How To Trust Someone Who Has An Addiction

Trust – A firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something.

Addiction in any form, including to drugs and alcohol, has it’s own unique way of damaging and hurting everything and everyone in it’s path, including careers, families, friendships, marriages, opportunities, freedom and both your mental and physical health to list just a few. While it can tear a path of destruction as it continues, do you know one of the first things to go?

Trust… One single word, but one with a very big significance to all of us!

Often times, long before loved ones lose their patience, respect or sometimes even their love – trust goes out the window. It’s such an easy thing to lose but a big thing to regain again. It is possible, as long as you understand the things we will discuss as you read on, have time, effort and a willingness to change.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that start to chip away before the final blow comes to lose trust completely. It could be the small, repeated lies about someone’s whereabouts, a dead phone, a lost wallet, the secrecy, the broken promises, failed responsibilities, sobriety or abstinence.

Other times, the offenses are much larger. Either way, the lies, the strange behaviour and constant senses of doubt and worry have left you in an upsetting, difficult and tiring trust-less relationship. And relationships without trust aren’t healthy for anyone.

You should never stay in an unhappy, trust-less or unloving relationship with someone who you can no longer trust, simply because you think that you should for the sake of children or anyone else. This only ends up hurting you, your children and any other family members. It can also delay or completely stop those with addictions from seeking and accepting help for their addiction.

The Constant, Repeated Abuse Of Trust

There are few people more difficult to trust than those in active addiction. After all, the disease of addiction thrives on support – and support can only happen with the right pieces in place. A person in active addiction often needs to craft truth-bending stories or break promises in order to get the drugs or alcohol that they are physically, mentally and emotionally dependent upon.

Family members can end up going through a constant physical and emotional rollercoaster as trust is broken, temporarily patched back up and shattered once again. Family members and friends want to believe their loved one is telling the truth – that they’re clean/sober, ready and completely committed to do whatever it takes. Family members want to believe their loved one when they beg for forgiveness, again, because they learned their lesson, really learned their lesson this time. Family members want to believe it will be different this time, constantly living with the hope that this will be the last time, however we know that initially, this is never the case.

The repeated lies and broken promises however, change things. Our usual expectations are reversed. Lies, excuses or blaming others are inevitable. Distrust is inherent. Let downs are an everyday occurrence. Responsibilities are no longer given as they know that they wouldn’t be met and stuck to.

With that being said, you may wonder how you can ever trust a loved one who has an addiction? The following tips can help:

  1. Understand Exactly What You Are Dealing With

    The lies told to support and promote their addiction aren’t about you, the things you have (or haven’t) done – and they aren’t even about your loved one lacking values or morals. The lies are a result of physical and chemical changes in the brain, caused by the use of alcohol or drugs. You are dealing with the disease of addiction. It is a medical condition, as are diabetes or heart disease.

    When you can step back, look at the lies, excuses and deception as part of the disease – rather than a part of your loved one – it makes it a little easier to separate the two and helps to better understand addiction. Your loved one’s behavioral illness has influenced his or her thoughts and actions, poor decisions and behaviours that have harmed you. Distinguishing the person you know and love from the words and actions that have harmed you is an excellent first step in learning to trust again. You can look at the science behind addiction, here in one of our previous articles.
  2. Trust Yourself

    Unfortunately, one of the side effects of addiction can be the “blame game”. With addiction in play, everyone is hurting: the person who is using or drinking and his or her family or friends. Where there is pain, there is often blame.

    During your loved one’s active addiction, you may have been accused of things you’re shocked that he or she could imagine, yet alone say out loud. You may have spent countless hours or even days defending and justifying yourself against hurtful false accusations. Your faith, trust and self respect may be lacking from being constantly knocked or questioned.

    When learning to trust another person, you must know how to trust yourself: Trust your instincts, trust your assessment of the situation and trusting your gut instinct again– regardless of whether or not your addicted loved one agrees with you or not. Trust that you do not have to gain their acceptance of everything and trust that you are your own unique, individual and special person – no matter how great your love for him or her is.

    Trusting yourself opens the door to trusting others.
  3. Communicate Openly & Honestly

    Communication is one of the most important tools in life – especially in relationships that include addictions and recovery. Many times, the way in which we communicate with each other contributes to how our relationships are grown and strengthened.

