Category: Advice

Whatever the addict or alcoholic says or does while in active addiction is just noise. Realize that they are not themselves. They are controlled by an illness that is cunning and baffling. Their addiction will do or say anything in order to protect itself. The addict is a control freak. They are liars and master manipulators.

It is natural to second guess your assessment of your loved one. As you contemplate an intervention, tough love, or other methods of dealing with the addict in your life you will see conflicting evidence. Just as you become convinced of one thing something will happen and you think maybe your were wrong. For example, a young man recently reached out to me for help. He really wanted to quit drinking. Together we started going to recovery meetings. To his family this was a good sign. Just when all hope was lost he started making progress. But this was just noise. He was still drinking. He wasn’t getting better and reality was that he was spiraling. He was getting worse.

Here is why this is such an important concept to understand: if you listen to the noise you miss the opportunities to help. It is hard not to get sucked in. We want to believe the best in other people. We want to believe what they say is true. More than anything we need hope. We need to hope that our loved one has a chance to get better. Here is the thing, we need to hope in the right things. People can change. Addicts and alcoholics can get better. Rarely do they do it on their own. Rarely are they successful on their first try. So we don’t put our hope in what they say. We don’t even put our hope in their actions.

Until they have strung together several days and have a sufficient amount of time sober we must always be aware that it could all just be noise. Even if they are in a treatment facility that is not sufficient for us to not be suspicious of the noise. I had a family member who had a drug and alcohol problem and finally agreed to get treatment. He was doing great in treatment. I personally talked to his case manager who told me he was doing a great job working his program. Then with about a week left in his treatment he walked away. He left his wife and two young kids at home. Completely abandoned everyone and everything in his life never to return. Today, fifteen years later, he is still living in active addiction.

Recognizing the noise is really about seeing the situation realistically. Don’t let yourself be fooled or manipulated. The only way you get your loved one back is by the addiction loosing it’s slave. That doesn’t happen easily. In order for the process to start the people in the addicts life need to start filtering out the noise and focusing on the only thing that matters – doing whatever it takes to help the addict get clean.

So often we get angry with the addict or alcoholic and wonder why they don’t change. Why don’t they just stop drinking? Can’t he see that drugs is ruining his life? Can’t she see her drinking is tearing apart her family? Why don’t they stop? This is the question I would ask you: if they could stop don’t you think they would? Isn’t the most miserable person you know the addict in your life? Often they will say they are going to stop. They will make attempts to stop. But they always fail. They fail until they finally give up and they lose all hope for a normal life.

The answer to the question of whether or not they can stop on their own is simple but it isn’t easy. The simple answer is no. No, they cannot stop on their own without help. Let me clarify, I know many who have quit drinking on their own for a period of time. I don’t know any who have recovered. I don’t know any who have never drank again. Some went years without picking up a drink or a drug again, but at some point they did.

Last Sunday I got the following email from a young man, 28 years old, who desperately wanted to get clean:

Hi Chad, I don’t believe we have met but we are connected in so many more ways than I previously thought. I have a story that in ways are probably very similar to yours and am in the process of getting clean and sober for what I’m hoping is the final time in my life. Over the past 10 years I have kicked 2 separate lengthy meth addictions, beat my heavy addiction to oxycontin following my near fatal motorcycle accident, and am now working on quitting synthetic opioids for the second time in the past 3-4 years. This past October on a road trip I experienced sudden cardiac arrest, died twice, and against all odds managed to be part of the 8% of people who recover from SCA with zero brain damage. I have never gone to a treatment facility, and have decided if I’m not 100% clean by my 29th birthday I will go that route. I really appreciate you sharing your story because that alone provides me with much needed hope and positivity that will aid me in the battle ahead. For now I would appreciate you keeping this between you and I. My hope is that in the not so distant future I too can share my complete story because hearing yours gave me that glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. You are an inspiration and I just wanted to thank you for your drive to help others like us… not bad people, just people who have made bad decisions.

He mentions the several addictions he “kicked” over the past 10 years. The truth is he didn’t kick any of them. He sobered up for periods of time but his addiction continued. He didn’t go back to meth – he replaced one drug for another. His ability to stop from time to time convinced those around him that he could beat his addiction. He convinced himself that he could beat his addiction. I can’t tell you how heart broken I am over this email because this young man died the next day. His addiction took his life. He never made it to his 29th birthday. He was surrounded by family and friends that loved him dearly but they didn’t know or understand addiction and how to get him the help he really needed.

