At Cornerstone of Recovery, our therapists field a number of family-related frequently asked questions by loved ones of the addicts and alcoholics we treat. Bryce Nolen, a former Cornerstone family therapist who now heads up our Family Fundamentals Program, has compiled 10 of them and provided answers that may help shed some light on what family members need to know about addiction and alcoholism.
‘How Do I Keep My Loved One from Using Again?’
Answer: The short answer is, you can’t. Each person is responsible for his or her choices, and if you try to step in and control your loved one’s use, you will end up burning yourself out by spending your time and resources working on a person who has no desire to quit using or drinking. This will put you in an unhealthy place emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially, to the point that if your loved one does decide to take recovery seriously, you will not have the resources to support them in their time of need.
‘How Can I Best Support My Loved One’s Recovery?’
Answer: By continuing to educate yourself, taking care of yourself and setting healthy boundaries to keep yourself and your family healthy, so that if your addicted loved one does pursue recovery, you are in a place that you can support them without feeling burned out. Your efforts might include attending support groups, taking part in your own therapy, and taking part in programs like Family Fundamentals to gain additional information about addiction.
‘What Is My Role in My Loved One’s Recovery?’
Answer: It’s different from patient to patient. Some patients need and want their families to be closely involved, while others need the distance from family to work on themselves before they attempt to reestablish and rebuild relationships. The most important thing to remember is that this is the patient’s recovery, and you are only responsible for keeping yourself healthy. You as a family member cannot make your loved one stay sober.
‘Why Can’t They Just Have One or Two and Stop, or Quit Altogether?’
Answer: When addicts are actively using, their brains are not functioning like the brains of non-addicts. The disease of addiction shuts down the logical part of the brain when their drugs of choice are introduced into the body. This causes the addict to act irrationally even when they should “know” they are making poor choices, and the chemical dependency that develops drives them to keep using.
‘My Loved One Did/Said ________ While Under the Influence. Deep Down, They Must Really Feel or Think Way, Right?’
Answer: On some level, perhaps. We all have negative thoughts or urges to do negative things, but our logical brain helps us to filter these thoughts and behaviors and act according to our values. The disease of addiction removes that filter when an addict is using. This means that even if they “know” they should not say or do certain things, that part of who they are — their values and morals — is shut down. This shutdown of logic and reason helps the addict to manipulate and act impulsively in the moment in order to continue using, but often after they sober up, they’re besieged by regret and guilt.
‘Will My Loved One Ever Be Able to Use/Drink Responsibly, Without Relapsing Into Addiction?’
Answer: In short, no. We suggest that anyone with the disease of addiction refrain from all mood-altering substances. For an addict, one drink or one drug is too many and can send the addict into a downward spiral, picking up in their addiction where they left off. With this in mind, it is important to recognize that each individual is different. Just because an individual has abused alcohol does not mean that they cannot use prescription medications appropriately, and visa-versa. Cross-addictions are a real threat however, and addicts by nature, are susceptible to trade one addiction for another.
‘If My Loved One Cannot Use Recreationally or Socially Because of His or Her Addiction, Do I Need to Stop My Drinking/Using as Well?’
Answer: This is a common question by couples and families living in the same household. No, you do not have to change your use; however, especially when the patient is new in recovery, it would certainly help them to not have that temptation there. Ultimately, patients are responsible for their own recovery, and if your use is a temptation or trigger for them that you are not willing to give up, understand that they may have to distance themselves from you and set boundaries to maintain their sobriety. These boundaries are not set to punish you; they are set to keep the recovering addict or alcoholic healthy.
‘I Have Heard Them Say Things Like “I’m So Sorry,” “This Is the Last Time” or “This Won’t Happen Again” So Many Times, How Do I Know They Are Serious This Time?’
Answer: Hopefully, you are beginning to see changes in your addicted loved ones that show they are serious about recovery this time. However, there is never a guarantee that relapse will not happen. This is why we encourage patients to take things one day at a time. Saying, “I am sober today, I am sober right now, I am sober this second” might be what keeps them on the road to recovery. Worrying about the future can often lead to anxiety, which can lead to relapse. What is important moving forward is that your loved one now has tools to help prevent relapse, and if they were to relapse, they have built up a support system to reach out to for help instead of continuing to spiral out of control.
‘My Loved One Has Completely Destroyed My Trust. How Do We Even Begin to Rebuild It?’
Answer: Time and patience. Recovering individuals learn in the treatment process provided by Cornerstone that they have earned the distrust you have for them. Their apologies at this point carry little weight, and it is up to them to prove they can be trusted again through their actions and participation in a recovery program. A good place to start rebuilding trust is to come to a place of acceptance with your loved one that this will be a process, and that things will not get better overnight. Give each other the space and autonomy to set boundaries, and try not to control or manipulate each other.
‘Where Can I Go to Continue Learning About Addiction?’
Answer: We encourage all family members to seek out an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon family group in their area. These groups are designed to compliment Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, except the focus of these groups is on the experiences of family and friends. There are also many other support groups around the country that can be found through a Google search. Most importantly, continue to educate yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.