    Because addiction strains communication, recovering those open lines can be a long and difficult process. Things to keep in mind in order to improve conversations and communication include:
    1. Thinking through what you want to communicate.
      When words can either make or break, take your time to think before speaking. It won’t be easy – especially in the heat of the moment or when you feel hurt,attacked or lied to. In the long run, those few extra moments to gather your thoughts can go a long way to help rebuild and repair trust. In a previous article, we looked at responding and not reacting. This is a truly vital skill for anyone to learn but even more so for those wanting to repair broken trust. You can read that article here.
    2. Using “I” statements.
      You know what it is like to feel attacked. Not good, right? One way to avoid this type of communication is by conveying how you are feeling – and beginning statements with the word “I” rather than “you”.
    3. Create a conducive environment.
      Emotions can escalate quickly in chaotic, unstable environments. In order to avoid confusion, misunderstandings and frustration – plan to have conversations in an environment that is private, quiet and calm. This way, you’ll both feel more comfortable and safe in opening up. Sometimes doing this outside can help, especially if you live near to a beach, forest or other nice, peaceful outdoor spaces.
  4. Set healthy boundaries.

    Boundaries are key in creating healthy relationships and in (re)building trust; this establishes guidelines for appropriate behaviours, responsibilities, words and actions. When your boundaries are malleable or don’t exist, you open yourself up to lose what makes you, you. A lack of healthy boundaries when a loved one is in active addiction can mean that you will be lied to, cheated on, stolen from, blamed or continually “walked over”.

    Check out our suggestions for seven of the most important boundaries you should try to set and stick to when a loved one has an addiction at the end of this list below.
  5. Know that it takes time and dedication.

    Trust can take months, years or even longer to rebuild trust– but it can also be broken with one single action. It will take many honest answers, reliable actions and a continuous commitment to succeed in rebuilding trust before you can begin to grow and trust someone again.

    Allowing your loved one to begin to earn your trust will take time, observation of their commitment to recovery, changes in their lifestyle, improvement in their behaviours and a change in their words. Healing will happen over time as you witness a constant effort to maintain trustworthy actions and behaviours.

    Healing, forgiving and trusting are all processes. Let them unfold.

Setting & Sticking To Boundaries

Boundaries are an essential factor in any relationship, but when a friend or loved one has developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol, boundaries play an even more important role.

What Do Boundaries Have To Do With Addiction?

Boundaries are key to creating healthy relationships; even when your loved one has a medical condition like addiction. Boundaries are key in marriages, friendships, relationships between you and your parents, siblings, coworkers and others. Think of boundaries like a psychological fence between two people. You are not the same person as anyone else, regardless of your relationship. Boundaries establish guidelines for suitable behaviours, responsibilities and actions. They set limits as to what is acceptable and what isn’t.

When your boundaries are weak, or don’t exist at all, you compromise what makes you, you. Weak boundaries allow you to lose yourself, your freedom, your personal space, what you will accept as to what behaviours and actions are acceptable. Weak boundaries when a loved one is an addiction, it means you will likely be lied to, cheated, mentally, emotionally, financially or even physically or sexually abused or/and stolen from.

When you set boundaries with an addicted loved one, you increase the chances that he or she will seek help by learning that their behaviours are unacceptable and that they can only change this by seeking, accepting and sticking to that professional help and support.

Who Needs To Set Boundaries?

You, you and you.

Every single person needs to have boundaries within his or her relationships with others and if your loved one is addicted to heroin, painkillers, alcohol or any other type of drug, you need to establish and stick to inflexible and rigid boundaries. Setting these solid boundaries for yourself allows you, the loved one of a drug or alcohol addicted person, to bring a measure of control, sanity and order into a chaotic and unstable situation.

The following are telltale signs that you need to set boundaries or strengthen your existing boundaries:

  • You bring up what he or she has done wrong in the past
  • You send him or her on “guilt trips”
  • You are constantly telling him or her what to do (and warning what will happen if they don’t do it)
  • You criticise, judge or blame
  • You give solutions when you haven’t been asked to
  • You cover for him or her (lied for them, called in sick for work or picked them up or taken them to the bar or dealer)
  • You are taken advantage of or are stolen from
  • You give them money which will directly or indirectly be used for drugs or alcohol
  • You walk on eggshells to avoid conflicts or discussions

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

If you haven’t already, it’s time to set clear, fixed, healthy boundaries. Doing so involves taking care of yourself, understanding your wants and needs and determining what you don’t like, want or need. It also involves clear communication with your loved one.

