[note: download the printable pdf version of this article right here]
“I have a son who is addicted to heroin.”
“I have a wife that is addicted to anxiety medication.”
“I have a husband who is addicted to alcohol.”
“I have a girlfriend who is addicted to painkillers.”
I get emails that start like this almost every day from Spiritual River readers.
I have a [blank] who is addicted to [blank]. What can I do to help them?
So this article is for anyone who is trying to help an addict or alcoholic. There is a ton of good information here, so you might want to bookmark it or print it out.
Here is what is covered in detail:
* Helping the addict by helping yourself
* Can you force another person to change?
* Determine their level of denial
* Enabling: hurting when we think we are helping
* Setting limits and boundaries with the addict
* Reacting to their addiction only fuels the fire
* Interventions and convincing them to go to rehab
* Supporting them in their treatment effort
* Complicating issues: health and mental illness
* What can I try if I am desperate and they are really out of control?
* What if I make an ultimatum with the addict and it does not work?
* What if the addicts claims that they want help, but they put conditions on it?
* What if the addict refuses certain types of treatment or help, such as long term rehab or 12 step meetings?
* What if the addict in my life just keeps relapsing, over and over again, and never seems to “get it?”
* What if the addict/alcoholic refuses to get help?
* What if my spouse tells me that they will quit once the baby is born (or some other event occurs)?
* When should I give up on an addict or alcoholic and move on with my life? When should I continue to hold out hope for change?
* What is the single most important thing that I can do to help the addict in my life?
Helping the addict by helping yourself
Most people who have a struggling drug addict or alcoholic in their life are not really ready to hear this as a solution.
“Get help myself? Why should I do that? I’m not the one who has the problem. It’s this [blank] of mine that needs to quit drinking!”
Such responses are typical, and should come as no surprise. But that does not mean that the response is correct.
The bottom line is that if you found this webpage (or were sent to it), then you could probably benefit from seeking some help for your situation.
As a friend or a family member of a struggling addict, there are basically 2 things that can help you:
1) Support, and
Let’s take a look at each.
You need support in order to get through the trials of having to deal with someone who is addicted. A huge part of this support comes from finding out that your situation is not unique, and that you are not alone in your struggle. There are other people out there who are going through much the same things that you are. Finding and connecting with this type of support can be done in several different ways, but the quickest and most effective route is to go to an Al-Anon meeting.
The second thing you might need is more knowledge of how to deal with the addict in your life. What can you actually do to help the addict or alcoholic? Can you force them into rehab? Can you threaten them into being clean and sober? What works and what does not? How can you help them without enabling them? And so on.
So this is the education part of it. Again, many people in your position do not want to learn about addiction. They just want it to go away. It is not fair that this other person in their life started abusing drugs or alcohol. But the situation “is what it is,” and now you have to deal with it.
Part of dealing with it is learning more about it, and learning how to help the addict in a healthy way.
So if you have come to this point and you are having a hard time dealing with a struggling addict or alcoholic in your life, then you need 2 things: support, and knowledge.
You can gain a lot of knowledge by finding others who have been through what you are going through. The easiest way to do that is to get to an Al-Anon meeting. People who refuse to do that are probably blocking themselves from a solution for some other reason, one they might not even be aware of.
Throughout the rest of this article this suggestion will probably occur again: go to Al-Anon. That is because it is a shortcut to so many things that can help you. Identification is important. You need to talk with others who have been where you are at. If you don’t find this identification at Al-Anon, where are you going to find it? There are other ways to get support like this but none of them are as well targeted as Al-Anon is.
So if you refuse to go to Al-Anon, for any reason, then ask yourself: “What is the nature of my resistance? Why am I cutting myself off from this type of support?”
Al-Anon does not have to be everyone’s ultimate solution. But, it should be a natural starting point. The help and support that you get there is very, very targeted. So use it.
Can you force another person to change?
You really can not force anyone to change against their will. At times it may seem like we can do this in certain situations, but drug addiction and alcoholism make it painfully clear that we cannot really force a change on anyone who is not ready.
Rational people could probably be forced to stop abusing drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, those who are addicted are not necessarily being rational. They are operating from a standpoint of fear and trying to medicate their emotions. The nature of denial is that we hang on to the good times with drugs rather than to see all the destruction and misery that they cause in our lives. So even though the balance may have tipped long ago and created a life of misery for the addict, they may not see this situation rationally and decide that they might be happier if they could get clean and sober. Their fear blocks them from exploring this idea. They are trapped in a cycle in which they believe that they are truly unique, and that they can only be happy when they are drunk or high. It can be impossible to convince the person otherwise.
