Zero tolerance for drug abuse: Lessons for families

Eight (8) crucial points for HOW TO create an environment of zero tolerance of drug abuse in your home. We welcome your questions at the end.

minute read

Zero tolerance: Families and drug addiction

What position should your family take when it comes to drug use, abuse, and addiction? Here, we review why and how a zero tolerance for drug abuse can help you and your family. Then, we offer eight (8) crucial points for creating a safe environment when an addict is living at home. Your questions and comments about helping families of addicts are welcome at the end.

A drug user will use

We all have the same urges for pleasure. But even an addict knows innately that continued drug use hurts others. However, most addicts will not stop using unless they have no other choice. Most addicts will use until they can no longer get away with it. A drug addict will not only use drugs, but also use every person around them to meet their own selfish needs. A drug addict will manipulate and try to control those around them so they can continue using.

A co-addict will be used

Most co-addicts would agree that it would be easier sometimes to use drugs themselves and escape their situation, but they do not. In turn, they writhe in pain while they are being exploited by their loved one. For as long as a co-addict continues to feel bad for, empathize with, take care of, and have compassion for an addict, is just as long as an addict will continue to use drugs and take advantage.

Trying to distinguish the truth from the lies of an addict is pointless. When an addict is actively using, nothing makes sense because they will say whatever they have to, to get what they want. But still, a co-addict must understand that drugs are a WANT NOT A NEED. If we all lived our lives grabbing everything we wanted, when we wanted it, good or bad, there would be chaos. Why should the bar be set lower for those who are addicted?

Quitting is not easy but it can be done

To say that an addict can quit anywhere and at any time would be a bold statement. Drug abuse chemically alters the brain. Depending on the substance, there are an array of chemical reactions that take place while using drugs that cause a dependency and addiction. There is no denying that abstaining from drugs or alcohol would or should be effortless. Statistics on substance abuse show us that quitting and recovery are not easy and relapse is common.

But because something is not easy, does it mean it is not worth doing?

Recovery for addiction is possible. One way to get there is to create an environment and atmosphere that makes it impossible and uncomfortable for the addict to use. It is unlikely an addict will just wake up one day and stop using. It is the help, tolerance and enabling from family and friends that helps empower an addict to keep using drugs. So how can you do this?

Crucial Points in Zero Tolerance

There are things you CAN DO to change your relationship patterns with an addict. But first, do not try and reason with a person who is actively high. Wait until the addict has slept it off for a while before trying to speak with them. If you keep trying to reason and rationalize with a person who is under the influence of a mind altering substance, you will be running in circles. An addict needs to see what their lives have become and how much they are hurting others. Drugs keep them from doing that. When you address an addict:

1. Explain your worries and concerns.

2. Discuss how drugs and/or alcohol is affecting the addict’s life and other’s lives.

3. Tell the addict you will no longer put up with their behavior.

4. Give the addict an ultimatum, and what you will do if they do not comply (they must leave the house, you will not speak to them, help them, give them money, bail them out, etc.).

5. Have a prepared plan of action that is non-negotiable (a rehabilitation center set up, inpatient program,

recovery plan, meetings, etc.).

6. Give the addict some time in which they can think about their options (a day, week, end of the month).

7. Give a specific date and time that they must address you about their decision.

8. MOST IMPORTANTLY do not go back on your word. If you make a threat, ultimatum or promise, you must follow through with it or you risk going back into the same cycle.

Zero tolerance sets limits

An addict will use as long as you allow them to, and in most cases they will not stop unless they realize they have no choice. Utilizing a zero tolerance attitude may be one way to speed up that process. There are no guarantees in addiction and recovery; you will not know how hard an addict will fall, how long it will take, or if it will ever take. Although it is not a guarantee for recovery, having zero tolerance for addiction can have great value for family members. It can allow loved ones to heal and stop being used and abused by an addict.

Know when to let go

After multiple attempts and failures at recovery, to let go of an addict and stop them from destroying your life does not mean you are abandoning them. Distance may allow you to help yourself and live your life again while giving the addict one less person to enable their drug use. The more family members you have on board with you, the more difficult it will be for the addict to be able to manipulate and continue to abuse drugs.

