Category Archives: Addiction

Living with an Alcoholic

From PsycCentral By Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Living with an addict can be a living hell: unpredictable and dangerous, yet sometimes exciting and romantic. We never know when we’ll be blamed or accused. We can’t dependably plan social events.

As the addict becomes more irresponsible, we pick up the slack and do more, often becoming the sole functioning parent or even the sole provider. We’re unable to lean on our partner for comfort or support. Meanwhile, we rescue him or her from disasters, medical emergencies, accidents, or jail, make excuses for no-shows at work and family gatherings, and patch up damaged property, relationships, and self-inflicted mishaps. We may also endure financial hardship, criminality, domestic violence, or infidelity due to the addict’s behavior.

We worry, feel angry, afraid, and alone. We hide our private lives from friends, co-workers, and even family to cover up the problems created by addiction or alcoholism. Our shame isn’t warranted; nonetheless, we feel responsible for the addict’s actions. Our self-esteem deteriorates from the addict’s lies, verbal abuse, and blame. Our sense of safety and trust erodes as our isolation and despair grow. Many of the feelings partners experience are the same, regardless of the type of addiction.

Alcoholism is considered a disease. Like other addiction, it’s a compulsion that worsens over time. Alcoholics drink to ease their emotional pain and emptiness. Some try to control their drinking and may be able to stop for a while, but once alcohol dependency takes hold, most find it impossible to drink like nonalcoholics. When they try to curb their drinking, they eventually end up drinking more than they intend despite their best efforts not to.

No matter what they say, they aren’t drinking because of you, nor because they’re immoral or lack willpower. They drink because they have a disease and an addiction. They deny this reality and rationalize or blame their drinking on anything or anyone else. Denial is the hallmark of addiction.

Drinking is considered an “alcohol use disorder.” There is a pattern of use causing impairment or distress manifested by at least two of the following signs within a year, when the person:

  • Drinks alcohol in greater amounts or for a longer period than was intended.
  • Has a persistent desire or has made failed attempts to reduce or control drinking.
  • Spends great time in activities to obtain or use alcohol or to recover from its effects.
  • Has a strong desire to drink alcohol.
  • Fails to meet obligations at work, school, or home due to recurrent drinking.
  • Drinks despite the recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened as a result.
  • Stops or reduces important activities due to drinking.
  • Drinks when it’s physically hazardous to do so.
  • Drinks despite a recurrent physical or psychological problem caused or worsened as a result.
  • Develops tolerance (needs increased amounts to achieve desired effect).
  • Has withdrawal symptoms from disuse, such as tremor, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, agitation.

Alcoholism is a family disease. It’s said that at least five other people experience the effects of each drinker’s alcoholism, coined “secondhand drinking” by Lisa Frederiksen. We try to control the situation, the drinking, and the alcoholic. If you live with an alcoholic, you’re affected most, and children severely suffer because of their vulnerability and lack of maturity, especially if their mother or both parents are addicts.

It’s painful to helplessly watch someone we love slowly destroy him- or herself, our hopes and dreams, and our family. We feel frustrated and resentful from repeatedly believing the addict’s broken promises and from trying to control an uncontrollable situation. This is our denial.

In time, we become as obsessed with the alcoholic as he or she is with alcohol. We may look for him or her in bars, count his or her drinks, pour out booze, or search for bottles. As it says in Al-Anon’s Understanding Ourselves, “All our thinking becomes directed at what the alcoholic is doing or not doing and how to get the drinker to stop drinking.” Without help, our codependency follows the same downward trajectory of alcoholism.

There is hope, and there is help for the addict and for codependent family members. The first step is to learn as much as you can about alcoholism and codependency. Many of the things we do to help an addict or alcoholic are counterproductive and actually can make things worse.

Listen to the experience, strength, and hope of others in recovery. Al-Anon Family Groups can help. The below list is reprinted with their permission. You will learn:

  • Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people.
  • Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery.
  • Not to do for others what they can do for themselves.
  • Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink, or behave as we see fit.
  • Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds.
  • Not to create a crisis.
  • Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events.


