Alcohol and Drug Addiction Effect on the Whole Family

Contributor: Dr. Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus from Marshall University, South Charleston Campus in West Virginia.

Recently my friend Julia confided that her mother was unable to stop enabling her adult son who was addicted to drugs. My friend, who loved her mother, became increasingly frustrated over the melodrama in her family. Here are a few details.

After her son totaled one car, his mother purchased another and let him drive it. Even gave him money for gas. She was evicted from the apartment she shared with her son and his girlfriend (who was also addicted) because they harassed neighbors who complained to the landlord.

And she was forced to file for bankruptcy when she ran out of money because she was unable to pay her bills. This scenario is all too familiar to families who get caught in the snare of their loved one’s addiction.

Setting Firm Boundaries

Finally Julia had enough and set a firm boundary. She vowed to no longer “lend” money to her mother. Her decision was painful. She loved her mother and didn’t want her to suffer. Yet she recognized her role in helping fuel her brother’s addiction.

She tried to convince her mother to attend twelve-step meetings, but her mother made excuses and didn’t go. The family drama continues, but Julia refuses to participate.

Family members often become ensnared in their loved one’s addiction by rationalizing, minimizing, and controlling. Like Julia’s mother, I enabled my adult son for far too long.

  • When he bounced a check, I covered it.
  • When he stole money from my purse, I ignored it.
  • When he raked up a large credit card bill, I covered it.
  • When my son failed to contact me, I searched the seedy part of town where the drug dealers and prostitutes hung out.
  • When my son landed in jail, I bailed him out.
  • When he pawned my engagement and wedding rings, I paid to retrieved them.

I recall my humiliation when I entered a pawn shop for the first time and handed the ticket to the clerk. This insanity went on for years.

Stopping the Enabling

runners-476106_640Finally I decided to no longer play a supporting role in this melodrama and reached out to a friend who is a certified alcohol and addiction counselor. She accompanied me to a twelve-step meeting for loved ones where I learned the “do’s” and “don’ts” of enabling.

Don’t nag, preach, or lecture the addict. Don’t make idle threats. Don’t assume a martyr attitude. Don’t do for the addict what he can do for himself. Practicing these “don’ts” firmly and consistently took a long of time.

Letting Go for Your Own Health

Even now I must be careful to not stick my spoon in my son’s bowl. Instead of enabling, I learned to let go and take care of myself. And when my son was ready and willing to embrace recovery, I offered love, support, and understanding.

I hope that loved ones like Julia’s mother find the courage to change and seek help from other family members in recovery who will readily share their experience, strength, and hope. Be willing to change and recovery will follow.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What is your experience with addictions effect on the family unit? How has your family set boundaries that are helpful in supporting recovery?

About the Author:

Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus from Marshall University, South Charleston Campus in West Virginia. Recently her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows, was published by Central Recovery Press. See She can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 13th, 2014
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