Educating Yourself About Your Loved One's Addiction

I recommend to clients that they educate themselves about substance abuse to discover as much as they can on a personal level. We all know knowledge is power.
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Regardless of the status of your loved one's recovery program or lack thereof, I recommend to clients that they educate themselves about substance abuse to discover as much as they can on a personal level. This blog is not about your part from a non-enabling, or stronger boundaries viewpoint, but is of a more specific nature.

We all know knowledge is power, therefore the more you learn, the calmer your state of mind will be.

Here are some concepts to consider which may help when furthering your education of your loved ones addiction issues:

Do Your Own Research on Addiction

Investigate the substance that you believe your loved one is using or may be addicted to. Opinions and facts are different. Stick to the facts and not the opinions of well-meaning friends who could cloud your head with misinformation. The more you know about your loved one's addiction, its characteristics and traits, the more confident you can be in a conversation regarding their specific situation. You won't be caught off guard or caught up with another's opinion if you've already done your own research. That said, don't overload yourself by spending countless hours reading about what amounts to quite depressing material. The description of heroin and its side effects will not change no matter how many sources you check out.

Be Wary of Well-Meaning Advice

Please don't take the advice of family members and friends as gospel. Although they are only trying to be of help, formulate your own conclusion. They may suggest that you do one thing or another. However, even if they have experienced a similar situation, remember that everyone's issues are different, and complex dynamics come into play. What might have worked for them may not work for you.

Be Mindful of Who You Talk To

You might want to think twice about discussing your struggles or a loved one's addiction issues with friends, certain family members or relatives. This is not because you are ashamed or fearful of their judgment, but because you may be opening yourself up to their advice or opinion. It could put an unnecessary strain on your relationships, especially if you don't take the advice. Also, friendships can be very precarious and delicate. Although your friend might ache for your pain and suffering, if that's all you end up talking about it may become too much of a burden for the person to handle. Additionally, information regarding your loved one's addiction could prove detrimental if it finds its way to the workplace or is brought into other relationships. Remember, no matter how upset you are, or how desperate you feel to unload your burden, be respectful of your loved one's privacy. Unless they give you permission to discuss their situation openly or with certain individuals, allow them to tell who they want, when they want.

Attend Open Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings (meetings open to anyone with or without an addiction issue)

This is the first order of business I suggest to my new clients as it gives them an honest look at the struggles and successes of other alcoholic/addicts. Here you can be inconspicuous and won't be called upon to say anything, yet you are afforded the opportunity to listen to alcoholic/addicts in recovery. This can be a profound and eye-opening experience, as these meetings are usually "speaker meetings" where one individual talks for the bulk of the meeting and traces their life from dysfunction and destruction to recovery. You can hear firsthand the same plight that your loved one may be experiencing from someone else, affording you some distance and objectivity. Understanding that someone else has been able to become successful in sobriety may give you hope as well. There is a lot to be learned from these meetings, and it is the first place I would start to gather honest and genuine information about the disease.

Attend Al-Anon meetings (meetings for the friends and families of the alcoholic/addict)

I have been attending Al-Anon meetings for 20 years. The camaraderie and spirituality that knits this special group of family and friends together is worth much more than the dollar contribution. Al-Anon is not for everyone, but give it a good chance. Listening to what the other members have to say often hits home for many share the same issues that you may be thinking about. Al-Anon presents a very strong "higher power" viewpoint, as they believe no one can regain control of an out-of-control life if they don't surrender their will and care to something larger than themselves. Please don't be turned off by this. You can participate regardless of your personal beliefs and gain a great deal.

Seek Professional Counseling

If your world takes on a different dynamic because you're loved one continues to remain in addiction or because they are working toward a clean and sober lifestyle, issues will arise during your own recovery process. You might consider obtaining the help of a professional addiction counselor, not just a marriage and family therapist. It would be beneficial to seek a counselor who has had a personal journey in this field and can relate from "been there-done that" experience as well as professional training.


Though difficult to watch, there are some insightful and informative movies that portray addiction as their central theme.
Though there are many, here are five of my favorites:

  1. "My Name is Bill W." -- A television movie starring James Woods and James Garner. The story traces the lives of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

  • "The Days of Wine and Roses" -- One of the first movies to portray the devastation of alcohol dependency in a family. Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon struggle together and then independently with their addictions.
  • "The Basketball Diaries" -- Based on a true story, a young Leonardo DiCaprio portrays a fun-loving youth who gets entangled with the underground world of dangerous drugs. One of the most gut-wrenching and honest scenes is between DiCaprio's character and his mother, when she is torn between giving him money (knowing it would be going to his addiction) and calling the police. With money in one hand and the phone in another, she sobs on the floor as she deals with the despair of her impending decision. A must see for anyone whose child is dealing with addiction issues and the deep love, fear, and frustration that any parent endures.
  • "Crazy Heart" -- Academy award-winning actor Jeff Bridges portrays a middle-aged, alcoholic, country/western singer. Losing a very important relationship due to irresponsible behavior because of his alcohol dependency, Bridges commits to rehab and a clean and sober lifestyle, which slowly starts to turn his life around toward the positive.
  • "The Miracle Worker" -- The original black and white movie with Patty Duke as Helen Keller. This is by far the best movie regarding boundaries I have ever seen. Had Annie Sullivan (the teacher played by Anne Bancroft) not imposed very strong boundaries from the beginning, I believe Helen Keller would not have become the beautiful, competent and grand woman she ultimately turned out to be.
  • Learning about addiction is scary. No two ways about it. But learn you should, if you are to be a responsible family member or friend who comes from a place of knowledge and not just emotional reactions.

    If I can be of service, please visit my website and I invite you to explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict" at or on Amazon.

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