Addiction and mental health issues represent one of the single largest collective health problems that we, as a society, have to navigate. Despite the great deal of media coverage and interest in these issues, the epidemic is not abating. Indeed, the problem is only getting worse with a staggering rise in overdoses and overdose deaths over the past decade.
Family dynamics often play a big role in the development or worsening of the addictive behavior, but they also have the opportunity to be a part of recovery. Between the two stages however, there is often the hardest time that any family will experience. When family members and friends, having believed they can help their loved one – although sometimes they’re actually doing more damage – finally realize that they can’t help any longer.
While not always the case, there is a point where a well-meaning family cannot and should not help an addict who is not ready to recover. For years, the addict may have been borrowing money asking for help, being bailed out or covered for by an enabling family member, stealing, committing crime and more. This puts an exceptional strain on the family unit and can often lead to serious problems including fracturing the family, divorce, financial problems and more. Guilt, shame, anger and virtually every other emotion affects a family in the throes of addiction.
As a family member, significant other or dear friend who has decided that you can no longer help and when you finally resolve to end your relationship with the addict, there are certain important factors that must be considered.
- First, this is a decision that you’re making for your own life/health and the life/health of your addicted love one. It is not a decision to be taken lightly and, once the decision has been made, you must follow through. This is a good time to consult with a therapist or psychiatric professional who can guide you through both your own emotions and also how to stay strong in the face of what is likely the hardest decision you’ve ever made in your life. How you approach the break, even the words you say, can make a significant difference in the following months and years.
- Second, consider your own safety, that of your addicted love one as well as the safety of those around you both. Addiction causes physical and psychological trauma to everyone involved. Addicted individuals can and will take risks far and beyond what would be considered safe to get their next high. The safety of the addict can never be ensured, but speak to your counselor to put a support system in place to help as much as possible. Your safety and the safety of those around you including children is also paramount. You should consult with both the clinician in your life as well as law-enforcement, if necessary, in order to ensure it.
- When you end a relationship, try to do so with the foresight of re-building communication when the time comes that you’re loved one seeks addiction or mental health treatment. While your relationship may never be the same, being a part of your loved one’s treatment, once they are willing to recover, can improve their chances of staying sober and may allow you both to move forward with your lives.
- Be mindful that no matter how strong you are, you will be in a fragile state once you have made this life-changing decision. Regardless of how much you believe in your decision, it is very hard to let someone go. It is also hard to readjust to your life without the addicted individual in your life. You might find that your daily habits have been detrimental to yourself and those around you for years. It will take time for you to change these habits and during that time you should not blame yourself – you were only trying to help. You may also find yourself longing for a new relationship to fill a void in your life. Be careful of these relationships as it is very easy to fall into the same trap, while searching for the familiar.
- Seek help. While it might only be the addict in your life that was abusing substances, you have been subjected to significant trauma. And while you may have tried to shield the children, if any, in the relationship, they will have experienced serious difficulties as well. It can be very beneficial to seek professional care for yourself, your children and those around you to move on in a healthy way.
Is repairing the relationship possible in the future?
The short answer is that it depends. There are relationships that can be repaired after a major break. There are others that simply cannot be…and quite honestly, should not be. We will discuss the possibilities and strategies to repair a relationship with the addict in your life in a separate blog post. However, for now, know that no relationship has to end forever. It is up to both you and the addict in your life to mend a broken relationship, if that is the best course of action for you both.