Some Words for the Family Member

We will now take a look at what happens to those who care about the person developing an addiction. (In the next section Addiction and the Family we will examine more closely the effects of addiction on the family.)

The refrain of a country song goes like this: “Whiskey, if you were a woman . . .” The singer laments the fact that she has to compete with whiskey for her husband’s affections. If you are in a relationship with someone who is addicted, you are in a love triangle. We have just seen that, as the addiction progresses, the addict’s priorities change so that the addiction is at the center of the person’s life. When this happens, the addict is no longer able to provide affection and support, at least not in a consistent fashion. So you, as the loved one, are left to fend for yourself, more or less, in getting your emotional needs met.

If you grew up in a family where one or both of your parents was addicted, or if there is a lot of addiction in your extended family, you might not notice that this is a problem.

You would have come of age in a situation where it was “normal” to expect that others’ emotional needs were not recognized, and a relationship with someone who is addicted is familiar to you, even if it is stressful.

But at the same time that the addict is becoming more focused on the addiction, and less on you and your needs, he or she is also becoming more dependent on your support.

This is where a great deal of complex emotional game playing comes in.

Addicts are often fun-loving, friendly, warm, and engaging people when they are not drinking or using drugs. If you fell in love with someone who was addicted, or who has since developed an addiction, don’t kick yourself too hard. You didn’t cause it, and the addict certainly didn’t expect it to happen.

But you should understand that as long as the addiction is active and the addict is not in recovery, you are dealing with a different person, one whose primary motivation in life is the maintenance of the addiction, not of the relationship.

Even though the addict’s number-one priority is the addiction, the relationship with you will also become important, but not in a healthy way. Your interest in and love for the addict becomes an important tool. You are available to provide emotional and financial support, excuses, even bail money. Because your emotional needs are not being met, you may come to believe that giving in to the addict’s needs and demands is a reasonable substitute, while you continue to hold out hope that things will change.

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