Thursday July 28th 2016

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When to stop helping an addict

There is no question that addicts need help.

There are times when you can catch an addict on the right day and allow them to see what they are doing to themselves. You can also show an addict love and create boundaries which force them to get help. Sometimes, a serious event will cause an addict to seek help. Other times, an addict may come to the conclusion that they need help on their own.

So how can you tell when your “intervention” can actually help, or not? We discuss the difference between positive and negative help here. Then, we invite your questions, personal story, or comments at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all comments with a prompt reply!

Positive help for an addict

If you love an addict there are ways that you can help, but there comes a point when you need to stop helping because the help has transformed into enabling. Where’s the line between the two?  Let’s use some concrete examples to help you understand the distinction. Productive help includes things like:

  1. Performing an intervention with a specialist, friend and family
  2. Setting up a place for recovery
  3. Loving the addict from a distance (Let go and let God)
  4. Setting up boundaries for the addict
  5. Enforcing the boundaries
  6. Supporting the addict when THEY decide to go into recovery

However, most loved ones of an addict have tried these routes and many of us have failed.

Addiction is an illness. The families of addicts feel so sorry for the addict or have guilt about their addiction that they want so desperately to help, control, or be a catalyst for change. In some cases, an addict will see what they are doing to their loved ones and go into recovery. But in most cases, the drugs have gotten to a point where they can no longer make choices. In many cases, there are severe underlying mental illnesses that the addict is self-medicating for and cannot see another way to deal with.

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I describe most addicts as, “Self-medicating people that deal with the demons and the void they feel on a daily basis through substances”. However, what happens when the demons win and the addict will do anything or destroy anyone to continue to use?

If you are reading this article then you probably have experienced this. But families of addicts need to see addiction from the other side. When our guilt, fear and love for a person override our rational self, then we are most likely no longer helping and more than likely hurting or enabling the addict.

Negative help for an addict

If you have tried to assist the addict with Positive Help but there has not been any success and you are continuing to “help” then chances are you are providing negative help. Negative help – a.k.a. enabling – DOES NOT HELP and  includes things like:

  • accepting chronic relapses
  • begging the addict to stop
  • cleaning up after the addict
  • crying over and over again for the addict to stop
  • giving the addict an ultimatum to stop (recovery) and then not following through
  • giving them a place to stay when they are homeless
  • lending money to the addict
  • making excuses for the addict to family and friends
  • making excuses for the addict to their work
  • paying bills for the addict
  • showing unconditional love by taking on things that the addict has dropped
  • taking on extra responsibilities because the addict cannot function
  • yelling at the addict to stop

Still, this list is not exhaustive and there are more items that can be added but the sentiment is the same. When you do anything to make it easier for an addict to continue to use you are:

  1. Enabling their addiction
  2. Prolonging their addiction
  3. Prohibiting them from hitting rock bottom

Letting go of an addicted loved one

Many loved ones of addicts will search feverishly for ways that might help them help the addict. And they have convinced themselves that leaving an addict is too hard. When they run into information that tells them to let go of the addict for the addict’s own good, incredulously they reject the information.

This is the point where a loved one needs to start looking at their role in the addict’s addiction. If you are at a place where things do not change in regards to the addict and your interactions with them, then something else needs to change.

You will need to stop “helping” in this situation. This is the time to let go and offer your support from a distance. That means you can extend to the addict the following support.

SUGGESTION 1: When they are truly ready and ask for your help for getting into recovery, be there for them.

SUGGESTION 2: As long as they continue to use and lie, do not assist them.

SUGGESTION 3: No longer be a party to helping them to be able to use. Period.

Questions about helping an addict

Do you have a question or situation you’re struggling with? Please leave us a note in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you ASAP.

Photo credit: LEVDON

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24 Responses to “When to stop helping an addict
carolyn
6:27 am March 5th, 2016

my son started using heroin by snorting 3 weeks ago. He went into rehab yesterday and signed himself out today. He is 22 yrs old. He was trying to detox for a few days prior to going to rehab. He was verbally abusive and he said it was an unsafe environment.
Is he scared straight or am I kidding myself? I know he needs a support group

Dana
2:26 am March 6th, 2016

Ihave finally left my addict boyfriend of 8 years. I moved to my parents house until he gets out of my house. Of course he dragged his feet well this week he should finally be leaving. Of course he is making me feel like we are breaking up all over again saying that he is trying so hard to be a better man. However I’m done and don’t care to see the better man. I don’t even know for sure it’s true and if it is how long does it last? I’m tired of the toxic battle, trying to change him only changed me into an angry person and I’m trying to work on myself. I keep asking myself what if? How do I get pass the “What if” . I was fine up until today. I want to get pass all the what if and know I’m doing the right thing so I can keep going.

