The Importance of Making and Sticking to Consequences

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New Year’s resolutions. Your Facebook News Feed is loaded with them. Most blogs have several posts dedicated to them. Browsing through the latest trending topics will include some mention of them. At this time of the year, New Year’s resolutions are everywhere. Everyone is making them, with promises of being happier, healthier and more productive. In all honesty, it gets a bit tiring to hear about these goals, many of which will soon be forgotten. But as you sit quietly and reflect on what others have to say, you may be thinking about some of your own goals in the coming year.

This is the time of year where we most commonly see the families of addicts start wanting change. Not just thinking about it or talking about it but really, really wanting it. Families get tired of making excuses, worrying themselves into sickness and isolating themselves from others. They get tired of denying the inevitable, making false promises and missing out on life. Sometimes, it’s the family that has to reach rock bottom, not the addict.

If someone you love is struggling with addiction and you’ve already tried unsuccessfully to get them into rehab, now is a time to start thinking about what you want for the future. Do you want to be a prisoner to your adult child’s addiction? Do you want to live in the shadow of your spouse’s drinking problem? Or are you ready to start piecing your life back together and finding a new normal?

Why Consequences Matter

If you’ve already tried staging an intervention, you’re familiar with the importance of consequences. Your mediator or interventionist should have talked to you and your family about making and sticking to consequences. The intention isn’t to punish the addict but to make them see that their addiction has no positive end.

The reason why consequences are so critical is because many addicts are protected by their families out of love and fear. Parents don’t want to see their children struggle or hurt; they don’t want to watch their child end up homeless or stealing for money. So they hand over cash, offer a safe place to live and lie to others to protect their children. Really, this is called enabling. These actions create an environment that allows the drug abuse to continue.

The worst part about enabling is that the addict doesn’t feel the fallouts of the addiction. The addict may be living a life where they don’t have to work, pay for rent or take on responsibility. They may wake up, hang out with friends, get high and repeat the cycle. This is often why interventions don’t succeed. Life seems too good to the addict and they don’t want to put in the effort to get clean and sober.

What are Healthy Consequences?

You can’t force your loved one into treatment, but giving up hope is the last thing you should do. It can take addicts months or even years to finally realize that treatment is their best option. In the meantime, think back to the consequences you and the interventionist talked about.

Write them down on a piece of paper and decide which ones you are going to work on. You may start with one or two and slowly integrate more into your life as you become more confident. Remember, you are not giving up on your loved one or punishing them for having a disease. You are simply showing them that you do not and will not support their drug habit. You support recovery.

Examples of healthy consequences include :

  • Not allowing the addict to live in your home for free.
  • No longer paying for the addict’s monthly bills.
  • Not providing cash for unexplained purchases.
  • No longer bailing the addict out of jail.
  • Not handing over the car for weekend binges.
  • Taking away the luxuries that you pay for: the cell phone, cable television, credit cards, gas, etc.
  • Not answering the phone when the addict is drunk or high.
  • No more lying or making excuses to others.
  • No more calling the addict into work or excusing them from other responsibilities.
  • No longer being abused or intimidated by the addict when they are under the influence.
  • Calling the police when they bring drugs into the home.
  • Filing for temporary custody of their children.

The goal is to change the relationship between you and the addict so that they feel the consequences that go along with their choices. Some people choose to step away entirely from the addict as long as they are using. This is hard for a spouse or parent to do, but you may encourage a sibling to limit contact as long as the addict chooses to use. If your loved one refuses help, you have a right to move on and not become a prisoner as well.

Support Recovery, Not Abuse

Every family’s worst nightmare is the fear that their loved one will overdose, be seriously injured in an accident or be physically or sexually assaulted. But as long as addicts are engaging in risky behavior, these risks remain. Families can’t stand in the way of them regardless of how much they try to intervene. The only true way to avoid these risks is by getting clean and sober.

With that in mind, do keep trying to encourage treatment. Always remind your loved one that when they are ready and willing to seek treatment, you’ll be there for them 100 percent. Addiction is so powerful and complex, it’s impossible to come out of the experience unchanged. But you can take some of this change and use it to facilitate recovery. 

Photo credit: Kristin Smith