘garbage’, without it damaging someone else, is the ‘Father heart of God’. When we choose to give over the past like that, the future really can be different, because we begin it without the resentment, the anger and the bitterness which have been part of the situation until now.

Balance - the gift of dignity

To ask someone who has coped with an addict in the family to sacrifice more than they have done already is pushing it, and I acknowledge that. But I believe the one thing, above and beyond anything else, that the addict or alcoholic needs is dignity. 

They need the dignity of being respected as a unique individual who not only has a part to play in the family in the future, but has a positive part to play NOW. Giving them that dignity is not about words but about sacrificing our right to maintain control. It is about letting them do things that may result in even more problems, for a while; but that's a risk that's worth taking. In researching this book I came across some words which sum up this role:

‘Not to do things for the person I am trying to help, but to be things; not to try to control and change his actions, but through understanding and awareness to change my reactions. I will change my negatives to positives; fear to faith; contempt for what he does to respect for the potential within him; hostility to understanding; and manipulation or over-protectiveness to release with love, not trying to make him fit a standard or image, but giving him an opportunity to pursue his own destiny, regardless of what his choice may be. I will change my dominance to encouragement; panic to serenity; the inertia of despair to the energy of my own personal growth; and self-justification to self-understanding." 1

I strongly and passionately believe that YOU are just as important as the addict or alcoholic in your family. I also strongly and passionately believe that out of the tragedy of addiction in your family you can grow even more into the unique and beautiful person YOU were created to be. I believe that because I believe in a God of love, who has been seeking to be intimately involved in your life through all the tragedy and heartache. I have seen the transformation that has taken place when people have asked God to reveal Himself to them, when they have realised the wonderful truth expressed in the famous poem called ‘Footprints’:

One night I had a dream.

I dreamed I was walking along the beach with God, and across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonged to me, and the other to God.

When the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at times along the path of life there was only one set of footprints. I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of my life. This really bothered me, and I questioned God about it.

‘God, You said that once I decided to follow You, You would walk with me all the Way. But I noticed that during the most troublesome time in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why in times when I needed You most, You would leave me.’

God replied: ‘My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never, never leave you during your times of trials and suffering. When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.’


Does Someone You Care About Use Drugs (Families Anonymous). 

David Partington 

This feature is written by David Partington. David is general secretary of ISAAC, the International Substance Abuse and Addiction Coalition, He writes in dedication:

‘This resource is dedicated to every person who ever worked with Yeldall Christian Centres - staff, wives, families, Board members, committee members, volunteers. Only eternity will ever fully reveal what your sacrifices have wrought, but you have blessed me and mine so sweetly and richly - THANK YOU!’

 © David Partington 2011.