I have an addict in my family.  Do you have one in yours?

Perhaps you are reading this blog, and you have a spouse or an older child who is an addict, in which case, the title of this post probably jumped right out at you.   Or maybe you, like me, are the mother of “littles”, and a blog post about addiction doesn’t seem relevant to you or your life.  Well, “my” addict is not a member of my household.  “My” addict is not my husband, and it’s not one of my children.  But what I can tell you, is that “my” addict has affected my life, my husband’s life, and my children’s lives.

“Your” addict may be a child or a spouse,  it could be a parent or a sibling.  Possibly, it is a niece, nephew, or close family friend.

Mine is my little sister, and she is a heroin addict.  A “hardcore junkie” is how she describes herself, and that would be a very accurate title for her.  She first experimented with heroin ten years ago, and has been completely and utterly enslaved to it for at least six of those.  She is currently in rehab, and for that my family is incredibly proud and thankful.  In fact, she will actually be sharing with you HER thoughts on “What the Addict Needs Their Family to Know”, in a future post.  In the meantime, I am going to provide you with a little bit of insight as to what my family and I have learned, as we have walked alongside of her this last decade, through the madness that is “addiction”.

If you, like me, love someone who is battling this disease, then you know that not only is their life being negatively impacted by their choices, but so is yours.

In order to effectively deal with your addict, while at the same time, carrying on with your OWN life (because you ARE entitled to that), here are a few critical things that I think every family needs:

1)  Clear Communication and BOUNDARIES: “Your” addict’s addiction is going to affect YOUR entire family, so be ready.   A main priority for an addict is: Feed The Addiction.  You know what that means?  It means that they are going to come knocking at YOUR door, seeking out YOUR “assistance”.   Assistance is going to look like all different things…and often times, it will be disguised…but the pleas for it are going to come. Before they do, have the necessary conversations with your spouse/significant other/key family members, and decide TOGETHER what you are willing to give (of yourself, your time, your money), and what you are NOT.  Don’t get put on the spot, or be caught unprepared.  You know it’s coming…I’m TELLING you, it’s prepare yourself.

2) The Ability to CHOOSE to Love and CHOOSE to Give, Without Expecting Anything in Return.  Let me break that statement down, bit by bit:

CHOOSE to love and CHOOSE to give:

Once you have established your matter how tight or loose they are, no matter how much they are met with approval or disapproval from those around you, no matter how much sense they do or do not seem to make… stick to them, and then feel good about what you have chosen.  If you have CHOSEN to endow “your addict” with certain blessings, then grant those blessings with a smile. Your addict isn’t taking advantage of you, if you have CHOSEN, of your own accord, to do something for them.  Don’t paint yourself as a victim.  You DO have choices.  They may be hard choices.  Heartbreaking choices.  But they are choices.  You have the right and the ability to simply say”no”.  But if you have CHOSEN to say “yes” to something, then offer that something up happily, not begrudgingly.

Without Expecting Anything in Return:

Did you decide you were ok with loaning your addict some money? They aren’t going to pay you back.  Expect that, and don’t be surprised/hurt/bitter when they don’t.  Remember…you gave it to them because you had already decided you WANTED to do that.  Not because you HAD to.  Did you give up five hours of your time helping them with something, because they SAID that if you did, then they would  <fill in the blank>? They aren’t going to <fill in the blank>.  You should know that by now.  But it’s ok…you gave up those five hours because you had already decided you WANTED to do that for them, right? Not because you actually expected any kind of follow through.

3) Support: Loving someone who, for all intents and purposes, loves their poison of choice more than they love you, is not easy.  At best, it is hurtful.  At worst, it is gut-wrenching.  It’s everything in between.  It’s less some days, and more other days.  It’s not meant to be dealt with alone.  Some days, what you may need most is encouragement.  Other days, you may need to just LAUGH (even though it isn’t funny) with someone else who has dealt with the exact same craziness that you are dealing with.  You may need to vent.  You may need ADVICE.  You may need to cry with someone. You may need prayer.  You may need someone to hold you accountable to the boundaries you have set for yourself.  You may need someone to TELL you what the boundaries should even BE.   Heck, you may need, just for a moment,  to walk away feeling like “well, at least I’m better off than THAT person”.  Whatever it is that you need,  you aren’t going to find it all alone.  Get support.  GIVE support to others.  No matter how little or much wisdom you have gleaned in your experience dealing with an addict, you have SOMETHING to offer SOMEONE.  And SOMEONE has SOMETHING to offer YOU.  Summary: surround yourself with community.

4) Education: Addiction is complex, it’s sticky, it’s not always black and white.  It deals with brains, and chemistry, and biology and genetics.  Understanding the beast you are dealing with, will help you to deal with it more effectively. Read.  Study.  Learn.  Go to classes.  Go to groups.  Watch shows.  Don’t just have an uneducated opinion…know the facts.

