5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Someone You Love Has an Addiction

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There is a steep learning curve when we love someone who struggles with addiction. Their reckless actions and poor decisions can leave loved ones confused and left to attend to the devastation of their destructive behaviors. Loved ones feel embarrassed, ashamed, and desperate to find help. But they quickly discover the line between helping their loved one and enabling them is a very fine line and difficult to navigate, especially in such high-stress situations. 

My family and I quickly discovered we were way out of our wheelhouse when addiction made its way into our home. And after making numerous attempts to help an addicted loved one, we’ve observed some very common mistakes often made by the people who love them. To shave off the learning curve for someone else in a similar situation, I want to share five common mistakes with you. 

The following is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a formula to follow. Rather, I hope this list gives you some things to consider when doing your best to make wise, biblically-based decisions when engaging with something as unpredictable as addiction. 

Blaming Our Addicted Loved One for Neglecting Our Responsibilities

Engaging with an addicted loved one quickly becomes chaotic and all-consuming. We can easily get so wrapped up in what our loved one is doing. 

Are they following their recovery steps?

Are they going to their meetings?

Are they lying?

Who are they spending time with?

We become so fixated on the other person’s behaviors that we lose sight of our own.

The chaos of trying to control or monitor another person’s life causes us to put our responsibilities on the back burner and lose touch with what we truly can control (our thoughts, our choices, and our actions). We can begin to take on responsibilities that our addicted loved one neglects and end up bitter and remorseful for falling behind in our responsibilities. Then we begin to blame our addicted loved one for what we neglected to do.

Have you ever found yourself saying the following:

  • Well, I would have loved to have been there, but I couldn’t leave because I have to make sure {insert your addicted loved one’s name here} get to his meeting. 
  • I won’t be able to make it to work. I’ve been up for days making sure {insert your addicted loved one’s name here} stays sober, so he can get into rehab. 
  • I’m sorry, I haven’t been there for you. I have to keep an eye on {insert your addicted loved one’s name here}.

Maybe these were not your exact words or your exact situation, but I bet you can relate if you’ve loved someone who struggles with addiction. We can easily lose ourselves to try to save another person. But the hard truth is, we cannot save anyone. Only Jesus can do that. And if we try, our efforts will be fruitless because anything we attain in the flesh has to be maintained in the flesh. And we don’t have that kind of power. We will end up bitter, exhausted, confused, and angry because the only thing we truly can control is ourselves. And even if we blame our addicted loved ones for our neglectful behaviors, we have to consider whether is it truly their fault that we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.

I know your heart. I know you don’t want to see your loved ones burn their lives to the ground with the terrible decisions they are making. But God forbid you allow your life to be destroyed to preserve another person’s life. It can be really hard to accept, but the truth is that God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). And by preventing our addicted loved ones from suffering the consequences of their choices, we may be preventing them from experiencing the depth of God’s love for them. 

Our addicted loved ones are not to blame for our neglectful behaviors when engaging in their chaos. But the good news is that neither are we to blame for their neglectful behaviors. I know this can get tricky when there is family involved and a blurred line of separation between responsibilities. In these situations, we will need wisdom from the Lord and trusted, wise counsel to help us which we will address more in the following common mistakes. But the important thing is that we do our best not to excuse neglecting our responsibilities at the price of blaming our loved one, but instead focus on controlling our thoughts, choices, and actions and elicit outside support when necessary. 

Living in Denial 

Many times due to the difficulty and nature of a loved one’s addiction, we can feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed for their actions and behavior. The pain of dragging it all out into the light is unbearable, and it can feel easier to deny that there is any issue at all. 

God has a strange way of using our painful experiences to unite us and bring us together to pray and heal each other. The Bible says to confess your sins to one another and pray for each other and you will be healed. The prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). But if we don’t share and open up to trusted sources about what we are dealing with we only prolong the possibility of healing for ourselves and for our loved ones. 

When you are in the middle of an extremely difficult situation with an addicted loved one and there is no end in sight, or your loved one has unexpectedly relapsed it becomes very tempting to turn inward and hide. We don’t want to deal with another fallout. We don’t want to have to admit to our family and friends that our loved one is struggling again. Maybe there are hard feelings there and we don’t want to endure any more judgment from others who don’t know what our lives are like. 

Confrontation can feel hard. Vulnerability can feel scary and dangerous. But you know what is worse than pushing through and risking all of that? Suffering in silence all alone. Not having anyone to ask for prayer and no one to call when you’re facing a huge, life-altering decision is no way to live. Denial may provide temporary relief for those rattling emotions but consider the future. 

  • What do you want the holidays to look like this year? 
  • What about next summer when it is time to plan a vacation?
  • Do you still want to be suffering alone or worse hiding the truth from the people you love most? 

Or do you want the hope of the possibility that if you bring everything into the light now, your boldness may set your loved one on the path to recovery instead? 

Not Being Honest When People Check In 

The next two common mistakes are two sides of the same coin. They are both extreme reactions to our loved one’s addiction. And both reactions are common especially if addiction is something you have never dealt with before. 

The first extreme reaction is not being honest when people who love us check-in. People who love you and have walked this road with you before will call and check in regularly because they care about you. For some of the same reasons listed in the common mistake above, it will be tempting to not tell the truth or to cover up if your loved one is struggling currently. 

