One of the goals of a drug intervention or alcohol intervention is to create change on behalf of the addict. The most fundamental change occurs when the addict makes the decision to accept drug treatment and begin the path to recovery. As important as it is to create a change in the addict’s behavior, equally important are the changes that must occur in the lifestyle of the family and friends of the addict.
One of the changes that must occur in the family is the creation of healthy boundaries. The formulation of a boundary occurs when the family and friends of the addict stop behavior which has facilitated, encouraged, or in any way supported th addiction. It is necessary for boundaries to develop so that if the addict chooses to maintain his addiction, he, and he alone, suffers the consequences that inevitably result from the addiction.
For instance, if an addict finds himself in a pattern of missing work, school, or social obligations, the family and friends have to stop making excuses, or flat out lying, to defend the addict’s absences. In these situations where boundaries are not set up, the family and friends are left to suffer the anguish and consequences while the addict continues his behavior without repercussion.
Another example, albeit extreme, is the “trust fund” addict. In this case the addict has a built-in source of income and is free to live a life of addiction without the typical worry of where money will come from to support his habit. With room, board, and all other expenses paid for, including money for drugs, he has no worries other than where and when he will get his next dose of drugs or alcohol. I’ve worked with many families in this situation. One of the questions I’ve posed to the parents or trustor of the addict (where boundaries are not set and a stream of money is flowing in the direction of the addict) is why don’t you really make life easy for the addict and just buy the drugs and alcohol for him and deliver it to him personally. After all, I explain, what do they think he is using the money for?
The problem is that oftentimes families tend to love the addict to death. They feel some responsibility or obligation to do whatever they can to make things easier for the addict in the hope that the addict will miraculously change their addictive behavior. Typically, that does not occur and the addict sinks deeper and deeper into the disease of addiction.
It is up to the family to draw the line in the sand. Make a pledge to do everything they can in their power to help the addict in his recovery, but do absolutely nothing to support him in his addiction. Clearly, creating these types of boundaries has the potential of being difficult and gut-wrenching in application. After all, the addict has lived months or perhaps years with the comfort of the family either boldly supporting his addiction or hiding their collective heads in the sand and pretending that it does not exist. Change at this point in the relationship seems extreme, but it has to occur. Think of it this way; if the family does nothing and continues their enabling relationship with the addict, the only change destined to occur is the condition of the addict going from bad to worse.
When families and friends do decide to make healthy boundaries it is important that guidance is sought prior to implementation. Families should consult with drug and alcohol treatment centers, therapists, physicians, and/or drug counselors. Consultations will necessarily help with issues relative to the family as they contemplate change in their behavior, as well as concerns for the addict including, but not limited to, self-harm and violence.