Alcohol and drugs affect not only the millions of people who are addicted to them, but also the lives of those around them: their family members, co-workers, and friends. Family members of substance abusers often spend a great deal of time trying to “fix” the problem. They may also blame themselves for the problem, get angry about broken promises, feel isolated by secrecy around the issue, be embarrassed by the substance abuser’s behavior, or resent taking on more responsibility when he or she doesn’t fulfill commitments.

Sometimes, in an attempt to “help” the substance abuser, family members say or do things that actually encourage the addictive behaviors. This is called “enabling.” Examples of enabling behaviors are:

  • Making excuses or lying to cover up the problem
  • “Picking up the slack” (doing work for the addicted individual when that person is unable to do it)
  • Accepting repeated excuses or broken promises, hoping that the substance abuser “will really change this time”
  • Lending money

Enabling creates a vicious circle in which everyone loses. The substance abuser avoids getting help, and the family members are so focused on the problem that they don’t take care of their own needs.

The fact is, family members can’t control the substance abuser’s behavior. What family members can do is control their own behavior. If you live with someone who has an alcohol or drug problem, your life doesn’t have to be controlled by the addiction. Rather than spending all of your efforts attempting to get your family member to stop abusing the substance, consider trying the following:

  • Stop taking over your family member’s responsibilities. He or she must take responsibility for the problems caused by the drinking or drug use.
  • Focus on your own needs and give those needs top priority. No one else can do this for you.
  • Get support. For example, you may benefit from speaking with a counselor or attending meetings of a self-help group such as Alanon, an organization which supports people who have a substance abuser in the family.