Monday, September 08, 2008

Confronting the addict in your life

Every month I get a few emails asking me for advice on how to confront an addict in the life of someone at church. I've given this advice out so much that I thought I should get the information out to more people who might be too embarrassed to contact me. This is some of the advice I've given out over the past few weeks...

1. Should I confront them? Yes, you have to. The scary truth is that if you don't confront them the next phone call you get might be from the coroner or the police because they killed someone while driving drunk. If you are uneasy about this contact Arbor Place or another treatment center for tips on how to do an intervention on an addict. Don't go into it with "guns blazing" because it is very shaming to be exposed in your addiction and you don't want them to shut down or run away. But don't use those fears to keep you from confronting them.

2. Should I help them even though I've helped them in the past and it didn't work?
Yes, if you can...if you have the emotional margin left in you. It's good to offer help if they sincerely want matter how many times they've failed in the past, this might be the time it clicks. I think that's how Jesus treats us. But on the other hand, in some cases their past failures may have burned you so bad that you are no longer able to help. If that's the case, you just have to respect your condition and say, "I'm sorry, I don't have anything left to give." Turn it over to God and let go of the guilt. Jesus is the Savior of the world, not you.

3. How do I keep from being dragged down myself?
That's a very important question. You need to engage with the person but only after FIRST establishing firm boundaries and communicating those boundaries in advance of engaging with them. Boundaries mean that there are specific consequences to their failure to uphold their end of the bargain. You have to be very careful not to let your helping them take you down because then you are no longer any help to them or others. Guard yourself emotionally and financially...even physically. If they impact you emotionally and financially it will eventually impact you physically. Educate yourself in the ways of an addict. Understand that they lie to minimize how bad things are. So don't take everything at face value.

4. How can I trust them?
You can't. Sad but true. If they have repeatedly broken trust with you you need to let them know that they will have to rebuild trust with you before you can extend it to them. And remember that trust is not forgiveness. You should always forgive their behavior but that doesn't mean you restore trust until they've proven themselves trustworthy. This is where boundaries come in. There need to be firm consequences (not punishment) for breaking trust. (The book Boundaries, by Henry Cloud, is very helpful).

5. Should they go to treatment or can they do this on their own?
Most of us underestimate the power of an addiction. Willpower isn't the answer in most cases. If you love them, get them into treatment and self-help. And I recommend in-patient treatment so there is no way they can use, plus they get the counseling they need. Self-help addiction treatment just prolongs the pain and rarely changes anything.

That's a start. I hope this helps. Don't hesitate to contact me with your questions. I love helping people sort through these difficult issues. Also, consider forwarding this post to a friend struggling with knowing what to do with the addict in their life.

1 comment:

Serenity4 said...

Thanks for blogging about this. I think so often as Christians we think we need to "save the world" and continue to help that person in our life, no matter the cost. But I've watched too many people committ emotional and spiritual suicide to themselves and their families when they don't surround themselves with propper boundaries. It's a scary thing to have boundaries at times. And it's hard to have tough love. But even Jesus did both.