Many people who are in the later stages of drug or alcohol addiction know that they are on a destructive path, and they no longer care. They may be depressed and they may also be on the border of being suicidal in some ways. Such a state of mind is not easy to manipulate. How can you force someone to change if they do not value their own life? How can you force someone to change who has accepted a path of self destruction? These are not easy things to do.
So understand that we cannot really change anyone, in the end. We can try, and make efforts, but ultimately we have to accept our powerlessness over other people. Part of reclaiming your own sanity is to accept this powerlessness over others, and the other half of the equation is going to be knowing when you can help the addict, and how to do that in a healthy way. So you will learn acceptance, and you will also learn how to help the addict without enabling them. And, perhaps most importantly, you will need support, so that you can decipher the fine line that can sometimes come between these two ideas (like when to back off and let the addict fall on their face, versus when to step in and try to help them, with the idea that you might direct them towards professional treatment services). Finding this balance can be tricky without the support of others.
Determine their level of denial
There are a few different levels of denial.
The first level of denial is where we outright deny that we are addicted, period. If a person is at this stage then you definitely cannot help them yet. They need to experience more pain and consequences due to their disease first.
The second level of denial is where the addict or alcoholic has some consequences going on in their life, and they can no longer really deny that drugs or alcohol are a factor. But, they may still be clinging to the idea that they are not a true alcoholic or an addict, and that they are just getting unlucky, etc.
The next level of denial is where the addict or alcoholic has really started to screw up their life, and they may even admit to their addiction. However, they may not yet be willing to seek help for it. They admit it, but they do not accept it deep down. They admit to their disease but they do not see a way out. They do not accept the idea of getting help. They may admit to their addiction but they remain in denial, frozen and unwilling to take action.
And finally, once they admit to their disease and also accept it on a deep level, they may become willing to seek help. This is the point that they break through their denial and start to heal.
Now if you look at the friend or loved on in your life and they are still stuck in those first few stages of denial, then there is precious little you can do for them. Really your best bet is to learn about how not to enable them, and allow them to screw up their life until they are willing to seek help.
If they are closer to the later stages of denial then you might be able to intervene and convince them to seek help or take action.
Enabling: hurting when we think we are helping
Sometimes when we think we are helping an addict or an alcoholic, we are actually making things worse by prolonging their addiction and keeping them from getting closer to surrender. How do we know when we are crossing this line, and when we need to back off and let someone find their own way?
My favorite way to determine this that really seems to cut right through all of the “what-ifs” is if you simply look at whose terms they are. If you help an addict or an alcoholic, do it on your terms. In other words, you set the terms. You are the one who is helping, so you set the terms. That’s how it has to be.
Now normally what happens is that the addicts and the alcoholics in our lives tend to try and manipulate things. They may do this without even realizing it, as it can be a deep part of their addiction. So they may come to you and say that they want your help, but in reality they are just trying to keep their charade of a life going a little bit longer. When you help an addict on their own terms what you normally end up doing is simply allow them to stay stuck in the same pattern. Maybe they need money to feed their children, but ultimately you are putting more dope in their pocket if you cave in to their desires.
So what is the answer? The answer is to set your own terms when you help an addict. Instead of feeding their children (which will still enable them to use drugs in the end), set your own terms and tell them you will only help them if they want professional help for their problem. If they say “Yeah but what I really need is….” then they are not ready to get help yet. It is merely more manipulation. Set your own terms, and do not give in and enable them.
Understand this: the struggling addict is orchestrating their own misery. They are miserable and they have screwed up their life based on their own decisions. If they want your help, then they are not going to be calling the shots. That would be stupid. They can go help themselves if that is the case. If an addict really wants your help, then they have to do so on your terms, or they are trying to manipulate you.
The idea behind detachment is that we need to unwrap ourselves emotionally from our involvement with the addict or the alcoholic in our life.
For example, if your son or your spouse or your parent comes home after a long night of drinking, and starts verbally abusing you before they pass out, then this can obviously cause someone to get upset and possibly have a very powerful emotional response. There is nothing wrong with that, other than the fact that it makes everyone’s life worse. Practicing detachment would be the mindset of “OK, they have come home drunk and they are verbally abusive. I am not going to get swept away emotionally by this. I will remove myself from the situation and focus on improving my own life, etc.”
