It’s easy to assume that you’re the only one who loves someone struggling with addiction, because we forget that addiction reveals itself in different ways. Someone can be addicted to drugs, alcohol, or work. They can be addicted to sex. The face of addiction isn’t limited to a black and white ad of someone shaking, as we’re made to believe by shitty commercials for treatment facilities. It can look entirely normal. Your best friend could have a family member with an addiction, and you’d never know. You can meet, date, become best friends with, or fall for someone who’s addicted, before you even know they have a problem. Here’s what you need to know about loving someone with an addiction:
1. Your love can’t replace their vice.
You’ll want to help them because you think this is a test your love can stand. You want to save them: Replace their dependency on the drug with a dependency on you. Even if that were possible, is that really what you want? To be the person someone turns to in lieu of their addiction? That’s a dangerous kind of dependency.
2. Their distance isn’t an indication that you did something wrong.
Sometimes they won’t be able to face you because they’re ashamed. It’s hard for them to know how much their actions are hurting you. It’s hard for them to hear your reminder that they can be better.
3. Support is better than a solution.
The thing about being someone who wants to help is that you honestly think if you try hard enough, you’ll be able to solve anyone’s problems. You are that committed. But someone with an addiction can’t necessarily stomach that. They need your support more and guidance, more than they need you to fix them.
4. “Sorry” doesn’t necessarily mean “I’ll change.”
You’ll think it does. When someone you love apologizes, you’ll want to believe it’s because they’re going to do something about it. And when they don’t, you’ll start to doubt the value of their apology altogether.
5. It’s not an excuse for deception.
If they aren’t being honest with you, it’s often because they haven’t come to terms with things themselves. But that can’t be an excuse forever.
6. Don’t preach at them, even when things get bad.
When someone’s suffering, it is never okay to shame them or try to moralize their actions. The last thing you want is make them feel threatened
7. You can’t be the reason they decide to stop.
Asking them to stop for you, out of love, is risky. It means if you leave, they’ll be completely derailed, which isn’t a position you want to be in. Quitting needs to be something they do for themselves.
8. They won’t respond well to a mandate.
It will never be the right time for that. Even if they’re getting close to beating their addiction, you can hardly tell because it’s an internal struggle laden with withdrawal symptoms they’ll try to hide. All they can see is the immediate and mandates don’t fall within that scope.
9. And if you can make an ultimatum, so can they.
And neither of you wants to put the other in that position.
10. You’ll think their situation is different.
You’ve seen them at their very best, you know exactly how much improvement they’re capable of. You believe in them, but that doesn’t mean their situation is different. It’s just what it feels like to love someone with an addiction.
11. You can’t take on their responsibilities.
It’s hard to give support without becoming a crutch. But they don’t need to be coddled by you.
12. They’ll say you don’t understand, and to a certain extent, they’re right.
You don’t understand the need to succumb in order to prevent the plunge into withdrawal. It’s conceivable that if you can’t relate and are unwilling to partake in their substance infatuation, they’ll (unintentionally) hold it against you.
13. If you have to leave, you shouldn’t feel guilty.
There are more factors to consider when breaking up with someone in a precarious place. You have to ensure that your departure won’t make them sink further. But beyond making sure they’re surrounded by other support, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t feel guilty. You’ll feel like it’s your job to stay, and see them through anything. It isn’t.
14. Taking on someone as your purpose is draining.
And you can’t completely unhinge your happiness and leave it behind on someone else’s account.
15. They have to want your help.
And even if they say they do, if their actions don’t reflect it, that says something about their actual state. Be forgiving, be kind and let them know you’re with them. But be firm about the fact that the choice to improve is one they have to make for themselves.