Get out of co-addiction!

Since addiction is a preventable disease, you should realize, at some point, to start using was a conscious choice for the addict. A family member of an addict must also make a conscious choice to change the path in which they are headed. Anyone who has been in a relationship with an addict can tell you about the hundreds of times the addict has promised to quit, denied they have a problem, and lied.

To continue to blame the disease and make excuses for an addict will help keep everyone involved in a cycle of addiction. It takes great change, courage, stopping unhealthy patterns, being firm, and serious about your demands to break the cycle. But you can do it!

About the author
Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I have read and agree to the conditions outlined in the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

  1. Theresa, It is really hard especially because addicts rarely get the right kind of help to address underlying issues. My second book, not yet published is about an addict’s recovery and it is so different from the 28 day programs we think can heal someone. Usually an addict will have body and chemical imbalances that lead them to addiction. They may have undiagnosed mental health issues due to underlying health issues that can be corrected. The approach should be a holistic one, on the level of chemical, physical, mental & spiritual but unfortunately because he is an adult he can make a choice and drugs are stronger than the mind if the mind is sick. If you have the resources I would try to get him into a recovery program for 6 months and one that focuses on various modalities. In my opinion, it is the best way for true and real recovery.
    I am just so overwhelmed and happy that all of you have been reaching out here. I usually write back instantly but the posts have been sometimes too many for me to respond to daily. That does not mean I have not read every one and that I am not listening.
    I understand and I am here to help.
    But I cannot enable you the way we enable the addict. I could give advice to the specifics of each situation but the truth is that if it is not getting better (meaning the addict is not choosing recovery and at some point taking sobriety seriously) and getting the right
    kind of help there is not much you can do.
    It is a cycle and if you read back to yourself your own story and all of the stories here you will see the PATTERN, I PROMISE YOU WILL.
    It is like one day (and it wasn’t just one day but a series of days) I just woke up and said “I AM SO SICK OF LIVING LIKE THIS.” that is when I realized that I loved myself and my child and
    wanted and deserved to live a wonderful life. If I was going to be happy and try to love life and my husband (addict) was not going to follow my lead then I had to LEAVE.
    PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, IF YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY, READ HOPE STREET. I wrote it for you to really be an eye opener. Sometimes when you are in the situation it is difficult to see
    the forest for the trees and seeing it through the eyes of another (an unbiased party) is the best way to get the message.

    Amanda Andruzzi, MHP, CHC, AADP,published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the video book trailer:

  2. My son is a heroin addict. He is 21 the first time I found out about his problem was when he was 17 right before he turned 18 and our house was raided by the idea, what an eye opener. Then we watched our son go through withdrawal, it was awful. Its been 4 years, 5 raids, one arrest, now in the last year in a drug program . He seems to want help now, after a year of help but I don’t know, its really hard.

  3. Anne,
    If you write that letter, you are enabling him too. Part of zero tolerance is staying out of the addict’s business because if he wants to use, he will find a way regardless of any hurdle you put in his way. Yes, he has to want to be clean and sober and you have to focus on yourself and allow him to prove his recovery. If you force things, they usually blow up in your face.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer:

  4. I need some advice. I want to try the steps for zero tolerance and stop enabling my addict spouse. He is currently incarcerated. Says he wants to change but when we have a disagreement he threatens he will go back to his ex who will provide all his needs and leave our marriage. You say everyone needs to be on board. She enabled him for 19 years before we met. I’m thinking of writing her a letter and telling her to stay out of his life and do not try to enable again but not sure what to say or if this is even a good idea? I really love my husband and want him to stay sober. He has been clean for 5 months now. Any thoughts?