So detachment is something you practice. You will never do it perfectly if the addict in your life is still abusing drugs. But you start to envision what the ideal response (or lack of response) is to their episodes, and how you can make healthy decisions without being a slave to your emotions.
Understand this: It is not wrong to have emotions. It is not wrong to be upset at the addict in your life. But it can be detrimental to you, if you allow yourself to be swept away emotionally by the addict in your life. So detachment is a mindset that says “I am going to reclaim my own life, and my own healthy emotions, and I’m not going to be dragged down by their addiction.”
Part of detachment might involve setting healthy limits and boundaries, so that you are not swept up into their chaos. A healthy boundary is usually taking a stand against the chaos of addiction.
Detachment is not about being mean to the addict. Instead, you are putting your emotional health first, and not sacrificing your own emotional stability for the sake of the addict. It is not selfish or mean to do so. You deserve sanity in spite of their addiction. Detachment is the way that you claim that sanity.
Setting limits and boundaries with the addict
Setting limits and boundaries are things that you do for the sake of your own sanity. They are not so much for the addict in your life. It is not about them. It is about keeping yourself emotionally healthy.
Limits and boundaries help to define who you are, and what you are about. They help you to keep your relationship with the addict in your life a little bit healthier.
For example, if your spouse is an alcoholic, you might set the following boundaries:
* I will not drink with or around my spouse.
* If my spouse comes home drunk I will go stay over a friend or a relative’s house for the night.
* I will not bail my spouse out of jail if they get arrested again.
Now setting these boundaries is one thing, but communicating them is another matter. It is usually good to do so in a calm, cool, and non-threatening manner. You are not making threats when you communicate your limits, but instead you are stating the facts. Instead of reacting to drunken episodes, you will have calculated behavior that is not emotionally driven. If this happens, I will do this. If that happens, I will do that. This is a healthy way to set limits and boundaries, because you are not caught up in the heat of the moment. You can decide rationally beforehand what is appropriate behavior.
Remember too that those in your support system can help you to determine what healthy limits are for your unique situation. Just another reason why getting personalized help from Al-Anon meetings is so important.
Reacting to their addiction only fuels the fire
One of the more difficult things to do is to continue to live with an addict or an alcoholic who continues to abuse drugs, and to not blow up at them from time to time when they get out of control and do stupid things. Yet this is the best path you can take in order to get them closer to surrender. This approach can be a bit counter-intuitive so let us take a closer look.
You would think that anyone who has to put up with a practicing alcoholic should give them the full piece of their mind when the alcoholic goes off on a bender. If the person is drunk and out of control, then you should obviously lay into them in anger and outrage, right?
Not necessarily. If you are close to the addict or alcoholic in your life, then you probably fight about their addiction all the time.
You are not wrong to be angry and upset when they get out of control. However, consider this: when you react to their addiction, you give them an out. Now it is a fight. Now it is all about your anger. Now it is all about how you are jumping down their throat, in spite of their best efforts (even though they may still be using or drinking).
When you react and blow up at the addict, you take the focus off of them, and put it onto you.
Now, is this really fair? Should you be allowed to show your anger when you get upset with the addict? Maybe so. But it does not matter what is fair….we want to get real results at this point. We want to help the addict or alcoholic in our life to see through their denial and get help.
In order to do that, we have to stop ourselves from reacting, and blowing up at their addiction. When we restrain ourselves from reacting to their addiction, it forces them to confront their demons head on.
For example, say that they get yet another drunk driving and we bail them out of jail or something. They are expecting a fight, or at least a yelling match. Don’t give it to them. Just continue on as if there were no problems. This will force them to look at their drinking or drug use.
Now you might argue: “Yes, but if I don’t yell at them, then they will just continue to drink or do drugs, and not care.” This may be partially correct….but understand that you have to be consistent, and not react to them, and eventually they will be left to face their addiction, with no one to blame. It may not work out that way every time, but eventually they will face a situation where they are forced to examine their own life. Where they are forced to confront their own misery, and realize that you (or anybody else) is not to blame. They have brought on their own misery and they cannot shift the blame onto anyone.