©Darlene Lancer 2014

Control is what keeps someone co-dependent

By Barry Herbach

This article will explain why you would stay in a relationship that continues to make you feel bad. But the main focus is addiction.

I thought it would be useful to discuss the concept of letting go. This is a process of acceptance. I think this is best illustrated in the serenity prayer.

 “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. “

 Co-dependence is one of the most misused words in psychotherapy. What the word means is that you are a partner in your significant others addiction. The addict is addicted to the drug and you are addicted to the addict. This is why you are co-dependent.

Let’s say you were in a relationship with an alcoholic, who also has been unfaithful many times. You can continue to hope and pray that he or she will wake up and stop this behavior. You can check their cell phone smell their breath. These are the things that you feel will help you control their being out of control. There are dozens of examples like this, I can give you.  But its denial!!

The bottom line in each of these examples, you are trying to control the uncontrollable.  It is only by realizing and accepting that you have no control in these situations that you can gain control.  If you finally allow your self to see that for right now, this is the reality. That there is nothing you can do to change another persons behavior. Then you will be free to move forward. This is the courage that is described in the serenity prayer. Having to change or do something else, requires courage and determination.  So, if we look at your relationship with the addict and that for the foreseeable future they are not changing; you can leave and free yourself.  You will now have control over your choices. You will see that you are powerless over the addicts choices. Then you can let go of your need to fix the addict and finally work on fixing fix you.

This is starting the first step of AA/Al-anon, you are accepting you are powerless over this. You will never get what you want as long as your partner is an addict. You are destroying your life as they are theres. You will only get sicker as they will, l if they try to become control users.

The irony is both of you are trying to control the uncontrollable. It is a disease of control. The answer is let go of the illusion that you are in control. You blame the addict for no letting  go of the drug, yet you won’t let go of the addict. Explain to me the difference. Both of you have the same choice, LET GO OF CONTROL.

There is nothing more freeing and powerful as saying, “I am leaving.” When you do this. There is nothing the person or situation can do to stop you or control you. Once you let go of trying to control something. You are finally in control.

What’s Behind Our Secret Habits and Superstitions

The simple explanation for our compulsive behavior, and the way to stop.
Published on October 14, 2014 by Teri Woods, Ph.D. in Compulsive!

An intelligent 36-year-old woman weighs about 50 pounds more than is healthy and knows what she needs to do to hit her target weight. During the day, she counts calories, logs her meals, and monitors her pedometer to assure she’s getting 10,000 steps in. She works out four hours a week at the local gym. And she drives home every night along a special route that takes her past seven fast-food restaurants so she can order a greasy drive-thru meal from each. Her goal is to have each one completely eaten before she reaches the next restaurant on the route. She disposes of the bags and wrappings at a gas station three blocks from the middle-class home she shares with her husband and kids. Once home, she cooks a dinner they’ll all share that evening.

A happily married woman with a wide circle of friends is out for a day of shopping. She’s just gone through the checkout line, gathered up her purchases, and taken the change handed her by the cashier. She finds the closest free bench in the mall and sits down. Then she pulls out her wallet and organizes her money. Nickels go in one zippered compartment, heads facing the interior of the purse. Dimes and quarters have their own section, all with heads facing front. The paper money she arranges not in order of denomination, but by each bill’s serial number. Once every piece of money is in place, she picks up her packages and heads out.

A healthy, attractive man in his mid-twenties begs off an evening of drinks with friends. Instead, he goes to his apartment, swallows a few Tylenol, and pulls the old vise his father left him from out of the bottom of his closet. He puts a rubber bit in his mouth. A few deep breaths later, he places his slippered left foot into the vise and starts turning the crank. He focuses on the pain, turning the crank harder and cursing the inner voice telling him to stop. He concentrates, needing to hear the moment his foot breaks.

What compels these high-functioning adults to engage in behaviors that seem to make no sense? Why would the young man willfully hurt himself, or the overweight mother sabotage all the good work she puts into her health each day? And what’s the deal with our money lady?

Why do they do these things?

