Reader Mailbag: “Is it Ever Too Late to Help an Addict or...

Reader Mailbag: “Is it Ever Too Late to Help an Addict or Alcoholic?”

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Reader mailbag

Andrea writes in and says:

“One of my family members is addicted and in heavy denial. They are 50 years old and resist my families attempts to help them. I hope we can do something. Is it ever to late?”

Thanks for your comment and for your question, Andrea. Without hesitation, I can say that it is never to late to try to get clean and sober. I absolutely urge you to maintain hope and continue to encourage this family member to seek help. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how old they are.

I would argue that you should never give up hope in such a situation. There are at least 3 reasons for this:

1) It’s worth it for the sake of the individual. Everyone deserves a shot at sobriety. If they get a taste of the sober life, and then go back, that is their choice. But some people are truly trapped in the vicious cycle of addiction and don’t actually know that a different way exists. No one should have to face that hopelessness. Your family member deserves a chance at a better life.

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2) It’s worth it for the sake of the friends and family. You already know this on a deep level, I’m sure. The friends and family of an alcoholic deserve better.

3) The recovering individual will “pay it forward,” potentially affecting and helping other addicts. This is the unspoken and often unseen ripple effect from someone who finds a successful life in recovery. They can (if they choose) reach out and help others.

In addition to this, I know from personal experience that some of the most inspiring stories around the tables of AA have come from older people who just recently got sober. Everyone has a message to give and in some cases, those who finally got it “late in life” have been the ones to pass on a very powerful message to some of the younger people just coming into recovery.

In other words, there is value in sobriety, regardless of the individual. Everyone stands to benefit from the change. So never give up hope!

A word of caution

Even though you should never give up hope, there are times when you should stop putting your own sanity and life at risk in order to try to help someone who is continuously resistant to help.

This is a boundary issue. If you are going out of your way and doing everything you can to encourage someone to get clean and sober, but they string you along and have never made any real progress, then it might be time to take a step back and create some space for yourself. The idea is to always keep hope, keep the faith, but set firm boundaries and try not to let a struggling addict run you ragged with their constant relapses.

There is a fine line between holding out hope for someone and being there to help them when they are genuinely ready to change, versus being taken advantage of and only further enabling a struggling addict to keep screwing up.

So how do you know when to help them, and when to back off and let them suffer the consequences? My advice is to gauge their level of surrender. If the person is willing to do whatever is asked of them without hesitation, then they are ready to change. For example: check into a treatment center, go see a certain doctor, go see a therapist, and so on. But if they are struggling against these suggestions and trying to change on their own terms, then you should back off and not sacrifice yourself in order to help them. In other words, do not give them money or assistance in order to pursue their own ideas. Their ideas aren’t working for them, so why should you invest time and energy into them? You shouldn’t. When they are ready to follow direction, then you know that there is real hope for change.

I hope this answers your question, Andrea. Hang on to hope, but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Set boundaries and communicate them clearly.

Does anyone else have any suggestions for Andrea?

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