5) To Still Experience Life.  What does “experience life” mean?  It means: enjoy your hobbies.  If you don’t have any, you need to get some.  Quickly.  Spend time with your friends.  No friends? Go back and read Point #2 on this list.  Go on vacation.  Maybe you don’t have money for that (maybe because it’s been depleted by your addict). Spend a Saturday enjoying whatever outdoor awesomeness it is that your city has to offer.  Work out.  Have fun with your spouse.  Enjoy and appreciate the loved ones in your life who AREN’T struggling with addiction.  Take your grandchild out on a date.  Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit out on your back porch, and read a book that is just FUN, and ISN’T about dealing with addiction.  Find a way that you can help someone else. DON’T STOP LIVING.

Because there are two sides to every story, and because perspective is an important thing to gain, look for a “Part 2” of this post coming soon, as my sister speaks from the viewpoint of the addict.

In the meantime, what tips do YOU have for dealing with an addict? Do you have experience in this realm? Do you agree or disagree with the points listed above? We would love to hear your feedback on this very important topic!!


Hayley Hengst
Hello AM readers! I'm Hayley. Stay-at-home mom to three boys/angels/tyrants (primarily tyrants). Most days, I am very content in that role. Other days, well, you know how it goes. I absolutely love writing for Austin Moms Blog. I also love: books, bubble baths, Mexican food, porch swings, and traveling. I hate: the hustle and bustle of trying to get out the door, on time, with all three of my kids. Seriously, I just kind of give up. You can read more about my crazy crew at!


  1. Loving an addict is so incredibly painful. My husband is a recovering addict. The times that he’s relapsed were almost the end of our marriage. But boundaries are SO KEY to your survival!!! Learning not to enable that behavior is hard. Because we love them. We want to help. But helping someone continue to kill themselves isn’t helping at all. I had to, and still learning how to love my husband without enabling him and by my actions allowing that to be acceptable in our home, with our children. Codependent No More is a great resource as well as Alanon meetings. Find a support group. You need to be able to have a safe place to be angry and hurt and betrayed and those feelings are valid!!! It doesn’t change your love for them but you essentially go through the stages of grief. On repeat. Until your addict gets help, gets therapy, stays in a program, you can’t help them. It has to be something they want. They are going to be selfish and manipulative because they are driven to get what they need by any means necessary. My husband once described it as not having had water to drink for days in the desert and you need a fix so bad it physically hurts. And it isn’t about them not loving you enough to stop. It’s a horrible soul sucking disease. And it’s such a taboo topic. People want to hide it under a rug. Especially in Christian communities. But we need to bring it out into the open. We need to have programs that don’t cost a kidney and the blood of a virgin to be able to get adequate help! Most addicts don’t have $8K laying around for the day they decide they want to get clean. I’m so glad you shared your story and are shedding much needed light on the topic.

    • Bekah…thanks for being so open, and sharing about your own struggles/experiences. I’m sure walking alongside a spouse as they struggle with addiction is much more difficult than walking alongside a sibling. Sounds like you have done/are doing a beautiful job though, have learned a lot along the way, and have a lot of advice to offer others. Best wishes for you and your husband!!!

  2. I really appreciated reading this article, and I am truly very sorry for your experience. 🙁 Both of my parents were addicts (one with drugs, and the other alcohol), and I certainly agree with everything you mentioned. The part on surrounding yourself with support is spot on (my sisters, grandparents, and best friend have been my absolute heroes), and receiving education re: the disease is a must. It really will grant you peace and better tolerance in accepting “what is”… At the end of the day, I would never chose to re-live my early years, but I am grateful for the understanding I have gained, and more importantly, I believe I am a better mom and wife due to all I’ve had to overcome.

    I wish you, your family, and your sister the very best in getting through this. Hang in there, and thanks again for sharing. It reminded me that I am not alone!

  3. I have a strong appreciation for those who can write about a negative subject. It truly does help others. So thank you for this.
    I agree with Bekah in that the resources available for those struggling with addiction are outrageously expensive and not adequate.
    We are upon the 3rd anniversary of our addict’s passing this November. It is so sad and tragic. I lost my little brother to his addiction to alcohol. Smart (extremely gifted actually) so funny, amazingly handsome and charming and he just couldn’t get out from under it. He actually “quit” a couple times and had moments of trying.
    After dealing with it for so long I became angry. The last time I saw my brother we fought and then I didn’t invite him to a party I had at my house. Next thing, I’m getting the most dreadful hysterical call from my sister while I’m at a party saying that our brother has passed away. He was 28 years old.
    I would give anything to be struggling with his addiction again if he were here. His decisions in life affected us daily and now the void of his death leaves a piece of our hearts permanently broken. I will always regret our fight being the last time we spoke. That is my cross to bear. It would be my suggestion to those dealing with addicts to try and always leave on a good note. You just never know when it could be the last time you hear their voice.

