Entering Uncharted Territory
This week we’re entering some new territory, in a number of ways. First off, I took up this topic based on a suggestion from a reader I’ve never met.
I received a LinkedIn message a while back asking me to talk about addiction and the role it plays, and was intrigued.
I also realized that this potentially huge topic can be a pretty big deal for some families who are trying to create and pass down a legacy, and yet I’ve yet to discuss it here, despite having written over 400 posts.
That all changes now, as I want to share my thoughts on what is also “uncharted territory” for many families, who are often unprepared for how they should respond when a family member has an addiction.
I decided to revisit a version of the “5 Things” blogs I’ve done over the years, much to the dismay of my wife, who wonders aloud why it’s always five things, and never four or six…
1. You Cannot Change Someone Else
As much as we’d all like this to be different, you cannot change someone else. You can try, and many do, but true change really only occurs when the “changee” does the work.
This can be the most difficult realisation of your life, especially as a parent.
When they have young children, parents can and do manage to create many of the changes they hope to with their offspring.
Unfortunately, at some point, this ends. Then, the more a parent wants something, the less likely their children are to acquiesce.
If your instinct is to simply insist more forcefully, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
2. Look to Provide Help, Not to Punish
An initial reaction to a family member’s addiction might be to use some form of punishment to try to curb the unwanted behaviour.
Punishment, whether simply threatened or actually enacted, will often backfire and make matters more difficult to fix.
Nobody sets out to become addicted to anything.
Yes, there’s often some behaviour involved that’s less than desirable, but by the time they reach the stage of addiction, it’s no longer an easily-solvable problem.
Offering help, in the form of support and understanding, will go much further, and hopefully get the addicted person to cooperate, as opposed to rebel, which is what punishment will often engender.
3. Set Realistic Expectations
There’s no magic wand that will make an addiction disappear overnight.
These situations all vary, of course, based on what the addiction is, how long it’s been going on and how deeply affected the person is, and whether this is the first time or not.
Giving the whole situation the time required to be satisfactorily resolved is what I suggest, and it’s better to err on the side of planning for things to take more time (months/years) than less (days/weeks).
4. Work on Organizing the Rest of the Family
While the addicted family member seems to take up a lot of time and focus, you shouldn’t neglect the rest of the family.
In fact, I think it makes sense for most families to organize themselves to survive for the long term as if the addicted person will never get over whatever their particular affliction may be.
This is a variation on “plan for the worst” but also hope for the best.
If the addicted family member is putting the enterprise at risk, finding ways to minimize and eliminate those risks should quickly become the focus, and that means having different people assume certain key roles.
Making a plan that you can all work on together to get through this makes sense and should be a priority.
5. Bring in Outside Help to Manage It
Few families are well equipped to deal with such issues on their own.
Bringing in outside expertise makes sense for dealing with the addicted person, of course, but may also make lots of sense for the rest of the family as they deal with things in a new way.
I hold himself out as such a resource for families, so this suggestion shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone reading this, of course.
But an addicted family member creates emotional reactions that need to be managed.
You need to reduce the “reactions” and instead focus on a constructive “response”.
Ignoring the issue and hoping it will disappear rarely works out well.