Brian Armstrong is a counselor with LDS Family Services with several years of experience working with addicts and their families.
What is one of the biggest difficulties that family members of addicts face?
Addicts often develop unhealthy habits that can affect the lives of those around them. Because of this, family members might find themselves trying to compensate for the addict’s negative behavior. I’ve heard family members say they feel like they’re losing themselves or that they don’t know who they are anymore. This is due to the fact that their boundaries continually get walked on. It is difficult for them to be an emotional support to the addict and take care of their own emotional needs because they are often connected.
So what can someone do if they’re in this situation?
They need to get healthy first so that they can be a strength to their loved one in addiction. Living with someone who struggles with addiction can be tiring and difficult, but when family members reach out to others for support, they can be strengthened and uplifted. Educating themselves about addiction and the importance of setting firm boundaries is also essential to staying out of the chaos created by the addict.
I think a question a lot of people might have is “How do I support my loved one without enabling them?”
A person who struggles with addiction isn’t living their life in a healthy way. When their loved ones don’t set boundaries, they may be allowing the addict to continue living unhealthily and inhibit the addict’s ability to recover. Not to mention that not setting boundaries for the addicted person is likely taking a huge toll on their friends and family. One of the best things a family member or friend can do is recognize their own boundaries, communicate them clearly, and establish consequences for when the boundaries are crossed.
Some people might feel like they’re being controlling if they set up such rigid terms. What would be your response?
We all have an innate need for safety, love, and belonging, and when we don't have those needs met, it affects us. The whole idea of applying consequences to individuals who cross the boundaries we set is aimed at getting safety and love back into our lives. Consequences aren't about controlling the addict; they are about self-control. When someone close to you is struggling with an addiction, it’s easy to feel like life is out of control. The natural response is to get passive, aggressive, or both by turning to anger, criticism, shutting-down behaviors, or worse. These behaviors don’t lead to healing as much as they prolong pain and suffering until a person can take their life back by setting boundaries.
What are some other healthy ways to lend support?
It will really vary from person to person, but a friend or family member could lend support through words of encouragement, prayer and fasting, modeling healthy behavior, or being a means of accountability. As you determine how you will support your loved one, it’s important to be aware of what you are able to offer and what you are not. Everyone has different strengths and talents, and some aspects of the addiction might be more challenging for certain people. Don’t feel guilty if there’s something you can’t help with. You’re likely already contributing a significant amount to their recovery, and part of that is modeling appropriate behavior by taking responsibility for yourself and treating them the way the Savior would.
For more information on the LDS Addiction Recovery program, visit mormonchannel.org/12steps.