A Survival Guide for Living with an Addicted Person

family survival guide for addiction
This blog post is adapted from a document which is handed out to all of our new families. Other pieces of this content will appear in future blog posts. If you live with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem, this abridged family survival guide can give you a new sense of direction.

How Addiction Affects Your Life

This bulleted list addresses the ways in which our lives can be impacted by chemical dependency. This disease affects the entire household, not just the addict. Here are common experiences of family members who come to Augustine Recovery. Do any of them resonate with you?
  • You find it hard to accept that your loved one has a problem (denial).
  • You feel that you are somehow responsible for causing their addiction.
  • You’re angry and feel a lot of shame. Their harmful or embarrassing actions can lead to resentment.
  • You make special, unspoken rules to help hide the problem and protect your family.
  • You try to control their behavior (ex: making them stop buying or using drugs).
  • You continually protect them from the results of their actions (ex: calling in sick for them).
  • You’ve watched their behavior begin to control all family life.
  • You’ve tried being reasonable and logical with them, but it doesn’t seem to work.
  • You’ve learned to avoid facing up to the situation.
  • You’ve pleaded with them to change their destructive behavior.
  • You’ve discovered that substance abuse threatens job security, promotions, financial responsibility, and personal freedom.
When we consider the above, it’s no wonder that addiction is considered a family disease. Which brings us to an often-overlooked point…

You Need Help, Too

Many families think that it’s just the person with an addiction who needs professional intervention. In reality, the entire social circle is impacted by substance abuse. Chemical dependency is a disease that affects everyone that comes into contact with the addicted person. Parents, siblings, friends, significant others, children, and coworkers each feel the effects of substance abuse, whether they realize it or not. Whether your loved one is in treatment or still at home, it is important to take care of yourself first. Think about what they tell you on an airplane: put your own mask on before helping others. Here are a few pieces of advice for practicing self-care during this difficult time.

Take Some Time to Yourself

Rest, relax, reflect, and recalibrate. Taking deep breaths and getting out of the house can be a great way to restore yourself when things feel chaotic.


This recovery saying is also applicable for family members! If you’re feeling bad, HALT and take an inventory. Try not to get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

Build Yourself Up

At this point, you’re probably feeling low and discouraged. Be sure to do things that improve your self-esteem and self-respect. Taking control, taking responsibility, and taking the next step can help you to feel better.

Take Life One Day at a Time

Don’t agonize over the future or worry about the past. Instead, focus on living today just as it is. Forgive yourself and be hopeful about the future.

Appreciate Yourself

Take a moment to acknowledge what you’ve done to get to this point. You’ve been doing the best you can under the circumstances! Just remember that you cannot force someone to change.

Find Support

Attend Al-Anon or similar 12-Step meetings to get help from others in your situation. They may provide words of encouragement, accountability, and support that make all the difference.

Learn More About Addiction

Educate yourself about the disease of addiction and how it impacts the family. Read, consult with experts, and ask questions at your support groups. By arming yourself with knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to handle whatever comes next.

A Word About Enabling

What is an enabler? This is a person who shields the addict from the consequences of their actions. While we aren’t “crazy,” enabling turns us into people we may not recognize. As our family member’s chemical dependency progresses, it begins to govern our lifestyle and actions. Enabling behaviors include…
  • Pouring out alcohol
  • Fixing whatever we can
  • Throwing away or flushing drugs
  • Covering up for your loved one
  • Denying that there is a problem
  • Taking care of them when they are sick or blacked out
  • Protecting them from criticism or legal issues
  • Providing financial aid or purchasing substances for them
  • Acting as if nothing is wrong
What kind of people do these things? People like us! “Good people,” “good spouses,” and “good children” all feel the urge to step in and protect their loved one from danger. However, in the long run, this only perpetuates the disease and extends its course. Until your loved one is responsible for themselves and their own behavior, it is unlikely that the situation will improve.

What’s Your Role?

Each family member, friend, or person in the addict’s circle tends to develop a role. Which one sounds like you? The Savior: People who take on responsibility to save the addict. “I know I can help, if I can find the answers.” The Partner: Those who join in the game in an attempt to win the addict over. “Right now they need me, and we are going to beat this.” The Victim: A person who assumes self-defeat. They see themselves as martyrs in this situation. The Tough Guy: Someone who tries – in vain – to force the addict to change. They usually deliver a lot of empty threats. “I’ll just tell them to shape up or get out.” Each of the above feeds the addict’s resistance to change. Until we can break our destructive patterns, it is difficult for the family unit to fully recover.

How the Entire Family Can Help

When you live with an addicted person, you may believe that things will stay the same forever. However, there are steps that you can take as a family to improve your situation and get help for the addict. Here are a few words of advice from our treatment team. Don’t delay seeking help. Research shows that the sooner we intervene, the better a person’s long-term outcomes tend to be. Don’t wait for your loved one to hit “rock bottom” – instead, face the truth as soon as possible. Resist the urge to protect others from the knowledge of what is going on and take the first step. Build a healthy home atmosphere. Substance abuse tends to dominate a family’s home life. Avoid this by encouraging yourself, your children, and other family members to pursue hobbies and friendships outside of the house. These outlets will equip you to help your loved one. Understand your emotions. Depression, anger, and self-pity are common reactions when we’re faced with addiction. Don’t repress them or feel ashamed; instead, face your problems head-on and acknowledge how you are feeling. Avoid blame. Try not to blame yourself for what is happening. Similarly, don’t let the addicted person cast blame on you or others. Practice patience and compassion. Let the addict know that you still love and respect them, even though you disapprove of what they are doing. This reminder can be a critical bridge to lifesaving treatment.

Your Partner in Recovery

At Augustine Recovery, we understand how devastating addiction can truly be. When your family has been swept up in this life-altering situation, you may not know what to do. We’re here to help. Augustine Recovery provides a world class family program to relatives of our residents. Through weekly calls, thorough educational training, and ongoing support, we help the entire family unit to recover – not just the addict themselves. To learn more about how to begin healing from chemical dependency, please contact us today. Our admissions team is standing by to answer all of your questions.