I want to be very clear here because I don’t want my words to be misunderstood at all. His family and friends are not to blame. I do not blame or put any responsibility on them. I don’t know them personally but I am certain they did the best they could with the information they had. But that is the problem. When our child has a fever and complains of an ear ache we know to go to the doctor to get antibiotics for an ear infection. But when a loved one is suffering with an addiction we have no idea what to do and so often we do the absolute wrong thing. We end up loving them to death.

I sent an email back to this young man right away. I was worried about him making it to his 29th birthday. I knew well enough that he wasn’t going to be able to stop on his own and usually when someone makes that decision they go out hard one last time. That last time is what often kills them. I asked him to meet me for coffee. I invited him to come with me to a recovery group. My prayer was that I would have time to help him. I didn’t. I had no idea his time was up. I question if there was more I could have done. Maybe I should have been more direct. Maybe I should have pushed harder. I didn’t even know him that well and I have those thoughts; I can’t imagine what his family must be going through. We don’t know when time will run out for the addict in our life. We don’t have the luxury of time. If you are reading this and there is someone you are worried about, what are you waiting for? Are you going to love them to death? If you don’t know what to do then hit that contact button and send me a message. I’ll help get you started.

If you have been around the Alcoholics Anonymous program at all you have probably heard the title of this post as a preamble to the reading of the 12 Steps. In the life of every alcoholic, drug addict, video game addict, sex addict, there are times where they make attempts to change their behavior. Usually they try to cut back. Or they even quit for a period of time. Or they only engage their addiction on a certain day or a certain time. They say things like, “I was drinking too much so I only drink on the weekends now.” They may tell you that they only smoke weed now and gave up the “hard stuff.” The ways of “cutting back” are endless and creative. When we hear these things, as a loved one of the addict, we are encouraged and hopeful that there is going to be real and lasting change.

A couple of years ago I saw my sister and brother-in-law heading back down the road of alcoholism. They had quit drinking for a couple of years but had never actually entered recovery. Let me pause here to make a quick distinction: quitting does not equal recovery. There are individuals who have the ability to quit for a period of time, often early in their addiction, but without a plan and method to recover from whatever sent them down the road of addiction to begin with, they are in grave danger of returning. When they return they find that their addiction continued even while they had quit. It is the demon returning to find their home swept and in order so they invite hundreds more demons. The next occurrence of their addiction is more terrible than the first. This was the case with my sister and brother-in-law. When they went back out it started slowly and everyone was convinced it wasn’t a big deal. Actually, no one was convinced, they were just hopeful in the face of fear. Having the education in addiction that I have I knew how it all would end. I could see the end and I knew the terrible future that awaited. It was two years of torture watching the slow train wreck of their lives. At one point I wrote a letter to them letting them know their lies weren’t fooling anyone and that they were on a slippery slope. They acknowledged they had a problem and wanted to change. Over the next year or so there were several attempts at change. But the attempts were half measures. If I’m being honest, even my letter was a half measure on my part.

Half measures give us hope. When my sister and brother-in-law acknowledged their problem and that they were going to change I was hopeful. Even though I knew better, I thought there was a chance they could change. After all, they had stopped drinking before. But what they had never done is enter or make any attempts at recovery. What is important to recognize as family or friends of someone suffering from addiction is that any attempt of willpower is a half measure. Just as recovery requires complete honesty on the part of the addict or alcoholic we must be completely honest about what we see in the life of our loved one. Accepting their half measures will only help them stay sick. Let’s call it what it is: half measures are lies and manipulation designed to get you off their back. Their demons are comfortable where they are and will do anything to keep you from interrupting the good thing they got going on. That’s why, when you try to stop them, they fight like hell.

Recognizing half measures for what they are is a big step towards getting your loved one help. If you can no longer be manipulated then you can set clear boundaries. The reality is that when someone close to you is sick, their sickness effects you too. If you are also sick, chances are you will keep them sick. In order for them to get well you must also get well. You also must not employ half measures. For example, if you set a boundary where your loved one is not allowed to sleep in your house if they have been out drinking or getting high then you need to stick to it. If they come to you after a night or day of partying and it is either sleep in your house or the sleep on the streets you need to let them sleep on the streets. If you allow them to stay in your house then your boundary was a half measure. Remember, half measures avail us nothing. In other words, they don’t work. In fact, they do the opposite. I know it’s hard to tell a loved one that they have to sleep on the street but what if that is the only way they will get well? By allowing them to stay in your house you have robbed them of the chance for a new life. Think about that! Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get your loved one well? Or do you want to stay sick with them as long as it is a little more comfortable? Wouldn’t you sacrifice a few days of terrible for a new life of awesome? Or do you want to stay in this life of mediocre misery? There is help. There is recovery. There is a good life. Others have it. Others have done it. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.