Annie G asks: My sister has been having trouble with alcohol for about 4 years now. We‘ve sent her to rehab twice but she relapsed both times. My parents have been keeping her afloat financially for many years – which I don’t understand because she works full time and has enough money to buy her alcohol. That really makes me mad! About 3 months ago, she married a guy she barely knew when they went to Vegas together and even though he knows she’s a problem drinker (at the very least), he encourages her to drink and I think they are now using other drugs together too. My parents are continuing to pay part of their rent, food, and other monthly bills. I hate that this is happening! What should we do?
Believe it or not, this is a very common scenario playing out in families who don’t yet understand the vitally important difference between enabling someone with addictive behaviours and actually helping them to come out of addiction and have the chance to recover.
It sounds like your parents may be very worried about your sister but simply don’t know what else to do. I know without question that nobody else can ‘get her out’ of addiction. Only your sister can do that – because she is the one making the choices that are giving her the lifestyle she has. If other people are going to tolerate this behaviour and even reinforce it by not holding her accountable for her choices, then what incentive would she have to do anything differently?
Enabled addicts don’t recover – because really, why should they? Every time we rescue an addict or enable them in any kind of way, we are actually contributing to their choice to stay exactly where they are. Many families believe that doing this is a loving act – because they mistakenly believe that the addicts they love are “powerless” and “can’t stop” using the addiction. This is simply not true. Millions of addicts (of all kinds) all over the world have indeed stopped. I am one of them.
We understand that even though this may be a difficult thing to do, we definitely can recover from addiction. Recovery from addiction occurs when addicts are no longer being enabled – when families stop making it so comfortable for them to choose to stay in active addiction.
Your sister will very likely sit up and take notice when your parents stop enabling her – with money as well as in other ways. Doing what they’ve been doing clearly isn’t working – so it’s time to ask themselves “Am I willing to try something different?”
That different approach will be to say to her “We love you so much. We love you so much that we’re no longer willing to support your choice to stay in active addiction – because we don’t want that life for you and it’s extremely difficult for us to see you there. So we will no longer help pay your rent and other expenses, or spend time with you when you’re drunk or high. When you’re really ready for help to make a different choice, let us know and we will be there for you in whatever ways we can.”
When your parents are ready to do this with your sister, after some initial pushback from her, they will see things begin to shift. If you and/or they need some assistance with this, please feel free to reach out to us.