  4. I absolutely loved these points on dealing with an addict. It’s so difficult to keep holding on merely because said addict is family. Especially when he’s so charismatic when he’s around people. Everyone likes him…. When he’s around. If he’s not around, before he leaves, he will take whatever he can to feed his habit for a binge, leaving you to worry with no satisfaction until he shows back up ready to repeat the cycle. It’s heart breaking but it’s even harder to feel like you’re abandoning them. I have such a hard time riding the line between loyalty/love and resentment/anger. I can’t wait to read the next part of this post.

    • Glad you found the post to be helpful. Part 2 will come out soon, and I personally felt that some of the things my sister says makes it easier to understand, and feel compassion for, the addict in your life.

  5. Wonderfully written. Loving an addict is difficult to say the least. Addiction in a family effects the entire family. If you are an addict ‘ s mom I would suggest the Facebook group called The Addicts Mom.

  6. For those who are seeking help on both sides of this issue as described by Hayley I would highly recommend spending time to check out Celebrate Recovery It started at Saddleback Church and was founded by John Baker and Rick Warren. If you want to know first hand information about CR, about working the programs to deal with Hurts, Habbits, and Hangups I am more than happy to speak live to anyone who wants to know more.

    Awesome job Hayley!!!! A lot of bravery in your summarized post.

  7. I have found myself re-reading this more than once. I loved it. It FINALLY put all my thoughts down on words.I feel like people easy to judge when you have faith in someone who fell for this trap. Even though our situations are different. I agree with the comment above this post is brave and educational, and you should feel proud. Staying educated is so much more important and helpful than being judgmental, negative, and or walking away. Thank you! I can’t wait to read more 🙂

  8. I’m reading this article again for the, well, let’s just say I have read it a few times. It came to me at just the perfect time, and I don’t think it was by accident.

    The first time was June 30, 2015, when my sister’s (MY addict’s) four children came to live with me. It was supposed to be temporary, she was supposed to get sober. She passed away on January 12th, 2016, and while I don’t think she intended that high that night to be her last, it was.
    We had an outpouring of support from friends and family. Many of which had no idea what was going on. Your article popped up on my newsfeed on January 23rd, 2016, so I shared it with this caption on my page:
    “Retracing steps…what should I, could I, have done differently?? I first read this article on June 30th, 2015. When this nightmare began. Some of the things on this list I did, most I didn’t because, well, just because. It turns out that addiction is a “dirty little secret” that exists for many of my friends and acquaintances and their families. Maybe this article can help, maybe not. Maybe I’m over sharing and making people uncomfortable. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Scroll on, be my friend and love me anyways :-)”

    This popped up on my page today, and I realize I have yet to do many of the things you suggest. My focus has been 100% on helping my sister, Sheri’s, kids. They are now ages 16, 11, 10, 9, and 7. The nine year old has Downs Syndrome and the 16 yo has a different father. The father of the other four abused my sister. Often and frequently. He used her addiction and her children to control her. He isolated her from he friends and family when they got back together again and again and again. He’s a narcissist and a sociopath and has a lifetime of drug and alcohol addiction himself. My sister took the kids and left him for good in April 2013 and he made no attempts to contact the kids – there was a founded child abuse report against him from that incident because of the violence they witnessed. The youngest was 2 and told his new daycare worker “I saw my daddy hit my mommy.”

    I thought things would be better. And it was, for a couple of years, but she started using a substance that took complete control, computer duster. She had used cocainevand meth in the past, but those were much easier to kick than duster. She never did. And she said she used because she wanted to quiet the voices in her head. I now see she meant her exes voice. The emotional and verbal abuse was way worse than the physical and now her kids are forced to live with it.

    I have been consumed with fighting “the system” the last two years to prove to them that even though I am “just an aunt” I am more competent and fit to raise my sister’s children, why she asked me to care for them instead of their “father.” The court decided to separate the children, sending the three youngest boys to live full time with their father and not forcing the oldest girl to go against her will. I have legal guardianship of her.

    We see the boys every other weekend, phone calls in between visits have been stopped. Additional visitation has been denied – the third holiday on a row the kids have experienced a loss, this time from each other. I’m still fighting and I’m still pissed as hell at addiction all it steals: the freedom to make choices, the potential life the addict could have had….the literal loss of life and after shocks and tremors it continues to leave in its wake. It’s a horrible, awful disease. And those of us that are forced to confront it and clean up its mess….we are left with little resource but to keep our own oxygen masks handy and make sure we use them. Your article just reminded me of that. It’s time I start acting on your tips 😊 God bless


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