It’s easy to figure out the “why” behind adaptive behavior, isn’t it? We eat because we’re hungry. We sleep because we’re tired. We spend time with our friends because they make us smile—and we clean our toilets to avoid unpleasant odors and disease. But what about behaviors that don’t have such an obvious cause and effect? We all do something, ranging from quirky to self-destructive, that seem on the surface to have no benefit at all. When those behaviors get in the way of our being able to function at the level we or society thinks we ought to, we label them as compulsions. We can’t explain why we do them, but there’s a certain discomfort if we don’t. Some of us may display our gently eccentric behaviors and proclaim, “That’s just how I roll.” Our more destructive behaviors we do in secret and explain to no one.

Yet still we wonder why.

Here’s the answer: We do the things we do because they work for us. It’s as simple as that.

Every behavior we repeat offers a reward. It doesn’t matter if the reward isn’t obvious. Nor does it matter that the consequences appear to cause pain or misery. The reward is there. And as anyone who’s ever trained a puppy or raised a child knows, behavior that is rewarded will be repeated. Behavior that is ignored will go away. Compulsions, those anxious behaviors driving us to do all kinds of seemingly crazy things, carry their own reward.

Consider the nervous flyer who has a certain ritual he follows on every business trip. He always sits on the aisle. He double-checks the exit row to make sure the people there seem competent to manipulate the emergency door. He hangs on every word of the flight attendant’s safety announcement, despite his familiarity from so many previous trips. During liftoff he recites the names and birthdays of each of his children, and he takes sugar in his in-flight coffee, though he drinks it black at home.

Seem a little odd? What could be the “win” here? Simple: The plane lands safely, and all of his ritualized behavior is rewarded. His brain doesn’t care that planes take off, fly, and land safely thousands of times each day. His brain has linked his rituals and safe landing, and thinks on some level that he made it happen. It’s like that old joke about the man standing on a busy Wall Street corner hopping on one foot. A guy asks him what’s up. The hopper says, “I’m keeping the polar bears away.” The guy responds, “There are no polar bears on Wall Street!” The hopper smiles and says, “Yeah, I’m doing a great job.”

That’s the link our brain makes. Our guy on the plane just wants it to land in one piece. He wants to feel safe. He’s allowed to want that; it’s his win and he’s chasing it. There’s nothing crazy about it.

What, then, do we make of those compulsive behaviors far more sinister—the compulsions that interfere with regular human functioning or even health?

We look for the win. We find what it is these people are chasing and work to replace it with another, less costly, way for them to get it. The question isn’t “why,” but “what”: What is the win?

The woman with the money organized so peculiarly had a father who arranged his own coins and bills that way. She often teased him about it. But when he died she missed him and yearned for the fun they’d shared. One day, on a whim, she sorted her money just like Dad. It felt good. It harmed nothing, eased her grief, and let her feel closer to a man she loved dearly. So she kept it up until it became uncomfortable not to sort her money like that. She deserved those wins. The “cost” of her behavior is minimal and no respectable psychologist would insist that she change that compulsion.

It took a while for the woman with the seven nightly fast-food stops to discover her particular win. She came to realize that food had always been the way her family celebrated achievement. Got an A on that term paper? Let’s go for pizza. Played Chopin’s sonata flawlessly at the recital? Ice cream for everybody! She was now married to a quiet man who withheld praise. She worked as a marketer in a high-tech firm where no sale was ever big enough, and no contract ever long enough. No one marked her good and hard work. She yearned to have her accomplishments recognized, so her brain served up the activity it had been taught all those years ago. It wasn’t the food she was chasing, it was the win of recognition. So she learned to ask her husband and family to listen and comment on her successes—and started getting her win in a way that didn’t cost her the calories, grease, and guilt of the drive-thru.