Maybe you feel as though it reflects poorly on you if your loved one is struggling. 

Or maybe you want to protect your loved one’s reputation. 

Or maybe there is more at stake, like the possibility of your loved one losing their job or an important leadership position. 

But again, this is an unhelpful mistake. In essence, when we choose not to be honest several things happen. We prolong our loved one’s problems. We kick the consequences farther down the road, and break the trust with people that we need in our lives. 

You will learn quickly from your loved one’s recovery programs that for them to become sober and stay sober they will need community and accountability. And the same will be true for us. We will need trusted people to hold us accountable, to pray, to offer advice and godly wisdom. Our addicted loved ones will need to be brutally honest in their recovery so that they can heal and move forward, and as the people who love them, we need to do the same. 

Eliciting Recovery Help Before a Loved One is Ready 

The second extreme reaction to our loved one’s addiction is really an overreaction. This happens when we jump into action eliciting resources and help for our loved one’s recovery. Unfortunately, sometimes we can want recovery for our loved ones more than they do, or at least, before they are ready. 

Because we want to help so badly we can begin arranging rehab and pulling others in before consulting our loved one or in good faith that this is what our loved one should do. But sometimes our loved one isn’t ready and by roping others in too soon we can cause unnecessary failure and or relational tension. 

This can be so difficult to navigate because small windows of opportunity sometimes present themselves for us to come alongside our loved ones and help arrange rehab. And sometimes our loved ones still don’t become fully rehabilitated. It can all be so unpredictable and complicated. It takes so much wisdom and discernment to navigate when to help and when to let our loved one take the lead. This is exactly why I’ve stressed many times the importance of prayer, community, and accountability to come around you in this process. 

We cannot force our loved ones to do anything. We can only offer up our availability in a way that allows us to keep and enforce healthy boundaries. The hardest part to grasp with all of this is that we have to release our desire to control our loved ones’ responses to our help and the help of others, and we have to trust God with the outcomes of our loved one’s recovery. 

One thing I like to keep in mind when navigating the seemingly never-ending journey of rehab with an addicted loved one is to consider the possibilities that the Lord may arrange with your loved one’s recovery.

Sometimes it’s less about the outcome and more about a divine appointment. Maybe there is a person that you or your loved one are meant to cross paths with during your loved one’s recovery. Oftentimes, God will allow what He hates (His people in bondage to drugs, alcohol, or codependent behaviors) to accomplish what He loves ( discipleship, witnessing, and His glorification). Many times over I’ve seen God arrange divine connections to build His church and accomplish His purposes by allowing us to come into proximity to another person we may never have otherwise. 

So even if you have made this common mistake of eliciting recovery help too soon, you can trust the Lord is using all of this for our good, the good of others, and His glory. And we never know if this next rehab stint is going to be the one that clicks for our loved one, the path to healing is non-linear. We can’t force rehab, but we can be faithful to stay close to Jesus, pray, and follow His lead even when we don’t understand.

Forgoing Boundaries to Pacify a Loved One

Boundaries are necessary when you love someone who struggles with addiction. They often have a way of exploiting others’ time, money, and resources to satisfy their cravings. And just like every other person in the world, they will push until they are made to stop. Many times they take advantage of loved ones’ generosity and kindness. 

And keeping those boundaries can be complicated because it can feel as if you are unloving. Or your addicted loved one can cause you to feel guilty for not helping them. And for some reason in Christian culture, there is this underlying narrative that we should always say yes to those in need. But we have to ask ourselves:

Is forgoing this boundary helpful or hurtful?

Many times it takes a lot of time and rebuilding trust to determine if our addicted loved ones can be responsible with whatever resources they are asking for. If not, it’s best if we continue to enforce the boundaries necessary to keep them safe and us safe. 

Intervening with what we think may be helpful can be detrimental to a loved one or worse it can be deadly. One friend of ours displayed excellent boundaries when her husband was in rehab. She kindly conveyed to him that this would be his last chance to get sober. She warned them that if he didn’t he would no longer have access to her or her children. She also called all his friends and family and warned them not to give him anything. No money, no cigarettes. Nothing. And she told them what would happen if they did.

That sounds harsh, but you know what. He went to rehab and because he had no one to turn to for help, he turned to God. He got down on his knees and God saved him. Had his wife continued to give him money and resources because she was trying to help him he could have ended up in an early grave and they could have had a very different story. But instead, she kept her boundaries. 

Contrary to popular belief, boundaries are not harsh. Limitations are kindness from the Lord so that we can thrive in God’s framework. Forgoing your boundaries is a lot like throwing a fish out of a tank and claiming that you are trying to help. When in reality, encouraging that fish to stay in that tank because that is where he can best thrive is the loving thing to do. 

There is a delicate balance when engaging with an addicted loved one and often many mistakes are made along the way. Hopefully, this list has illuminated and helped you see where any help you are offering may be hindering your addicted loved one’s recovery. If you have fallen prey to any of these common mistakes, please don’t feel as though you are too far from God’s grace. Use the suggestions that seem like your next best step and keep moving forward one day at a time.

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