Individuals who have not had to deal with a family member’s alcoholism or drug abuse might not understand the fear that keeps a family from helping one of their own who has fallen prey to the lures of alcohol or drugs. It seems logical that a family would not hesitate to take any necessary action to keep an addict away from these substances. The reality, however, is that just as denial is a part of a substance abuser’s addiction, fear of taking any action is a common part of a family’s reaction to that person’s addiction.
The Fear of Taking Action
A family may be afraid to take action to help an alcoholic or drug addict because of doubts about the effectiveness of that action. Yet, as William Shakespeare observed in Measure for Measure, “our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Families of drug addicts and alcoholics need to get past their first level of doubt by understanding that where addictions are the issue, doing something is preferable to doing nothing. Addiction is a disease and addicts are not able to cure themselves without assistance. Families who ignore the symptoms of an addiction disease in the hope that the disease will simply go away are deluding themselves. An addict’s problems will only get worse over time if neither the addict nor his family does anything to address the problem.
Once a family is able to get past these initial doubts, their next logical step will be to confront the addict about his or her problem. Confrontations, particularly within families, are never easy. The confronted family member is likely to respond with angry denials and with attempts to shift the blame for his or her problems elsewhere. In anticipation of this confrontation, families will first need to understand why they might have been afraid of the confrontation, and they will need to have a coherent explanation for initiating the confrontation in the first instance. Planning ahead and addressing the reasons for fearing any confrontation are critical to successfully addressing the addict’s problems.
Where Does Fear Come From?
Families will also want to examine the more objective sources of their fears. Are they concerned, for example, that an addicted family member will steal from them to support a habit? Are they afraid that the addict will physically harm himself or another family member while he is intoxicated? Do they fear embarrassment or adverse judgment from their communities or social groups? In each case, the cause of the family‘s fears should be analyzed and, if valid, it should be incorporated into the confrontation with the addicted family member. If it is not valid, then that fear should be discarded. Raising unsubstantiated or imaginary fears in a confrontation with an addict or alcoholic will only give him more ammunition to reject any attempts to help him.
In all cases, a family’s fears when dealing with an addict or alcoholic will likely be legitimate and very real. Addiction affects everyone in a family unit. A substance abuser might argue that his drug or alcohol use affects only him. Keep in mind that this argument is more of a feature of an addicted brain than it is of the addict’s remaining logic and reasoning. Non-addicted family members who live with alcoholics and drug addicts know the truth to be the opposite. Drug addiction and alcoholism affects every member of a family unit and it is that unit’s right and responsibility to face its collective fears in order to get the help that the addicted family member needs.
If you have a family member who is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction, please call the counselors and therapists at the Last Resort Recovery Center (near Austin, Texas) at 512-360-3600 for more information on how your family unit can overcome its fears to help that person. Neither your fears nor the addiction itself will disappear without some intervention. We can provide the guidance and support you need to initiate that intervention.