Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Are You Living With an Addict? The Addiction is Not Your Fault.

Are You Living With an Addict? The Addiction is Not Your Fault.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

~ Viktor E. Frankl

Living with an addict is challenging, to say the least. It’s mentally and emotionally stressful. The toll it takes on you is unrelenting, exhausting, and heartbreaking. You’re conflicted, because you love the addict, and you’re afraid that by refusing to provide a place to live, food, “money for gas,” a ride to the store, will worsen the situation. In fact, the opposite is true. You’re not helping, you’re enabling. You’re making it possible for the addict to continue using, abusing, and in some cases, ultimately succumbing to the worst possible outcome: death.

An addict’s behavior is not within your control. You can’t fix it. You can’t change it. You can’t reason with an addict, because their brains are altered by the rewards they’ve gotten from the high of the addiction. Primarily we’re talking about substance abuse, but it holds true for an addiction to gambling, sex, porn, food, shopping, hoarding, even online gaming (and here I mean someone who will stay up around the clock for days on end without even a bathroom break, wearing diapers to relieve themselves).

Those with a substance addiction, drugs in particular, are master manipulators, and will figure out ways to get what they want – their next fix. They have to have it, because the pain of withdrawal is both emotionally and physically sickening. They will stop short of nothing to feed their habit. They lie, steal, “borrow,” make excuses and empty promises, cut off ties with people they used to hang out with, and be impossible to reason with, because addiction is not rational. Their behavior changes and worsens the longer the addiction is in control, because addiction is a chronic and progressive disease.

The person you used to know isn’t there anymore. All that matters to the addict is how to get the money for the next high. So no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to force them to change. And for as long as you continue to enable them, they have no reason to change. They will only seek help when the emotional pain becomes too great, and somewhere inside a flicker of their formal selves wants to return to life. They’ve hit rock bottom.

In many cases this doesn’t happen because the drugs currently out on the street have changed, drastically. As prescription drugs become increasingly difficult to get, heroin supplies dry up or become too expensive, they’re replaced by synthetic substitutes that are much cheaper, and 50 or 100 times more powerful than what they used to get. The smallest overdose can be lethal.

So what do you do? There are several steps you can take. First and foremost, you need to recognize and admit there is a problem (denial is incredibly powerful) as soon as you can, and intervene early to try to get the addict into professional treatment. If that doesn’t work, understand that neither their addiction nor their failure to accept help is your fault. You didn’t cause it, and you can’t fix it. But you can protect yourself. Remember the instruction on a plane: put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help someone else. Here’s where to start:

1. Set boundaries! These boundaries need to be in place to save you as much as steer the addict in the direction of recovery. Be firm and follow through. If you give in, the addict once again has the upper hand. You can be loving and supportive, but still be firm. Only you can decide what your bottom line is, but cutting off access to money (credit cards, bank accounts, phone plan, among many) is crucial.

2. Hide your valuables. Addicts will sell not just your expensive jewelry or fancy electronics, but just about anything they can get $10 for. Put things that mean something to you in a bank vault or in a location outside your home. A locked cabinet is useless. They’ll figure out how to get in.

3. Learn about addiction. There are thousands of online entries that will educate you about the nature of the disease – what it does to the brain, why all the things that might have worked to persuade someone to do something before addiction took hold no longer work, what you can do to help.

4. Join a support group. If you live in a city, you will find many groups that will welcome you. If you don’t like the first one you try, try another. If you live somewhere far from one that is accessible, or your work schedule makes it impossible, there are support groups online. This may also work for you if you feel too much shame or guilt being seen in public. But remember this: everyone is there for the same reason you are, and there is no shame in asking for help.

5. Enlist the support of family members and friends. Again, there is no shame in sharing your pain and devastation with people who care about you. Perhaps you’ve reached a stage where an intervention is necessary. If so, try to get a professional involved who best knows how to handle one, or it could backfire.

6. Research recovery programs. There are tens of thousands in our country. But understand that any attempts at recovery might fail. Relapse is part of recovery. The best program in the world may not work the first time, the second time, the nth time or ever.

7.  My final suggestion is to memorize some version of what’s known as the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

In researching this post I came across many helpful articles. An excellent one is the article below. Click on the title to read the full article. You might find it helpful in addition to what I’ve written here.

When Someone You Love has an Addiction

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