In Ireland the stigma of addiction often brings feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, anger, and hopelessness in an already highly stressed family unit. Because of this stigma, and in order to survive the chaos, families often adapt a ‘Don’t Talk, Trust, or Feel’ stance. Families may deny the real issue by calling a hangover the flu or excuse a drinking/ drug binge saying it is due to stress. Children will have trust issues due to repeatedly broken promises or be hyper vigilant waiting for the next crisis to occur. Because of this closed family system feelings get turned off, denied or buried because it becomes too painful or dangerous to talk about them.

What is the person with the addiction problem doing in all this? They are also dealing with feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, anger, and hopelessness and coping the only way they know; by drinking, taking drugs, gambling etc. I guess the point I’m making is that everyone copes the best they can.

Clients often ask me questions like:

 ‘He only gambles on Saturdays so that’s ok. Right?”

“She never misses a day’s work so she can’t have a problem?”

“She likes a drink but she can’t be an alcoholic?”So as much as the addict can be in denial about the issue, family members can also be in denial about the seriousness of the problem in their home.


As a counsellor it’s my responsibility to support, empower and educate my clients, while always remaining empathic and non-judgemental.  This is central to the way I work with clients whether they are in addiction themselves or living with addiction. I work with family members to empower them to take back control of their own lives.

I often ask family members this question:

‘If you could separate your family member from the addiction who/what is left?’

My husband, wife, brother, sister, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, friend’ is often the response I get. That’s the sad thing about addiction, after time we lose sight of the person and only see the unacceptable behaviours. As a counsellor I look past the behaviours and see the person. When working with family members I work to support them to reconnect with themselves and hopefully eventually with their loved one. Recovery for family members means taking the focus off the other person, living one day at a time and becoming more aware of our own behaviours and how it influences addiction in the home.

My Top Tips for Living with Addiction

Here are a few tips to taking better care of yourself if there is active addiction in your home.

1) Admit to yourself that there is an addiction problem in your family.
2) Realise that you didn’t cause the addiction and you can’t control or fix it.
3) Take the focus off the other person and bring it back to yourself.
4) Identify your enabling behaviours so that you can make different choices.
5) Have healthy boundaries. Yes means Yes, No means No!
6) Trust your gut instinct and know when you are being manipulated, lied to, blamed, or guilt-tripped.
7) Ask yourself ‘If I was more focused on my own well-being would I be happy and content?’
8) Know your limits. Identify what behaviors you are unwilling to accept.
9) Don’t wait until the situation gets absolutely unbearable. Get help for yourself now!
10)  In times of clarity or sobriety offer love, support and understanding to your loved one.

Change can be quiet scary and frightening at first but I have had the privilege of seeing family members completely transform themselves and be happy irrespective if there is still active addiction in their lives. There is always Hope.

For information on my family support counselling service click here