Aleida
4:29 pm March 8th, 2016

I am currently going thru a divorcie .i had not spoken to my husband for like 2 months. Well last night we spoke and talked about meeting up.. It’s that a good idea or should I just let go.. I know he was high like always but I miss him so much.

Kama
2:15 am March 10th, 2016

I don’t know if I’m enabling my partner whose using meth.
He says he can’t stop even though I’ve told him he’s heading towards prison or death.
I need help.

Tanya
3:53 am March 11th, 2016

My husband has been addicted to pain pills and now Heroin. He has denied it repeatedly but I’ve dealt with his prescription drug use for so many years that I know his manorisms and I swear I was able to tell if he even looked at it. But now it’s different, he’s different. I don’t even know what was the last time I saw him “normal”. I’m incredibly sad, just devastated really, because I know he’s gone forever…

kayley
6:11 am March 11th, 2016

My brother was selling meth and died at 24 years old. I was not talking to him until the night he was shot. I am so saddened by this. He was also in jail on and off but that didn’t keep him from using when he was released. I need help to understand why I am angry towards my neglectful family as we lost our dad a few years ago. Addiction is definitely a family disease and the damage is left behind. It’s only been a month and he was the most important part of my life. I am left with so many regrets.

Mandy
5:43 pm March 11th, 2016

My 23 year old son has been addicted to cocaine for 6 years and this has ripped out family apart. We were a very close professional family and now our lives are In tatters. My don still lives at home with us as he has no money or any place to stay. He has tried unsuccessfully many times to stop taking Coke and last year he was actually clean for 9 months however the addiction return and seemingly with a vengeance. We love him dearly but feel we are grieving for a lost son even though he is still with us he is not the lad that once was. My husband and I know that we enable him but we are desperate for him to be well again and so find ourselves paying his debts and constantly making excuses. This now has to stop but we have no idea how to let go, how does one let go of thier child who they have always been very close to and proud of what he was before cocaine. He has no money, no friends and no where to go, how can/do we let go?? Xxx

Amanda Andruzzi
4:25 pm March 14th, 2016

Carolyn,
I am sorry to say that I would be weary of this situation. Addicts in general, especially young addict feel invincible and that they can do it on their own. Maybe some do for periods of time but in my experience, without the support, tools, therapy, and experts as a guide, what is to stop him next time he gets the urge. Will power only works for so long. Please find some support for you so that you can understand what you are dealing with. You have to understand the chemicals in his brain are changed with addiction and he is not the same person, even clean, it takes a long time to regain perspective. You cannot force him, but you can stop enabling and let him know if he is doing the right thing, you will be there and if he is ready for recovery you will support him, but that if he is using, you cannot help him. You will always love him, but you will not watch him destroy his life.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Amanda Andruzzi
4:27 pm March 14th, 2016

Aleida,
If you left him because of his drug abuse, I don’t think it is a good idea to see him and reopen things again. Like a scab, let it heal, don’t open it up again. Missing him is normal, but what will you accomplish by seeing him? Think about the reason you are going in the first place. Is it a unhealthy, old pattern?
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Amanda Andruzzi
4:30 pm March 14th, 2016

Kama,
If he is using and you do not want to be with him as an addict, then yes you are enabling. You are showing him that you will stay with him no matter what, and in some situations that is normal and good but not in this one. If he is an addict heading for destruction, then you are just there cushioning the blow. I have been there and I know that as co-addicts we beg and make pleas for them to stop using but they don’t and we don’t leave. This is a toxic scenario and the beginning to a long road of more of the same.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Amanda Andruzzi
4:36 pm March 14th, 2016