Maintain your cool and do not react to their addiction. Eventually, this will help force them to examine their denial. Your silence will help to expose their addiction for what it really is.
Interventions and convincing them to go to rehab
My theory is that formal interventions are probably not worth the time, money, and effort that they take to organize. I could be wrong on this, but overall I feel the balance tips a bit towards not pursuing formal interventions as a strategy for helping struggling addicts and alcoholics.
Why is this?
Simply because a formal intervention is an attempt to manipulate the addict’s level of surrender. In my opinion, this does not work, unless you get really, really lucky with the timing (in which case, I would argue, you did not need a formal intervention. Simply offering to drive them to rehab would have worked at that point).
In other words, if an intervention succeeds, it is because the person was ready to stop using drugs and alcohol anyway.
When an intervention fails (which they most often do), it is simply more proof that the addict was not ready to stop using yet. They had not yet reached a point of total surrender.
In spite of this, I still think that formal interventions can have some value, even though they don’t really “work.” Part of the process may be seeing that family and friends really care about the addict. An intervention makes this apparent. But I still do not think it has the power to make a person surrender to their addiction.
Again, this is just my opinion, based on my own experiences.
Supporting them in their treatment effort
So let us say that the addict or alcoholic in your life has decided to go to treatment, and they are now checked in to a rehab facility. What can you do to support them in this effort?
Here are my main suggestions:
1) Participate in any family sessions that are offered, and attend any “friends and family” meetings that they provide.
2) Support the addict by giving them the space to recover. Don’t kick them while they are down (and most will feel down if they are in an inpatient rehab).
3) Do not give in to manipulation at this point (and do not be surprised to see it). Stick to your guns and make them see it through to get professional help. For example, many people in rehab decide to leave early, saying that they feel strong, confident, etc. This is ALWAYS a mistake. Always. No one ever regrets staying through to the end of their rehab stay. But many, many people regret leaving rehab early.
As friends and family members of addicts and alcoholics, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one trip to rehab should cure someone for a lifetime. Certainly if we paid enough money for it, they can cure anything, right? Of course it does not work that way, and we have to maintain faith that, sometimes, a trip to rehab is just a part of the process.
Understand this: Some treatment is better than none at all. Long term treatment is better than short term treatment. People who see it through and complete the full process do better than those who leave early. These are general rules, but they are pretty good bets. As a concerned friend or family member, your basic stance should always be to encourage more professional help and more treatment, rather than less.
Complicating issues: health and mental illness
Some people who work with recovering addicts and alcoholics do not even realize that people can have other problems other than addictions. Sometimes, people in 12 step programs believe and act as if the program of recovery can fix any problem, including mental health issues.
I have found over the years that this is definitely not the case. Many addicts and alcoholics have issues in their lives other than addiction. In fact, some of them have problems that are actually worse than their addiction is. For example, people who are suicidal due to mental illness, or people who have serious physical problems that end up killing them. These problems are actually more serious than a drug or alcohol addiction, yet many people do not see that in light of their recovery.
I have also found a tendency for illnesses and health problems to be the downfall of many people in recovery. Getting sick has caused many people to relapse in a somewhat indirect way. This is what makes the holistic approach to recovery so powerful. When your overall health is doing good, it gives a boost to your ability to recover. By not being sick and needing as many medications, you distance yourself from a huge potential for relapse.
I am a firm believer that some people with mental illness have bigger problems than their addiction. In cases like this, it is actually more important for them to get help for their mental illness while they are trying to treat their substance abuse. Obviously they are going to need to treat them both in order to fully recover. My main caution here is that a large part of the substance abuse community has a tendency to dismiss the mental health problems, oftentimes generalizing that they were “caused by the addiction anyway.” This is a mistake in my opinion, and I believe such a person should seek professional help in both areas.
What can I try if I am desperate and they are really out of control?
Well there are a couple of desperate strategies you might employ:
1) Set a new boundary, one that is enforceable and severe (this would be like an ultimatum). For example, telling a teenage son who is living in the home that if you catch them with illegal drugs again, you are going to call the police. Or, telling an alcoholic spouse that if they do not get professional help, that you are going to leave the relationship permanently.
2) Organize a full scale intervention. Remember, not a magic bullet. But, a possible strategy for the truly desperate.
