How to help an addict

Tessa Burns MartinAddiction, Couples Counselling, Tessa Burns

Addiction can be a very difficult issue to deal with in your relationship. Whether you are the child, the spouse, or the parent of an addict, the feelings of frustration and desperation can often be the same. You will often hear people recommend that you stop enabling the addict, or that you use tough love on the addict. But does that work? As Dr. Lance Dodes outlines in his book “Breaking Addiction,” addiction is not driven by adverse consequences or the absence of consequences; it is driven by the need to avoid helplessness.

How can I help an addict?

So, if imposing consequences doesn’t work then what are the options? This may end up being the most frustrating part of being in relationship to the addict because your course of action will have to be unique to your situation. You will have to determine what you need to do to feel empowered within that relationship. The actions may resemble what may seem like tough love but the difference is in the intention. When you are enabling or are using tough love, the intention is that the addict will see the impact of his/her behaviour and then he/she will stop. Setting boundaries that empower you will mean that you decide what actions you need to take to make you feel strong. You will have to step out of anger. You will have to step out of rescuing. You will instead step into self-care. That may mean that you leave the house for a night if your partner has been drinking. You are leaving, not because you want to communicate that his behaviour is unacceptable, but because you will feel angry and upset in that environment.

How do I know the difference between an act of self-care and an act of rescuing?

I know it sounds tricky but the most important way to determine if the act will take care of you versus be meant to change someone else is to check in with your body. Look for feelings in your body such as strength, relaxation, or peace. You will feel empowered. I know it may sound confusing so please contact me if you need additional information. We may need to work on getting you more connected to your body so you can understand the differences in your body between an act of self-care and an act of rescuing. I empathize with your struggle because it is hard to see someone you love hurt himself. But, there are ways to make this struggle more manageable.

Tessa Owner/Registered Psychologist