  5. Aleida,
    You may not see it this way now but by leaving you and your children, he is doing you a favor. You are free to move on physically, we just have to get you to catch up emotionally. This takes time but you have to do the work. Any person who wipes out your bank account while you are caring for two children, is not someone you would urge a friend or your own child to be with right? Well you need to start caring for yourself the same way and realizing that you do not deserve this. You deserve much more. The work you need to do is for you and not him. At this point, you cannot help him and he does not want your help so you are left with one person to focus on and that is you.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer:

  6. It’s been two months that my husband left the house without saying good bye . The last time I saw him he was looking under the bed looking for my mistress.. His hallucinations and parinoid is really bad. For the last two years it’s just getting worse.. This time he has not bothered us ( me or my two kids) he wiped out my bank account . I know he is dealing as well.. He has admitted to me that he needs help and promised that he will do it on his own. This time he hasn’t tried coming back. I haven’t tried looking for him because I’m just so tired of that life but yet I love him and would love for him to seek help. I’ve tried calling probation officer but I guess he comes out clean. Cuz he is still out and about.. I don’t know what to do!!!

  7. Hi Rebecca. Have you looked into family counseling? If your husband and son are going into a direct power struggle, there could be more than just anxiety as an issue. While anxiety can trigger marijuana use, underlying mental health disorders can make the symptoms of withdrawal that much more difficult.

    I’d suggest talking to a family therapist, your family doctor, and an adolescent addiction treatment center in your area to learn more about marijuana dependence, family of origin problems, and their resolution. Best of luck to you!

  8. my son is 16 and getting high frequently. My husband warned him he would no longer be allowed in our home if he continued. Today he is sleeping outside our home for the first time but in our yard. I am sick about it but agree that something must be done. I am also worried that e may try to hurt himself even though he has never shown any signs of this. My husband thinks he is too selfish to do such a thing. We have been struggling with anxiety and trying to get his medication increased but maybe the whole problem stems from the weed use. I am so confused if this is addiction is it a secondary problem and if so do we stay firm with our consequences if he really has an anxiety problem?

  9. Frank C,
    I do know exactly your experience and I empathize with your situation, especially when children are involved. Please stick with Al-anon, perhaps even a family counselor and local support groups for you and your children might really keep your family in a good place despite what the addict is doing.
    I know you love your wife but her keeping clean is not something you can force her to do. You can try an intervention but if that does not work then you must, for your sake and the sake of your children, start moving on to a life without her. I know that sounds cruel but you and your family deserve to be happy. You really do, even if you don’t see it now.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict
    View the Video BOOK Trailer:

  10. Amanda…. I cannot believe how progressive this disease is…both for the addict and the co-addict. My wife was legally forced out of the house because of her long history of drug use(opiates and meth) we have four kids and they have witnessed and been around the craziness for over seven years. We are now going thru the court for visitation which includes random drug testing and weekly NA meetings. She refuses it all and thus cannot see the kids. She has now been kicked out of her moms house. She’s living couch to couch…and no one knows where’s she’s at. During this drama we have been discussing restoration and rebuilding our family which is impossible with the untreated addiction still going on. I know you understand the overwhelming pain I’m going thru. I love her but just don’t feel comfortable around her…a constant pain in my gut when I’m around her…as if my higher power is warning me….something ain’t right. She tells me tough love doesn’t work for everyone. I just know I can’t do this anymore. I say that but can’t imagine life without her…we’ve been thru so much together. I also am extremely fearful of her being with another man which she vehemently denies ever doing during her addiction…says that’s one thing she just can’t do. With all the lies and manipulation I don’t ever know what to believe. Thank God for al-anon… It’s had saved my life. I’ve got to figure out what I can live with and start to focus on me and raising my kids. I fear being lane but reality is I’ve been alone for a very long time even when she was home. You’re experience strength and hope are appreciated.

  11. Amor,
    Thank you for your comment. I agree, shielding children to some degree may be necessary to not interfere with their innocence, but they know more than you think.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from a co-addict

  12. This is good advice for maintaining a zero tolerance policy for drug abuse in a home with existing addicts. For homes where drug use issues come up for the first time, I think discussion is important. Lying or deflecting to kids about drugs is not a good idea. It can leave children wondering and experimenting because they’ve been misled their whole lives and can only trust their own experiences

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?