When you love an addict

Friday, November 30, 2018 - Updated: 8:39 am

By DR. William F. Kraft

Think of parents whose daughter or son is an opioid addict. They remember their beloved child when she or he was a fine student, involved in charitable activities, and above all was a good and kind young person. They were humbly proud. Oh, if this story only continued.

Then grades plummeted, friends radically changed, volunteering stopped, isolation and opposition increased, and graduation from school was aborted. Baffled and scared, the parents obsessively questioned themselves. Was I too lenient or too strict, too active or too passive, too much work or too little leisure, too close or too distant, too trusting or too distrusting? The cacophony seemed unending.

Trying to help their child, the parents were kind to and generous with their daughter. When that didn’t work, they got frustrated, angry and threatened with ultimatums. Then they tried indifference, as if they didn’t care, but they did care. Nothing worked, and it seemed that the more they did, the worse things got. Unknowingly, they were becoming addicted to their child’s addiction.

Eventually with much pain, they came to realize that their young adult was addicted to opioids. With the help of a professional, they did an intervention and got their child treatments. Life initially got better, but only for a short time. With many relapses, they found themselves getting burned out, profoundly sad and almost hopeless.

So, what can a parent, sibling, relative, friend, clergy or anyone who loves an addict do? Here are just a few suggestions of how you can learn to manage and feel better as well as help your lost loved one.

Arguably, the most important factor in dealing with addiction is to discern how you look at addiction. How you construe addiction (and co-addiction) highly influences how you respond to, treat and try to help your addict. Indeed, you start with yourself.

A common mistake is to see addiction (to opioids, alcohol, amphetamines, or any legal and illegal substances) as a moral failure — as if an addict has the freedom to confess, do penance, make amends and sin no more. This moral model implies that the addict has the willpower to stop using and get sober. It doesn’t work that way.

It is better and more accurate to see addiction as a disease, and, like any disease, willpower is rarely enough. Unlike a moral choice, addicts do not choose their addiction — or a life of shame, slavery, desperation, futility, fear and unending pain — nor can addicts simply choose to get sober. In my opinion, the best approach is a holistic program that addresses the biological/medical, psycho-social and spiritual dimensions of addiction.

Another well-intentioned mistake is to assume that somehow you caused his or her addiction. If this were true, then you could change your behavior and stop the addiction. The difficult fact is that you did not cause, nor can you control or cure addiction. However, though powerless, you are not helpless.

You can learn to control co-dependency — the need for the addict to recover in order for you to feel well. Indeed, you never stop wanting him or her to recover, but you can avoid (co)depending on the addict for your well-being.

You can connect with people and the God of your understanding, who are willing and able to lead and empower you out of the desert of addiction to a better land. Instead of acting as “me” (ego), you can think and act as “we” (others-God-self). You are not alone.

You can read about and attend talks on addiction and co-addiction as well as seek individual guidance from people who have recovered from the agony of loving an addict.

You can attend 12-step meetings, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, where people share their experience, strength and hope in regards to how they improved and how they help themselves and loved ones.

(Our diocese supports an Addiction Recovery Ministry that offers these and other services. At ARM, everyone — believers, doubters and deniers of religion and/or God — is honored and invited to share or be silent, and listen and learn at the table of recovery.)

Can you come to a place where you are without any pain? No. To suffer means that you care. However, you can learn to suffer significantly less and with serenity, and be healthier and more effective for yourself and your loved ones.

Are these promises unrealistic? No, they are real and possible. With faith, reason, hope and love, you can recover with gratitude and be a wounded healer. You will say yes to life. No matter what, you will smile with tears.


Kraft is a psychologist who is a member of St. Sebastian Parish in Ross Township. He has written several books on addiction.

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