3) In some states you can commit a person due to substance abuse. It might not end well due to resentment, but if they are truly a danger to themselves then it might be an option. If you are not sure then call up a local drug rehab and ask them what the state laws are regarding having some committed for substance abuse.
4) If they are breaking the law (such as drunk driving) then you might call the police on them. This is a gamble at best, and can create bad complications that actually make things worse. But if they are truly dangerous then it might be better than nothing in some cases, and it also might save lives. But do exercise good judgment and some restraint with this idea, because taking action really could make things worse and not better in the majority of situations.
What if I make an ultimatum with the addict and it does not work?
If you make an ultimatum and it does not work out, then you did not make an ultimatum. What you did was to make a hollow threat that you never had any intention of following through on.
Ultimatums always work. They always remove the problem completely. But most people will not make a true ultimatum, because they are holding out hope for things to change in another way, while trying to bully someone into change.
For example, if you say “If I ever see you take a single drink again I am leaving you forever,” then that is an ultimatum. If it fails, then it is your fault, not the alcoholic’s.
When you set a boundary, you have to be 100 percent prepared to enforce that boundary. If you’re not prepared to do that, then do NOT say it. Don’t make idle threats. You must follow through on your word if you are going to make progress in a relationship like this.
It is easy to get sucked into making these types of inflated threats, especially when arguing with an addict or alcoholic. The reason for this is because they tend to make false promises as part of their addiction. So you must never stoop to this level, and always maintain your word. Only set boundaries that you fully intend to keep. Don’t make an ultimatum unless you are really prepared to follow through, regardless of which path the addict chooses.
If you make hollow threats and then fail to follow through, it only makes things worse.
What if the addict claims that they want help, but they put conditions on it?
If an addict or alcoholic is saying that they want help, but they refuse to do certain things, or they won’t go to a certain type of treatment, then they are probably not ready for recovery. They are stuck in denial and they probably will not be able to see their denial at this point.
They may even genuinely wish that things were different, and that they were not addicted. But if they are putting conditions on how they will receive help, then they are usually not ready to change.
They call it surrender for a reason. The addict has to throw up their hands and say “show me how to live. I am a complete mess. I have failed at drinking, at taking drugs, and at living life.” If they are not near that point of surrender then they are not going to “make it” in recovery.
If they are trying to manipulate the situation then they are not ready to get clean and sober. They have to be fully beaten, completely broke down in spirit, and generally desperate for a solution. Anything else and they are not ready yet.
That is why they say you have to “hit bottom” before you can recover. If you are not desperate then you will not have the motivation to really change your whole life.
What if the addict refuses certain types of treatment or help, such as long term rehab or 12 step meetings?
Placing conditions on their treatment is a warning sign that they are not ready, but it does not make sense to give up hope at this point.
Treatment is a process. Unfortunately, it takes most addicts and alcoholics a couple of trips to rehab before they manage to stay clean and sober for the long haul.
We would all expect, and hope, that a person can check into rehab once, and emerge a few weeks later a cured individual. And failing that, we would imagine that the most elite treatment center in the world could produce sure-fire results somehow.
It doesn’t work that way. There is no magic bullet, even if you are at the best drug rehab in the world. There is no real advantage at an expensive rehab. It is all about the level of surrender in the individual addict. If they are ready, then they are ready, and almost anything would work. If they are not ready to get sober, then nothing will work.
Even so, it makes sense to encourage any addict or alcoholic to get whatever professional help they are willing to get. If they say “no” to long term rehab, but agree to do a week in detox, then push them to do a week in detox. Remember, treatment is a process, and most will have to go more than once before they get it.
This is why some treatment is better than none at all. Because it is a process.
And, if they have gone to rehab before and failed….try and try again. It is a process. It takes time. We expect it to be an instant cure, and it is not. But some day they may get it, and that will be more likely if they continue to attend treatment.
What if the addict in my life just keeps relapsing, over and over again, and never seems to “get it?”
Practice the principles taught here in this article and at Al-anon meetings everywhere. Detach. Set healthy boundaries. Work on your own life and set an awesome example. Some people may eventually have to make a decision to leave a relationship over an addiction. Always seek guidance from friends and others in recovery when it comes to these types of life-changing decisions.
Setting healthy limits takes practice, and some experimentation might be necessary. Give yourself time to learn how to find the right balance in your life. You may have to push the addict in your life away in order to maintain your own sanity. You may have to develop some level of independence in order to be strong enough to reclaim your own life in face of an addiction. You may have to grow a great deal in order to face some of the tougher decisions.
