Is there an addict in your life? Has it occurred to you that you might be doing things that keep him or her from taking responsibility for their own disease? When we love someone who engages in addictive behaviors, whether abusing substances or acting in other ways that cause self-harm, we can lose sight of what is "normal' behavior (for them and for us). We may feel compelled to protect them or help them. But often the very things we do to try to "help" someone who is an addict actually are counterproductive.
Here are some questions to consider as you reflect on the nature of your relationship with an addict:
1. Are you ignoring your addict’s unacceptable language and behaviors?
Is the addict drinking in your home? Borrowing your credit card without your permission? Driving your car without asking you? Lying about money, drug use or what he or she was doing last night? Being verbally abusive to you? Are there ways the addict is behaving that you would find unacceptable and intolerable if a friend or other family member were acting that way?
2. Do you make excuses for your addict?
Are you tempted to cover for the addict and to give excuses for his or her behavior? Perhaps you make excuses to family members, or to a teacher or boss? “He has the flu.” “She’s just really tired and overslept.” “He was going to get there on time, but the car battery died.”
3. Do you blame others for your addict’s behavior?
“If it weren’t for his friend . . .” “If the policeman hadn’t pulled her over randomly…” “If his boss hadn’t written him up for…“ Other people are not the reason your addict is having trouble.
4. Are you prioritizing your addict’s needs over yours?
Are you paying to have their car fixed – again? Perhaps at a time when really you need the money to take care of your own car? Are you paying their rent because they haven’t received their paycheck yet? Is there even a paycheck in sight? There are endless possible ways you may be inconveniencing -- or even hurting -- yourself on behalf of the addict in your life. When you are doing things for your addict that they should be doing for themselves, the situation has become distorted and unhealthy. Not only is rescuing the addict detrimental to you, it prevents the addict from facing the consequences of their own behavior and recognizing the trajectory of their disease.
5. Are you working harder at your addict’s recovery than he/she is?
Are you monitoring their drug use? Do you remind them to get to work on time? Do you keep finding treatment options for them which they sabotage? Are you afraid if you stop doing things to help your addict, they won’t need you and will leave? Or that they will not be able to manage on their own and will die? Remember, it's not your job -- and it's not possible -- for you to save another person. It is up to the addict to take responsibility for their own life. And it is up to you to manage your life.
The behaviors above are typical of a codependent (you) in relationship with an addict. But you can get help and embark on your own recovery process, whether or not the addict in your life seeks recovery.