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A Guide to Accepting Your Loved One's Addiction

Coping Skills, Crisis, Therapist Guide
5 min read

One of the most difficult things to accept is when someone we love is not interested in getting help for their addiction.  Let me preface by clarifying what addiction can look like. 

There are several types of addiction:

- substances (food, drugs, alcohol, nicotine)

- processes (sex, gaming/internet, gambling, working, spending, helping, exercise). 

These are just some examples and do not come close to representing a complete list.  A simple way of identifying an addiction is when the action, behavior, or process is disrupting the normal flow of your life and impacting your relationships. 

When a partner, friend, or family member is in the throes of addiction, it is common for them to deny they need help and/or refuse to get it.  Where does that leave you?  In this article, I am going to introduce you to some easy and practical tools to use when you find yourself in this situation.  

Practical Tools for Managing a Loved One's Addiction

As a personal example, I have been a member of a 12-step recovery group for over 20 years, but when I was about 4 years sober, my best friend relapsed (began drinking again), and I was gut-wrenchingly devastated, because I thought she was going to die – she was that kind of drunk.  I begged her,  I supported her, I would have done anything.  And then…I got clarity.  She showed up drunk at a 12-step meeting and in that moment,  I understood that I could not help her.  She had to help herself.  I said to her, “I love you, but I cannot do this to myself anymore.  Until you’re done, don’t call me.  When you’re ready to stop, let me know.”  I didn’t hear from her or see or for another 8 months, but ultimately, she got sober.  Not because of my actions, regardless of my actions.  It was (and had to be) her decision, her choice, not mine.  But I have never forgotten what it felt like to want her to change so badly.

Over the years, I have learned and developed skills that I use personally and professionally.  I’m going to go over each one of these in detail.  They are:

  • Hula Hoop Visual
  • Walking with, not for
  • Acceptance

1. The Hula Hoop is simple to visualize but can be difficult to practice.  The visual is this:  wherever I am standing, I imagine I am standing in the center of a hula hoop.  Everything within the hula hoop is my business, everything (and everyone) outside of the hula hoop is none of my business.  Put into practice, this means that the only person in my world that I can change is me.  There are times when I can invite someone else into my hula hoop, and vice versa.  When I am sitting with a therapy client, they have invited me into theirs for that hour, but I have no control over what they choose to do when they leave.  When someone I love is engaging in destructive behaviors, unless they ask for my opinion (inviting me into their hula hoop), it is none of my business.  If it is impacting me, I get to make a decision about whether or not to engage, how I react to their behavior, and how much I will allow it to impact me before I change, but I cannot change them, only myself and my reactions.

2. Walking with, not for is exactly what it sounds like, and what I used with my friend.  I am happy and available to walk with you, but I am not available to do the work for you. 

3. Acceptance means that loving and caring about someone means that I accept them exactly the way they are.  This also means I accept myself in this moment the way I am.  I choose to grow and sometimes to go, but those are my decisions, not the other persons.  Acceptance of myself, others, and the situation means that I am living in reality.  All of my decisions are based in reality, not in what I wish, or what could be, but what is – right here, right now.

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About the author: Susan Herbert graduated from the Antioch MAP program in 2019 with a specialization in Community Psychology and a curriculum focus in Trauma. Susan is now a Registered Associate MFT and works as a Program Manager for The People Concerns HSSP. She is certified in Gestalt Experiential Therapy and studied Reality Therapy, as well. Her personal history with homelessness and recovery from addiction, trauma and family dysfunction greatly informed her decision to do this work. To see more resources from Susan, view her Frame Profile here.