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.

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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.
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