As situations in each home and relationship will vary, the following boundaries are not a “one-size-fits-all”, but they are a good place to start when deciding how to set boundaries with the addicted person.

No drugs or alcohol are allowed around me or in the house

Let your loved one know what substances are acceptable and unacceptable in the home. Don’t want illegal substances like heroin or cocaine under your roof? Let them know. No drinking alcohol when the kids are in the house? Communicate that with them.

Let your loved one understand the consequences if they violate those boundaries. Will you force them to find somewhere else to stay if they’ve been drinking? Will you notify the police or their Keyworker if you find heroin in the dresser drawers or in the house? Reclaim control over what goes on in your home, within your personal space and the space around your children, grandchildren or other vulnerable people.

No drug-using friends are allowed in the home

Just because your loved one may not be using or drinking at the time, doesn’t mean his or her friends aren’t. If you don’t want someone who is high or drunk in your home, then you shouldn’t have to put up with that. Laying out such a boundary reduces the damaging effect of addiction on the family and helps reduce their triggers, temptations and peer pressure. You could also encourage & promote those in recovery to come over instead.

If you’re arrested, I will not bail/help you out or pay for a lawyer to defend you

This type of boundary will prompt responsibility for your loved one. Although addiction is a disease that needs to be treated as such, there is a responsibility that lies upon your loved one to take care of themselves by getting help. When you set such a limit, you are letting them know that they are an adult and are responsible for themselves. Make it clear that drug use or drinking is something that must be confronted, but in the meantime, they must conform to the standards of behaviour that you expect, and the law requires.

No more insults, ridicule or abuse

Retain your own values, your plans and your goals. By setting boundaries to eliminate the insults, you no longer sacrifice your self-worth. Reestablish the self-respect and integrity that you hold, and that your family holds by defining what is acceptable language and actions. Don’t forget that you have a right to expect decent and respectful behaviour from others, including a loved one who has an addiction.

I will not give you any more money – whether it is to pay a bill, buy you food or put fuel in your vehicle

Addiction can distort family roles It turns family members into caretakers, scapegoats, doormats, enablers and pleasers. By setting the boundary to no longer financially support your loved one, you are focusing on your own well-being and mental health. Remember, setting boundaries won’t cure the addiction or control an addicted person – but they will protect you. Protect your mental health, your physical well-being and your finances. You can find more information about family roles in an Addicted Family here.

I will not lie, cheat, steal or cover for you anymore – regardless of the circumstances

Insisting that your loved one act more responsibly will benefit both of you. The disease of addiction thrives in chaos, deception and lies. Set boundaries that will help to remove you from such mayhem and will also encourage your loved one to take ownership in his or her actions and behaviours.

If you aren’t on time for dinner, events or gatherings, you are not welcome to join us

With the focus on an addicted individual, family members never put themselves first. If you’re constantly worrying about your loved one and the troubles their drinking or drug use brings onto them or the family – you’re being robbed of your peace of mind. Just as your loved one’s life has been taken over by addiction, so too has that of your family. Set boundaries and take back what is important and necessary to all of you.

Setting boundaries is important for both you and your addicted loved one. With boundaries, you are less likely to become entangled in the chaos of the addiction, you will keep the focus on yourself and your well-being and get off of the emotional roller coaster rides. Free from the extremes of emotions, you’ll think more clearly, healthy and rationally. Reclaim your self-respect, set healthy examples for your family and give your loved one reasons to seek help.

Hold firm in your words and actions and don’t make idle threats. In time, you may find you rely on your loved one less and less as you continue to stand strong – and eventually, your loved one may be forced to accept responsibility for his or her actions – causing motivation for him or her to seek help and seek change, too. Make this the year of change for the whole family unit by taking small steps that you can manage and setting boundaries for yourself.

You can find more information about helping and supporting a loved one throughout their addiction & recovery here.

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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