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Accepting a Loved One's Addiction




There isn’t a parent, sibling, spouse or any family member that is happy about their loved one’s substance abuse issue or prospective addiction problems. The strongest family bond can be ripped to shreds when someone they love to the depths of their soul is heading 90 miles an hour toward a brick wall and they are virtually hopeless to do anything about it.


What prompted me to write this column was an e-mail I received from a friend who was full of anguish as her granddaughter was now in a rehab in Utah and she hadn’t seen her for over a year. This friend of mine was very aware that my own daughter had followed a similar path, so she felt comfortable reaching out to me for some solace. There was a sentence in her e-mail that said that her own daughter would be very angry that she was sharing this with me. Why, since I had been there/done that and I was a specialist in this field so surely won’t judge, but empathise.


If her granddaughter had a serious physical illness, she might not feel the need to make that comment. Maybe the thinking is that that kind of disease is out of one’s control and the other is irresponsible behaviour and poor parenting? Hogwash.


The most irresponsible families have children that are not caught up in addiction and just the opposite is also true. This is a worldwide epidemic and sadly everyone might be a member of this club.


So, what are some of the reasons why family members struggle with accepting this kind of personal malady? Here are three that are all intertwined but each one can stand on their own depending on where each family is coming from.


  • Denial A common communication thread that I hear when first starting to counsel a family member about their loved one is “well, he/she can stop anytime” or “so he/she has a few drinks too many now and then…you would, too if you had to deal with all the pressure that he/she has to.” Or “It’s not so bad, so and so is making way too much out of it.” If there is a problem with out of control behaviour because of one or two or a dozen too many drinks than saying that one can stop at any time, if they feel like it obviously hasn’t worked yet.

  • Shame “This can’t be happening to my child/husband/wife/sister, etc…” We are a good, religious family with strong values.” “This has to be dealt with privately and no one can know. We don’t air our dirty laundry.” Embarrassment that a loved one is in a state that they are not able to control is well…embarrassing to some. It might show that they are weak or stupid or just lost and their family has done a poor job in setting proper and good examples. For myself personally, I was embarrassed and felt ashamed that my husband at the time had to live in a sober living environment instead of taking care of his problem like an adult. Of course, anything that would help him was really the whole point of the goal toward a clean and sober lifestyle and my ego got in the way; what would my friends think, and how could I have picked this guy, couldn’t I do better?

  • Guilt Even with a DUI or jail time or stealing, it can still be difficult to get the family to acknowledge there is a problem with their loved one and substance abuse or pretending that because of your status in life or family closeness you are impervious to the world of addiction, it is guilt that takes hold the tightest. It is easy for a parent, spouse or sibling to blame themselves because they were a single parent, worked two jobs, paid more attention to another sibling because of physical or mental disabilities or the opposite by excelling in intelligence or sports that would carve up more time to them then to the other sibling. They someone how feel that now is there time to make all things right no matter how long it takes, how much it costs and the toll it takes on them personally and possibly other family members. This guilt can have a wingspan that will last for decades. I have a client that has a son with an addiction. He has fathered two children and is unable to care for them nor can the mother. My client has carried around so much guilt about her “poor parenting while he was growing up” that she has now legally adopted both children. This is loving and commendable, but her partner of 20 years, now near retirement age honestly professes that he “did not sign up for parenting all over again”. Guilt will hamper a loved one’s recovery for if the proper button is pushed to a family member, they can easily crumble. I have shared more than once with my readers that my daughter and I have a very anxious relationship as she is in and out of recovery.


Journey is an upmarket, professional drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre located in Atholl, Sandton Our luxurious premises offers comfortable accommodation, spacious gardens, professional treatment, WiFi and entertainment for inpatients and outpatients.


Journey also offers family support groups to the families of patients every Saturday at 10h00.


Our treatment programme is premised on the principles of support, love and understanding where the patient is allowed the opportunity to learn and recover from mistakes in our recovery focused environment.

Contact Journey at 011 786 0326 / 082 447 6727 | admin@journeycentre.co.za | www.journeycentre.co.za

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