What if the addict/alcoholic refuses to get help?
If the addict in your life refuses to get help then you have a decision to make. Are you going to keep participating in the relationship, or are you going to move on? In some cases it may be a child or a parent who is addicted, and it will make it much more difficult to really “walk away” from the relationship. But to an extent you can put your foot down and say that your interaction is pretty much over or severely limited if they are going to continue to use.
Getting support for yourself is critical. This becomes especially true if the addict in your life is refusing any help, because you know for certain that things will only continue to get progressively worse. Drop the illusion that they may snap out of it and just stop all of a sudden. You may have to face the possibility that they will never stop using drugs or alcohol, and your only choice may be to endure it, or to avoid it.
Remember to allow time, because treatment is a process. And, surrendering is a process. But you have to put your own sanity first, so that you do not sacrifice your own life for the sake of the addiction. At some point you may have to make a tough decision, and figure out if you want to continue to live in chaos.
It is possible to reclaim your own sanity. Unfortunately, doing so can have a very high cost, especially if the addict in your life refuses to get help.
Set progressively stricter limits and boundaries. Put your own sanity first and get support from Al-anon. Seek guidance for decisions about how much and how long you should endure chaos for.
Sometimes we have to walk away from someone before they realize how badly they need to change their life. Sometimes the best wake up call for an addict is complete isolation.
What if my spouse tells me that they will quit once the baby is born (or some other event occurs)?
They are lying to themselves. This is the nature of addiction, because the addict will genuinely believe their own lie about this, and then when the event comes to pass, they will still be hopelessly hooked on the drugs or the alcohol.
When an addict says that they will quit at some point in the future, or after a certain event, it is almost always manipulation on their part, because they are powerless to keep their own promise. And they will probably be very convincing when they make these claims, because they will honestly believe that the special future event will hold the power to motivate them differently. But of course it will not give them special motivation, and quitting in the future will be just as hard as it is for them right now.
Don’t fall for it. The promise of future change is utterly meaningless. The only time anyone can possibly make a decision to surrender is right now. They can not decide that they will quit in the future. They are kidding themselves.
When should I give up on an addict or alcoholic and move on with my life? When should I continue to hold out hope for change?
This is going to be a judgment call on your part. But in some cases, you never really give up. You never stop hoping for change. When it is your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife, and so on…..you never really completely give up hope.
And so we learn how to detach and we learn how to get support from others. Sometimes we may have to face a tough decision and walk away from something.
The bottom line is that you continue to hold out hope for the relationship as long as you have the energy to do so in a healthy fashion, without sacrificing yourself. You cannot do this alone and you need support in order to know if you have healthy boundaries in place. You need the support and wisdom of others in order to know if you are sane to hold out hope or sane to walk away from it all.
Notice that this is really all about the support, and not so much about the life altering decision. If you have the proper support in place, and you participate heavily in Al-anon and really practice the principles that they teach, then you will be in a better position to rest easy with your decisions. They may not be easy decisions to make, but at least you will have some support and some peace of mind that you have done everything in your power to stop enabling the addict in your life and to genuinely help them.
Without this support, how will you know if you have really done all that you can, or if you are sacrificing too much of yourself to a losing battle? You need others who have been through the struggle who can help to give you this guidance and this reassurance.
What is the single most important thing that I can do to help the addict in my life?
If you have not heard it by now I will say it one last time: go to Al-anon and seek help and support for yourself.
We cannot directly change another person. You know this, deep down, because no one can wave a magic wand and change YOU. We all have to find our own path.
So the suggestions here are all just that….suggestions. Some of them may help a bit, but ultimately, you have to get some support so that you are reclaiming your own sanity. That is the priority. You have to put YOU first.
Once you are emotionally healthy and strong, then you can behave in the best way possible to move the addict closer to surrender. It is only when you are practicing the right principles in your life that you can have the emotional strength and resolve to make a strong impact in the life of the addict. It is not about being mean or making threats. Instead, you have to have the courage to really decide on what is truly acceptable to you in your life, and then stand by it–regardless of what the addict chooses to do.
Once you find this path of courage and start following it–hopefully with a support system in place–you may be amazed at how quickly you start seeing positive changes. Even if the addict does not change instantly, YOU will. And things will slowly get better from there.
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