Learning to say no to an addict may save his or her life

The most difficult aspect of providing Addiction treatment and education isn’t the addicts. For me, the hardest part of treatment is the addict’s family and loved ones.   The reason they are the hardest is because of their desperate desire for the addict in their lives to get clean and sober. But, and here’s the bottom line truth: There’s no amount of wishing and hoping that can force change in anyone else.

I empathize with people who want those around to become healthy. It’s just hard for me because, regardless of how much I try and teach, the reality is that people are hoping for a “magic bullet” that can fix their addicted loved one. While there isn’t any magic overnight cure for Addiction, there are things people can do, but they almost invariably REFUSE to do those things.

Over the years, I’ve elicited quite a bit of anger because I tell people that the two (2) best things they can do for their addicted loved one are: 1) Learn to say no; and, 2) Seek to become the best version of themselves that they can.

The reason saying no is so important is because as long as someone provides money or rides or anything that allows an addiction to remain unchallenged, the addiction will continue (and probably grow). I’ve met and worked with literally hundreds of people wo truly believe they are being supportive and loving by giving a person who’s in the addiction cycle money. But the painful reality is that for an active addict who has no interest in recovery, money is going towards their addicted lifestyle in some way, shape, or form. Like anything else, an addiction must be challenged and must suffocate in order for the person to finally seek recovery. But if someone allows the person to remain addicted with no challenges, he or she might as well be addicted to the same substance.

The second thing that people MUST do to help an addict is to become the star of their own show. That is, people close to an addict tend to make the addict the focal point of their lives. This, too, allows an addition to persist because an addict (any addict) is manipulative and will take advantage of people’s fear and desperation. However, if a person finds a way to improve his or her own life, then the fear and guilt may diminish. You see, an addict that doesn’t want recovery will use, regardless of what people around the addict do. For example, if an addict’s brother who was the addict’s “primary support” starts working out and going to school, then the addict won’t be the priority he or she once was. By not being a priority, the addict loses manipulation capital and the addiction loses resources. Plus, the brother will become healthier and set a positive example for growth.

But, even though I’ve shared these two (2) things, most still won’t attempt them. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if people around the addict NEED the addict to remain addicted. In spite of their apparent fear and desperation, perhaps they’re projecting their own limited self-worth onto the addict in their lives. It’s like they may be saying, “As long as she is addicted, there’s no way I can lose weight,” but they probably wouldn’t try to lose weight, otherwise, they would do it whether or not their loved one is addicted. Who knows? All I can say is that family and friends of addicts tend to be just as stubborn in their behavior as the addicts. I’ll keep on teaching in the hopes that people learn; maybe someday I’ll make headway.

  1. The hardest thing I ever did was to say no, twice, to my younger son. First, I told him he was out of the house with no car and no support if he didn’t go with our interventionist to a residential center we had selected, and then the second time,10 days later, after he left the center, my wife and I refused to help him come home, and he had no choice but to return to the center. He ended up staying 83 days and now has been clean for two and a half years.

    1. As usual, your experience is quite helpful. It’s frustrating to me that more people can’t understand the importance of saying no. But you clearly demonstrate that saying no actually led to successful treatment outcomes!!

  2. The thing I am most proud of as an addict is the fact that my son would never consider helping me. He has grown up with an addict as a dad and now he works and saves his money. I have asked him at various times for a tenner and he has never once given in to me and I am so glad. It shows his love for me and his ability to say no lets me know that he is a character that can not be exploited in life, you are right in that a lot of people do not do what is needed to help the addict, they could learn a lot from my boy

      1. I was aware it says a lot of negative about me but more powerfully it endorses the truth in what you were saying and it is more important to inspire others if poss so thanks for the post

  3. Wise words from all of you. In my extended family, this was one of the hardest things for mothers to do in regard to addicted sons; heartbreaking but eventually their sons got sober and they now live productively. Happily, they understood (after some time) that their mothers loved them and that’s why they said ‘no.’