Debra Jay

by Debra Jay

Once we decide that untreated addiction is as unacceptable as drunk driving, we will begin addressing addiction differently. Imagine a time when it will be unthinkable not to intervene when someone we love becomes alcoholic or addicted to other drugs. Ignoring a friend or relative’s problem will feel as wrong as handing the car keys to someone who is inebriated.

Families will be able to depend upon most everyone to help them, because almost no one will find it tolerable to support ongoing addiction. Those who become addicted will get help years or even decades sooner, and families will escape endless days of anguish and distress. Small children will know they can depend upon non-addicted family members to protect them from the pain of growing up in alcoholic homes

It’s not only the addict who needs help. Addiction changes the family, friends and peers, too. The longer someone is subjected to another person’s alcoholism, the further they diverge from the world of the well‐adjusted. Addiction begins to chip away at their integrity. The people closest to the addict begin behaving in ways counter to their deeply held convictions. They give money to addicts, telling themselves it’s going to the rent when it’s paying for cocaine; they watch as someone gets behind the wheel drunk, but consider it excessive to call the police; they allow children to fend for themselves in alcoholic homes by professing that youngsters don’t notice the problem. They say: I won’t put up with this for another minute. But they do

Addiction creates unmanageability and families respond by trying to bring things back into balance. The trouble is that the disease of addiction always knocks everyone off center again. As a result, two things begin to happen: 1.) Families try harder to create balance, and 2.) Families grow more accustomed to being off balance. Trapped in this alcoholic system, everyone scrambles to find safety. Each calamity is met with a corresponding survival skill. The alcoholic family must twist and bend their behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and spirits in an attempt to compensate for the negative consequences caused by addiction

Over time, family survival skills harden into character defects and spill into every area of life, negatively affecting relationships with others. Without the benefits of family recovery, these defects are commonly passed from generation to generation. Intervention provides a roadmap back to family integrity. It is a return to our deepest commitments and convictions. The intervention process changes family thinking patterns. It moves families and friends toward a sense of purpose, productive behavior, accurate thinking, and clear goals. Intervention is not just for the recovery of addicts; it’s a way of thinking that helps everyone who participates. Intervention puts the entire family back on course

Once an intervention is complete, family and friends benefit from their own recovery program in Al‐Anon. The 12-steps for families helps transform character defects–isolation, fear, perfectionism, anger, resentment, controlling behavior– into positive ways of living with others. After all, it’s the spirit of each member of the family that determines the quality of family life. Going to Al‐Anon is a small step that leads to unexpected and powerful changes

When families say, “We wish he would just stop drinking,” what they are really hoping for is to reclaim a healthy, loving relationship with the alcoholic. However, if abstinence comes without recovery–for both the alcoholic and the family–relationship problems don’t disappear. They frequently get worse. When families understand that Al‐Anon helps them develop interpersonal skills that promote loving, healthy relationships, they find working their own 12-step programs relevant

Family is our springboard into life. If our family life is robust and healthy, we have a head start on the world. But when addiction distorts and twists our households, we are at a disadvantage. We cannot sacrifice the sanctity of our lives to the rapacious nature of addiction. We are given only one life to live, and it is precious. Each of us, including the addicted person, has a responsibility to stop addiction from stealing away with the best of our lives

Debra Jay is co-author of “Love First,” and author of “No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction.” To contact Ms. Jay, go to

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