Reader Mailbag – Do Drug Addicts Ever Really Get Clean? Is...

Reader Mailbag – Do Drug Addicts Ever Really Get Clean? Is there Hope?

Reader mailbag

“I don’t know of any crack addict who hasn’t gone back to it, even if they have been clean for years, basically they sold their soul to the devil and rehabs want their money to tell them they have a chance when the truth is almost ALL of them have no real desire to quit permanently and relapse frequently.”

To the frustrated spouse of a crack addict:

I feel your pain, and I realize that it can seem like a losing battle. I also realize that the rehab industry can feel like a bit scam, because rehab is NOT cheap and the results are anything but guaranteed. So I do realize your frustration and I can even relate to it directly on some level.

I think it is important to recognize a few things here though, some of which may be from people who are misled about certain drugs or about treatment and how it works.

First of all, crack cocaine is an addictive drug, but it is not the only one, and it does not have the market cornered on ruining people’s lives. Drugs like alcohol and heroin can (and indeed are) equally destructive in nearly all of the same ways. So be careful that you are not placing special emphasis on crack cocaine as being some sort of evil that is above and beyond other drugs. It is not necessarily special or worse than being addicted to, say, meth or heroin or alcohol. They are all destructive drugs and there is no evidence that says anything like “Once you are addicted to crack, it’s all over, just forget it, pack your bags and go home because now you are really in big trouble.”

- Approved Treatment Center -


This is the WRONG attitude to take and it is in fact wholly inaccurate. Being addicted to crack is not necessarily any greater of a challenge than being addicted to alcohol. In fact in some ways it is an easier drug to kick because the physical withdrawal symptoms are less dangerous than other drugs.

I do realize your frustration because if someone in your life gets clean and then later on they relapse, establishing a long pattern where they are “just not getting it,” then it can make you feel hopeless. It is NOT fair to you that your emotions are constantly being jerked around due to THEIR addiction. They get clean for a while, you get hope that “maybe it is different this time,” and then suddenly they relapse and it is chaos and misery all over again. This is understandable.

But the solution is not necessarily for you to assume that all drug addicts are perpetually going to always be on the edge of relapse, and that no crack addict (or drug addict) ever really achieves meaningful sobriety. Obviously, some addicts DO achieve recovery and some of them who do are crack addicts.

Hearing this, the frustrated person is apt to say “well that is not very helpful, if I cannot assume that their situation is hopeless, then how CAN I get them to change and become clean and sober, or what can I do to help my own situation?”

The answer to is tough, and likely not what most people want to hear. For starters, there may be nothing that you can do that will encourage someone to find and seek “permanent” sobriety. If that is a goal that they decide to pursue, it will ultimately be up to them to seek it out rather to have others push them in that direction. You can’t force sobriety on someone who is unwilling. It just does not work.

What you can do is to focus on only the things that are under YOUR direct control. These are a limited set of options but they are still choices that are available to you. For example, you can choose to stop enabling someone and not do anything that bails them out of consequences or encourages them to keep using drugs. An example of this might be if they end up in jail due to their addiction and you bail them out rather than letting them sit there.

Other things that may be under your control are how much you choose to associate with the addict or alcoholic in your life. If they are a spouse or a friend then you might choose to leave them eventually. You cannot control their sobriety but you can choose not to participate in their addiction at all by simply leaving their life altogether. This is an extreme solution but in some cases it may also be the ONLY solution if you want to save your own sanity.

At some point you may have to question your situation and really look at the chaos and the misery that you have been going through based on THEIR addiction and ask yourself: “Is it really worth it?” Sure you may love the person and no one is trying to say that this love is not real or that it is not important or significant. However this does not mean that you should have to shoulder their addiction and the chaos that it brings to your life. This is not really fair to you and so at some point you may have to make a decision. The decision is actually being made each and every day whether you are conscious of the decision or not, and that is:

“Do I want to stay in the relationship with an active addict, even though I am hoping that they will get clean and sober and remain that way forever, but there are no guarantees that this will happen?”

People who ignore this decision get the default choice, which is to stay in the relationship. They may also be holding out hope for future change, that the addict will “see the light” and get clean some day, and this may or may not happen. But at some point YOU need to decide for yourself when enough is enough. If you have had all of the chaos and misery that you can handle then you might have to make a tough decision at some point and walk away from the relationship.

Leaving the relationship is the price that you pay to restore your sanity. It is a steep price and so many people may hesitate for years before they become willing to pay that price and face being alone again.

You also pay a price for staying in the relationship, and that is to keep dealing with the misery and chaos that their addiction brings into your life. You may have hope that this will change in the future and that they will become completely drug free, but if they are still using or in a pattern of using then you may not be able to count on this for sure.

I will caution you against this common mistake:

Knowing what I have explained above, many people believe that they can produce or effect great changes in the addict in their life by simply threatening to leave the relationship. They reason that if they just threaten to leave the relationship, then the addict will realize how serious they are and they will surely get clean and sober at that point.

I urge you not to do this. Do not make hollow threats, because the addict will not be swayed by them at all. They will just keep repeating their old pattern and you will get nowhere.

Do not ever hold on to the hope that an addict will necessarily change at some point in the future, especially if you are thinking that you can somehow convince them or bully them or manipulate them into it. This never works. Some people have even hoped that after a baby is born that their spouse will become responsible and get clean and sober in order to help care for the baby. This never works either, as people will sober up for a while and then quickly revert back to their old ways. Maybe the addict themselves believed that the baby would change the situation but after the baby is around for a few weeks or months they will realize that nothing has really changed and they will eventually go back to using drugs.

This is not to say that no drug addict will ever get clean and sober, because they do. What I am saying is that you can not count on it. If you are hoping for it or counting on it you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You cannot trick someone into getting clean. You cannot control them. And if you just hope for change you will likely be wasting your time.

In the long run you can only control yourself and your own situation, not their addiction. Realize this and learn how to set healthy boundaries around yourself. This may, at some point, cause you to leave the relationship entirely in order to protect your own sanity.

If you threaten to leave an addict, this does nothing. If you actually leave them, this may be a wake up call for them, and then again they might just continue to use drugs. Either way you get your sanity back if you are willing to walk away from them. It is a steep price to pay in order to get your sanity back but it is the only sure way that you can get it. All other paths (such as organizing a formal intervention) are really only half-solutions that depend on you hoping that they will change, that they will find recovery, that they will do something that you want them to do. You can never count on that 100 percent and so therefore they may force you to make a decision at some point:

Live in chaos or walk away from the relationship? This is the basic choice when you love an addict. It is never easy and there will never be an easy answer for it. I am sorry you are dealing with it and I hope that you find a solution that makes you happy.

- Approved Treatment Center -call-to-learn-about