Kayley,
I am so sorry for your loss, you are not alone. You will go through many emotions, shock, anger, sadness, pain and then acceptance. It might take a long time but right now things are too raw. This is normal with loss and I would gain some perspective through family counseling or your own therapy to help you through this so that you chanel these feelings and work through them. Your brother was an addict and unless he was going to be the one to want to change, there is not much a family can do, especially one which faces addiction itself. You will never get over your brother dying but you can learn to heal and live with it and maybe find a productive way of helping others through what you are dealing with some day. Right now I would urge some family counseling so that you can talk to your family about how you feel. Don’t sweep it under the rug, the subconcious mind will always hold on to it and it will come up at a later date.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Debbie
1:30 am March 17th, 2016

My son who turns 29 next week is a drug user. Heroin, speed, ice. Usually becomes very aggressive towards me and my home. He has lived in his own rented place for last 10 years but through being broken into for the umpteenth time has come to stay for a short time. Been into detox twice, mental health unit twice due to psychosis but refuses to go back. Has lost his 3 children to docs due to his behaviour and I have to deal with docs just to see my grandchildren and to supervise my sons contact. Staying with me until he goes away with a friend, came home this morning after taking ketamine . Became aggressive And I was scared so had a friend come to take him and got house keys off him. I can’t keep doing this. I am becoming ill, have a small brain injury from one of his attacks and feel I cannot help him. I told him this, he cried said I was only person to help him but I am not the right person to help him. Am a nurse who works with difficult people but when it is your son, it’s personal. Just wanted to vent. Thankyou

Amanda Andruzzi
4:08 pm March 18th, 2016

Debbie,
You are not alone in this and I think you need some support from people who are dealing with the same issue. Al-Anon, therapy, or any other support group will really be a great help and guide to you. All that you do for him is out of love, I know, I have 3 children, but when it comes to addiction, that love becomes an enabling factor. You would die for your children, I know this as a parent but sometimes we have to let go of our children and let the addiction run its course. An addict needs to see what life is like as an addict without support. I am not saying that you need to not be a mother anymore, but you need to set ground rules; if he is not going to be in recovery, you will not be in his life because you will not watch him self destruct; you love him and always will but his addiction is killing him and you; you will have no contact with him while he continues to use drugs but if and when he is ready, you will be there to help him get himself into recovery. At that time, I would send him to a long term treatment facility where dual-diagnosis can help him stabilize and he can get the right care and medication to help with the underlying mental health issues. He has used for so long that coming off of drugs must be a nightmare and his chemicals are wired for drugs to the point where he has lost his ability to even make the decision to stop. Please keep reading the other articles here I have written, especially Zero Tolerance for Addiction: Help for Families, as it is a guide on how to handle these situations. I am sorry for the loss of your son to drugs but I pray that you will find peace and that one day he will get the care that will save him.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Patty
3:53 am March 22nd, 2016

My son is 34 and a Registered Nurse was addicted to opiates and Overdosed at work on Fentanyl was charged with possession and is on probation has a record and lost his job, may not be able to nurse again. Lost his home and fiance. This all happened last year he went into a inpatient rehap and was doing well up until December, now he is looking very thin and sick. Also just found out he has HepC. He does not live in my home as my husband his stepdad will not allow as we have a 15 year old son. He has a job now at a call center but keeps missing days. I have helped in buying groceries for him and occasionally giving him $20.00 for gas. My heart is broken don’t know what to do with him and he also has a 13 year old son, that he sees on Wednesday nights and some weekends. I confronted him about drug use and he says he has done marijuana and some meth. Does a relapse mean he needs to go back to re-hap? Last year he had seizures and oded twice, I am so upset this time I have taken time off work. Any advice will be appreciated.

Dee
2:29 am March 24th, 2016

My son is 25 and has been using opiates for 7 years. He’s been through inpatient 3 times, jail several times and outpatient treatment too. Recently finished probation which included treatment. Was doing well, got a job and living on his own. He relapsed, quit job and moved back home. He is clean some days and then uses again. I have told him he needs treatment again but he insists he has learned everything he can from treatment and feels that he can quit on his own. I know he can’t but he he refuses treatment. I told him its treatment or he has to leave, but he won’t leave. I don’t know what to do next. I hate to involve the police.

