Alcoholics and addicts can be manipulative, self-destructive and dishonest. If you are involved with someone like this, you've probably learned that this has direct implications for you: It's important that you learn to protect yourself from them, and not to enable them.
Protecting yourself from abuse is one of the most basic spiritual skills to learn. The purpose of this post is to raise your awareness about how to take actions to stop others' inappropriate or possibly dangerous behavior from affecting your life. The context of this post is about alcoholism, but you it also applies to any other kinds of inappropriate behaviors.
I quit drinking 21 years ago. I held my brother in my arms as he died from alcoholic liver failure nearly 5 years ago. I have seen many, many lives destroyed by alcohol and drugs back when I was a daily newspaper photographer in the United States. It is horrible to watch parents learning that their child had been killed by some drunken idiot in a car, or see the wretched squalor of a junkie’s shooting gallery.
If you want to destroy your own life with booze and drugs, go right ahead. That is your life and your business. But alcoholics rarely live in isolation. Addicts usually bring down others with them. It is your responsibility not to let them damage your life and your family.
When dealing with addicts (as with all people), come from a place of compassion. An addict can’t control themselves. They are often suffering greatly. Compassion is not weakness. Sometimes you have to be a hardass to be compassionate. Addicts won’t respond to anything else.
Is There an Alcoholic in Your Life?
Is there someone in your life who drinks too much? One glass of wine or beer is not what I am talking about here. Here are some signs of alcohol abuse:
- Do they neglect important social, occupational or recreational activities because of their alcohol use?
- Do they drink a lot? And over a longer period of time than intended?
- Do they fail in ongoing attempts to control or limit their drinking?
- Do they continue to use alcohol even though they know, or have been told, that it is causing them problems both physically or socially?
- Do they spend a lot of time on alcohol related activities? Are they always at the bar?
- Do they have physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking?
- Do they need more and more alcohol to get the same “buzz”?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then this person probably has an alcohol abuse problem.
A general rule of thumb: If you think someone has an alcohol problem, they probably do.
Alcoholics and addicts lie. Firstly, they lie to themselves. They are in denial and their minds refuse to see what they are doing to themselves. Maybe one part of them knows that they are addicts, but the drug has such a powerful grip on their minds and bodies, they continue to destroy themselves and others.
“I can quit at anytime.” is a commonly heard from addicts.
Since the addict is lying to themselves, they are lying to others by default. And even more, they will lie, cheat, steal and manipulate anyone and everyone to keep the game going.
Alcoholics Can’t Control Themselves
Alcoholics and addicts can’t control themselves. The drugs they are using (alcohol is a drug) have taken over their lives. Addictions are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. They are all consuming. Addicts are lost in their own private hell; a swirling mass of dark energy -- thick and heavy.
People who have never had problems with addictions can’t comprehend this. They say things like: “Why don’t they just quit?” Well, if it were that easy, many of the world’s problems would be solved. But it isn’t.
It takes great strength and courage to overcome addictions to powerful drugs like alcohol, cocaine and heroin. Usually, the addict has to hit rock bottom before taking action to stop. Many addicts never stop. They just die.
The sad thing is that addict does not see is that they do have a choice. At all times, we all have choices, even when we think that we don’t. We may not like our choices, but we have them. The addict can always choose not to use. That is not an attractive option for the addict because their body, mind and emotions are screaming for the drug.
Enabling is allowing someone with inappropriate behavior to continue do that behavior.
This blog post is not about the addict; it is about your relationship with an addict. It is your responsibility how you allow people to act toward you. Demand respect and do not allow unacceptable behavior, whether people are addicts or otherwise.
If you don’t want the drunk to be drunk around you, then lay down the law and demand that they are not. Don’t worry about their feelings. That is the last of your concerns.
There was a great example of this attitude in the TV show “E.R.”. One of the main characters, Dr. Carter, became addicted to painkillers and it was having serious consequences. One of his co-workers took him to a specialized drug rehab center for medical doctors. As he was checking in, the woman at the front desk laid down the rules: No using drugs. Period. She explained that there were drug dealers down the street if he wanted a fix, but he would be kicked out instantly and he would not allowed back into the center ever. No second chances. Period.
