How Can I Best Love My Family Member Who Has an Addiction?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017. Addiction affects not only the person with the addiction, but their family and loved ones as well. And those who have a loved one with an addiction often don’t know how to navigate their relationship. They fear that addressing the addiction will push their loved one further away, but they also fear that not addressing it head on will allow the addiction to continue.

A listener recently called in to Go Ask Your Father™ and shared that she has discovered her husband is addicted to alcohol. She said that in the past she has scolded him when his drinking became a problem, but that didn’t seem to have an effect. She asked Msgr. Stuart Swetland how she can best love and help her husband without condoning his addiction.

Msgr. Swetland responded, “First of all, you keep on loving him. And to love him is to want, will and work for his true good. You know, we have emotional feelings of love. And those are great when they’re there. But a love as described in the Great Commandment of love is not a feeling, it’s a choice. And the choice is to want, to will, and to work for the true good of the other.”

“Now, you say in the past you have been scolding, or the Scriptures use the word nagging. And we are not to nag one another. That doesn’t actually help us become the best version of ourselves. But we should support one another in good choices and correct one another in bad choices.”

Msgr. Swetland also explained to the listener that if her husband has an addiction it is not simply a matter of bad behavior that needs to be changed – it is an illness that needs to be treated.

“You have to recognize that if your husband has a drinking problem this is a disease. It’s a sickness. It’s not a moral failing, it’s a sickness,” he said. “And you want to approach it as a sickness. There may, at the beginning, have been some bad moral choices he made. But once he became addicted it’s well beyond that to a real disease. And, you know, if he was sick with some rare disease that he was hiding from you, you wouldn’t scold him other than saying, ‘I wish you had shared this with me so I could help you.’ And that’s how you should approach this.”

But wanting and willing the good for a loved one is not enough. It also involves working for their true good. In the case of a loved one with an addiction, that means giving them the support they need to recognize their addiction and encouraging them to be open to help in treating it.

“The first step, usually, for someone who’s addicted is some kind of intervention that allows him to clearly see that he has a problem,” Msgr. Swetland explained. “Because many addicts mask the fact that they have a problem, especially if they are a ‘functioning’ alcoholic where they are able to carry on with their life, their duties, their work, and all that. So an intervention usually has to show that the hiddenness is no longer there. That, in fact, it’s very much out in the open and that this is affecting them very negatively. And because you love him and only want what’s best for him you want him to be able to overcome this.”

Msgr. Swetland emphasized that interventions or acknowledgement of someone’s addiction is not a judgment on who they are as a person, but a recognition that addiction prevents us from becoming the best version of ourselves. To want, will, and work for someone’s true good means we want them to become the person God created them to be.

“You want to help him beat this habit because you want him to be the husband and father he’s called to be. The great definition Matthew Kelly uses for holiness is to become the best version of yourself. You want him to become the best version of himself, and addiction is not going to help you become the best version of yourself.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

Go Ask Your Father airs weekdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.