Amanda Andruzzi
4:32 pm March 25th, 2016

Patty,
Your son has simply replaced one addiction for another. He is most likely, as you describe his physical appearance a meth addict. Decline come quickly. I would not hand him money and confront him and let him know he needs help. You will not watch him destroy himself or make it easier for him to use drugs. A family therapist who specializes in addiction would really help you right now and could perhaps perform an intervention for him. He needs help but addicts don’t want help to stop using they want help to keep using and that is where you need to draw the line. You never want to abandon your son but think of this as helping him hit his own rock bottom so that he may be the one who realizes his life is destroyed. I know this is the most heartbreaking thing you could ever go through but you have to let him fall, on his own. Please understand that addiction is a chemical addiction usually coupled with mental health issues that have not been diagnosed. I hope you are able to find peace and do not stop searching for answers on how you can detach, with love, and understand that he needs help on many levels but that HE has to be ready.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Amanda Andruzzi
4:34 pm March 25th, 2016

Patty and Dee,
Your son has simply replaced one addiction for another. He is most likely, as you describe his physical appearance a meth addict. Decline come quickly. I would not hand him money and confront him and let him know he needs help. You will not watch him destroy himself or make it easier for him to use drugs. A family therapist who specializes in addiction would really help you right now and could perhaps perform an intervention for him. He needs help but addicts don’t want help to stop using they want help to keep using and that is where you need to draw the line. You never want to abandon your son but think of this as helping him hit his own rock bottom so that he may be the one who realizes his life is destroyed. I know this is the most heartbreaking thing you could ever go through but you have to let him fall, on his own. Please understand that addiction is a chemical addiction usually coupled with mental health issues that have not been diagnosed. I hope you are able to find peace and do not stop searching for answers on how you can detach, with love, and understand that he needs help on many levels but that HE has to be ready.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Lost Love
4:44 am April 9th, 2016

I left my boyfriend of only 7months after I started to notice he was self-medicating his depression, he is 20 years old. We were living together and doing everything I possibly could to be the perfect partner. I developed serious anxiety as I did not feel as though anything I did was making him happy. I had always told him that he needs to speak to a professional but he said he wasn’t ready. It got to the point where we couldn’t go out for a drink without waiting for the words “Would you care if I just did a line?”. I am at the point in my life that I want to focus on my future and move away from doing drugs recreationally and drinking all together. We had planned lots of travelling for our future and both really felt as though we had found “the one”. After he moved out I told him how his depression and self-medicating directly affected me and brought on anxiety issues. I stayed in contact with him for 3 weeks whilst I was out of the country to try and help him through sobriety and trying to stay clean but after so many empty promises, drunken messages and not hearing from him for over 24hrs during a binge I decided to give up. 3 days later he had binged and slept with somebody else which broke my heart. Another 3 weeks has gone by and I have met up with him to see how he is doing and to “close the door”. After our conversation it has become more apparent that his situation has only got worse and now has a serious problem with alcohol and cocaine. He spent over $1400 in a few days and said he feels like he cannot tell his parents, his friends don’t understand and that he is lost, scared and has a plan but just doesn’t know where or how to start because he can’t think clearly. He cannot believe that his addiction has pushed away the one person in his life who actually cares and now I have said that I will only be available when he is ready to get professional help. I need to focus on myself but once again I’m worried sick and wondering what the hell he could be doing each night. I have a good heart and don’t want to abandon him because he has nobody else. Should I be making myself available to him when he is ready or leave before he hurts me again, even though he has told me how bad he wants to leave this lifestyle? I don’t want to be with the person he is now but I love this person so much that I want to support him to become a better version of himself.

