THE BLOG
11/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Roller Coaster Relationship With An Alcoholic/Addict: When Do You Get Off the Ride?

Not soon enough and never! Relationships are difficult; whether it is the ongoing give and take of two people sharing their lives, understanding and communicating with our children or just getting along with co-workers and friends. Add to the mix a silent partner like drugs or alcohol, and the difficulty factor increases substantially.

So what or where or when is our breaking point? For everyone it's different.
Often guilt, shame, pity, fears of being alone or just plain laziness keeps us in relationships that we know are toxic; whether it is with an alcoholic/addict or not. We find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day from just doing our jobs, getting the kids to school or whatever life is throwing at us. Often, we just don't have the strength or energy to confront our partner or make waves if we witness their unstable or irresponsible behavior due to substance abuse. We have become numb to this kind of relationship and therefore have settled by bumping along the bottom holding on to an eyelash width of hope that maybe tomorrow will be different; either they will change or we might find the strength to change these circumstances ourselves.

I have compiled what I call The Pyramid of Change; 6 phases of the alcoholic/addict from the beginnings of irresponsible behavior to full blown wreckage. I will discuss 2 this week and 4 on my next blog.

Do you find yourself in phase 1 or 2...or way beyond?

Phase 1 - Regardless of what stage you are in a relationship, or whether you've started to become aware of your child's unfamiliar behavioral patterns, something tells you that things are just not right. You are beginning to witness little, almost insignificant spikes of illogical behavior that you accept as mood swings, simple frustrations regarding work, school or just daily occurrences. It's no big deal, a passing interruption in what you are used to as a normal, stable life. You might mention something now and then about their behavior being a bit odd, but are easily appeased with their answer and things usually get back to normal...for a time.
Phase 2 - You are aware that what felt unsettling in Phase 1 is becoming more consistent and hard to just slough off as a bad day at the office or losing a football game. Broken promises, questionable and irresponsible behavior start creeping up more and more. You are scared to probe too deeply as it might incite anger, and chances are you're not ready to face the reality that there may be a problem; because if there is one, what then?
Though you are uneasy about the excuses, you accept them and they convince you once again that as soon as "A, B or C" is taken care of in their life, then this rocky ship will stabilize. Nonetheless, the alcoholic/addict admits that he/she might be ready to "get a handle on things". You are buoyed and hopeful that your loved one has come to this conclusion, and you breathe a sigh of relief.
I want to flag a scenario. If the alcoholic/addict continues to struggle in "getting a handle on things", you may become an easy target to blame for their problems and lack of commitment. How convenient to lay at your feet that your attitude, physical appearance or anything you do or say is the reason they are not behaving as they once did or how you would like them to.
I had a client that was in a relationship with a man that she suspected might have a substance abuse issue. Every time she would bring up these concerns he would turn the tables and blame her for the instability in his life. He would accuse her of spending too much money, and when she cut down on the expenses, he switched gears to her appearance. Once again, in the hopes of him aborting this road toward substance abuse, she would lose the weight or cut her hair; but she finally realized it was all an exercise in futility for no matter what she did or did not do, he continued to indulge his addiction.
Though it's easier said than done, don't buy into this. This is a complete cop-out on their part and a very useful and protective way for them to deflect their problem or issues back on to you.

If a loved one is in their addiction dealing with a substance abuse issue, it will always be difficult to roll up your sleeves and have an honest, thoughtful conversation with them. You never know if you are talking to them alone or their silent partner is speaking for them.

Next week I will discuss phases 3 - 6.

On another note: a very big and grateful thank you for all the comments on my last blog regarding Al-anon. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your view points and they have given me much food for thought. Please keep your comments coming; I grow and learn from you as you hopefully do from me.

If I can be of service to you or your family, please e-mail me at Carole@familyrecoverysolution.com or go to http://familyrecoverysolutions.com/free_one_hour_session.html