That is the correct attitude to have in dealing with alcoholics and addicts. Make firm, unbending rules and enforce them mercilessly. No second chances.
You have to take a hard line with addicts. They will do anything to get their fix. Enabling is allowing the addict to continue what they are doing.
"A common theme of enabling is that third parties take responsibility, blame, or make accommodations for a person's harmful conduct (often with the best of intentions, or from fear or insecurity which inhibits action). The practical effect is that the person himself or herself does not have to do so, and is shielded from awareness of the harm it may do, and the need or pressure to change. It is a major environmental cause of addiction." 
The classic example of enabling is a codependent wife who mistakenly thinks she is helping out her alcoholic husband by calling in sick for him at work or making excuses for him -- generally cleaning up the messes made by him, and helping him avoid being held accountable for his actions.
Enabling can work in different ways, but basically it a when a person or a group shields another from the consequences of their inappropriate behavior. Silence can be enabling. If someone is doing something wrong, and you know it is wrong and you say nothing, you are enabling the other person’s behavior. You are part of the problem.
Be aware, the enabler may also be in denial, which means they are lying to themselves and others. There is a dysfunctional dance going on between the addict and the enabler. As always, the first step in making lasting life change is awareness. Ask yourself this: Am I enabling this person's behavior?
Are you Codependent?
Codependency is psychological term used to describe a dysfunctional relationship where one person is controlled or manipulated by another.
Codependency is often difficult to describe succinctly because of it’s many variations. Codependents often try to control others in their dysfunctional dance.
Codependency often involves one person placing a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others, like in the example I gave earlier about the wife of the alcoholic husband. The “caregiver” is often weaker and being controlled and manipulated by the other person, but not always.
"Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns." 
Basically, it is an dysfunctional relationship where one person takes care of another who is “messed up”. The dynamic enables both parties’ unhealthy behavior.
"Codependency describes behaviors, thoughts and feelings that go beyond normal kinds of self-sacrifice or caretaking... People who are codependent often take on the role as a martyr; they constantly put others' needs before their own and in doing so forget to take care of themselves. This creates a sense that they are "needed"; they cannot stand the thought of being alone and no one needing them. Codependent people are constantly in search of acceptance. When it comes to arguments, codependent people also tend to set themselves up as the "victim". When they do stand up for themselves, they feel guilty." 
People in codependent relationships are in denial. The “caregiver” can’t see how messed up their situation is. If they really wanted to help the other person, they wouldn’t put up with their nonsense. But like the addict, they can’t see it.
Codependence is a complex topic and I haven’t even scratched the surface here. I highly recommend the book “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie if you want to learn more.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, then get some help. Don’t wait. Do it now.
These issues with not get better on their own; they will most definitely get worse.
Dealing with issues of alcoholism, substance abuse and codependency are complex. You really need to work with other people who know what they are doing.
Al-Anon/Alteen is a good place to start. Al-Anon is a non-profit group devoted to helping family, friends and acquaintances of people with drinking problems. Alteen is does the same work, but focusing on the needs of young people.
Here are some links to Al-Anon/Alteen in English-speaking countries:
Also consider working with a professional therapist or family counselor. Religious institutions can also be helpful. Call one you feel comfortable with.
Or call a crisis helpline in your own community. Don’t be shy. That is what they are there for.
Consider Lifestyle Changes
If you are having problems with drunks, and you spend a lot of time in bars, then stop going to bars. There is a whole other world out there that functions wonderfully without any alcohol. I can attest to that. It might take awhile to find a place where you fit in well, but you will if you try.
You Have a Choice
It can be scary seeking help. But take the first step.
If you want to make significant life changes, first you have to clearly see your situation. Then you need to choose to change. Next, you have to fully commit to that change. Finally, you have to take action.
From my life experience, I can clearly state you have a choice: you can live your life in fear and darkness or you can live in love and light. You have to choose, and you have to make it happen.
You can make it happen. If I can do it, then so can you.
Protecting yourself from abuse is one of the most basic spiritual skills to learn. I hope that this post has helped to raise your awareness about how to take actions to stop others' inappropriate or possibly dangerous behavior from affecting your life. I can help you learn these skills.