Lonely Love
4:50 am April 9th, 2016

I left my boyfriend of only 7months after I started to notice he was self-medicating his depression, he is 20 years old. We were living together and doing everything I possibly could to be the perfect partner. I developed serious anxiety as I did not feel as though anything I did was making him happy. I had always told him that he needs to speak to a professional but he said he wasn’t ready. It got to the point where we couldn’t go out for a drink without waiting for the words “Would you care if I just did a line?”. I am at the point in my life that I want to focus on my future and move away from doing drugs recreationally and drinking all together. We had planned lots of travelling for our future and both really felt as though we had found “the one”. After he moved out I told him how his depression and self-medicating directly affected me and brought on anxiety issues. I stayed in contact with him for 3 weeks whilst I was out of the country to try and help him through sobriety and trying to stay clean but after so many empty promises, drunken messages and not hearing from him for over 24hrs during a binge I decided to give up. 3 days later he had binged and slept with somebody else which broke my heart. Another 3 weeks has gone by and I have met up with him to see how he is doing and to “close the door”. After our conversation it has become more apparent that his situation has only got worse and now has a serious problem with alcohol and cocaine. He spent over $1400 in a few days and said he feels like he cannot tell his parents, his friends don’t understand and that he is lost, scared and has a plan but just doesn’t know where or how to start because he can’t think clearly. He cannot believe that his addiction has pushed away the one person in his life who actually cares and now I have said that I will only be available when he is ready to get professional help. I need to focus on myself but once again I’m worried sick and wondering what the hell he could be doing each night. I have a good heart and don’t want to abandon him because he has nobody else. Should I be making myself available to him when he is ready or leave before he hurts me again, even though he has told me how bad he wants to leave this lifestyle? I don’t want to be with the person he is now but I love this person so much that I want to support him to become a better version of himself.

Amanda Andruzzi
4:39 pm April 12th, 2016

Lost Love,
I was you many years ago, naïve and didn’t really understand the real truth about addiction and Addicts which is why I wrote my book, Hope Street, and have this blog. I want to try to help people not make the same mistakes that I made because I didn’t have anyone who knew what I was going through. I would like to make so many suggestions to you but unless you read my book and understand my frame of reference they will fall on deaf ears. I know this because I had a lot of people giving me advice but I knew they weren’t in my situation so I was always able to rationalize what they were saying to make sense for me and that’s what you will do with my advice unless you read my book and I understand where my advice comes from. If you read it you will get a glimpse into your future if you don’t leave. Keep me posted.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Goldfish
2:49 am May 27th, 2016

I am reading through all of these stories and I wonder how do we know the difference? How do we know if it is worth sticking around and helping or just moving on?How one forgets about the love and the hopes? I am going through a marriage of alchohol and prescription drug abuse. We have had 4 years of sobriety and 8 of usage. There are legitimate medical issues thet require the pain medication. The problem is the thin line between pain management and running after a high. Not sure what to do. I knw I need help and I need to focus on my own life and self but how do you do that when you do care and love somebody.

Amanda
12:24 pm May 27th, 2016

Please help me
My 23 year old son has been addicted to cocaine for 6 years and this has ripped out family apart. We were a very close professional family and now our lives are In tatters. My don still lives at home with us as he has no money or any place to stay. He has tried unsuccessfully many times to stop taking Coke and last year he was actually clean for 9 months however the addiction return and seemingly with a vengeance. We love him dearly but feel we are grieving for a lost son even though he is still with us he is not the lad that once was. My husband and I know that we enable him but we are desperate for him to be well again and so find ourselves paying his debts and constantly making excuses. This now has to stop but we have no idea how to let go, how does one let go of thier child who they have always been very close to and proud of what he was before cocaine. He has no money, no friends and no where to go, how can/do we let go?? Xxx

Amanda Andruzzi
3:24 pm May 29th, 2016

Goldfish,
There are not many situations where long term pain management with addictive pain medications is the protocol. There are many other alternatives that an help in various situations. How do you help someone who does not accept your help? If they are not well and you keep on doing the same thing expecting different results, you are not well either. All of us here, including myself, went through a period of insanity. We all kept trying to help and nothing changed. You have to be the game changer, you can love and care for someone else but you have to love and care for yourself first.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

Amanda Andruzzi
2:51 pm July 14th, 2016

Amanda,
Please read my other articles here, by clicking on my name, Amanda Andruzzi at the top or bottom of the page. There are more articles regarding family and addiction. Letting go of a child is almost impossible, you can never stop feeling for a person you gave life to. However, you can stop enabling them so that they might have to actually deal with their addiction. If he lives with you and has nothing, your support is the last straw. He needs to hit his own rock bottom which he might never if you are there to rescue him. This is easier said than done but there are groups and support out there that can help you and I would find a therapist who specializes in addiction to help your family cope with what is going on. You and your family need the support to realize that you must let go so that you can have a chance at living again and for his own benefit.
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer: http://sbprabooks.com/amandaandruzzi/video/

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About Amanda Andruzzi

Amanda Andruzzi is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness and Hamptons SUP, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and 1 year old son on the North Fork of Long Island. More here.

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