And the young man who crushed his foot? Some old-fashioned detective work with his therapist led him to his win as well. He came from a family of high achievers—prep schools, Ivy League colleges, long and accomplished careers. But he wasn’t moving up the corporate ladder as fast as he imagined his parents would have hoped. Any attempt to discuss his struggles with his mother or siblings only led to abrupt admonitions to work harder and do better. The only time he could recall his parents being tender with him was when he fell off a horse at age 11, breaking some bones, cracking a couple of ribs, and bruising one entire side of his body. He was allowed to come home to heal. His parents set up a place on the sofa for him and checked in several times a day to make sure he was on the mend. He felt warm and connected to his family in a way he hadn’t before. That was his win. So, when he found himself, as an adult, yearning for that closeness and support, his brain served up the only thing that had brought it to him before. It wasn’t the pain or the injury he was chasing. It had nothing to do with self-punishment or distraction. He wanted to feel connected, so he learned to develop alternate behaviors to give him the win his brain was chasing and was eventually able to set aside the need for self-harm.

Teri Woods, Ph.D., is a psychologist interested in OCD, self harm, and other self-sabotaging behaviors. She is also the author of three thrillers.

‘Discardia’: How to Indulge Moderately

‘Discardia’: How to Indulge Moderately from Psych Central

‘Discardia’: How to Indulge Moderately

I recently read Delia Ephron’s very amusing and thought-provoking book of essays, Sister Mother Husband Dog: (Etc.).

In her essay “Bakeries,” she describes visiting her favorite bakeries and eating her favorite pastries — granola cookies, pizza bread, pain au chocolat, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio donuts — all around New York City.

As I was reading, I was thinking, “Zoikes, how can she be eating all these pastries all the time, without bad health effects?”

Then Ephron explains:

I am lucky to live in carb paradise and I am lucky to be afflicted with a syndrome (disorder?) that my husband calls Discardia — the tendency to throw things away after a few bites unless I fall in love or am really hungry. Thank God for Discardia, or I would be someone who had to be removed from my house with a crane.

When I read this, I thought, “She’s a classic Moderator!”

I’ve concluded that when dealing with temptation, people are either “Moderators” or “Abstainers.” (Take this quiz to find out what you are.)

Moderators do better when they indulge in moderation, and they get panicky if they’re told they can “never” have or do something. They find that a little indulgence satisfies them, and they often lose interest after a few bites. Thus — Discardia!

Abstainers, by contrast, find it tough to start something once they’ve started, but they aren’t troubled by things that are off-limits. They do better when they don’t have that first bite. I’m 100% Abstainer, and life became so much easier for me when I realized that. As my sister the sage, also an Abstainer, explained, “French fries are my Kryptonite. I gave them up, and now I’m free from French fries.”

A Moderator friend told me, “I keep a bar of fine chocolate in my desk, and every day I have one square.”

I said, “I could never do that, that chocolate bar would haunt me until it was gone.” (I’ve since learned that many, many Moderators keep a bar of chocolate squirreled away somewhere.)

There’s no right way or wrong way, only what works for a particular individual. While giving up something (like pastries) might sound hard, for me, it’s far easier than it would be to eat just three bites of a pistachio donut.

Delia Ephron’s “Discardia” is a great example of Moderator behavior — and a great example of how one person’s behavior may or may not suit someone else.

In my book Better Than Before, about how we can change our habits, I have a chapter on the Strategy of Abstaining. (To pre-order, click here–buy early and often.) Abstaining works very well for some people, and not at all for others. Abstaining wouldn’t work for Delia Ephron; Discardia wouldn’t work for me.

Because moderation is so often held up as an ideal and because it sounds so pleasant and less rigid, many people assume they’re Moderators. From what I’ve observed, many people are actually Abstainers. Could you eat three bites of a chocolate cookie with walnuts? I couldn’t. But I can walk right past that bakery. If you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to act like a Moderator, give the Abstainer approach a chance. I know it sounds harder, but really, for Abstainers, it’s easier.

Moderators, do you have a habit like Discardia?

Abstainers, does this sound like something you would do?

In addition to the Abstainer/Moderator issue, some people will be very uneasy at the thought of deliberate food waste.

Gretchen Rubin is the award-winning author of The Happiness Project, a #1 New York Times bestseller. Order your copy or read some sample chapters from the book. You can also watch the one-minute book video or listen to a sample of the audiobook. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central.