Asking an Addicted Family Member to Leave the House

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Illustration © Eleanor Davis

 

One of the most painful and confusing situations for a family dealing with an adult loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction is wondering if you should ask your loved one to leave.

In some ways, a decision like this seems nothing short of cruel — like kicking someone when they’re already down. Perhaps they’re as low as you’ve ever seen them, perhaps they’ve regressed to a helpless state, unable to follow through with any sort of responsibilities … and you’re supposed to give them the boot?!

I would ask you to look beyond this initial hesitation, this cocktail of fear and guilt that often paralyzes us and prevents us from seeking real solutions.

First, remember your ultimate goal.

Getting your loved one into treatment is where your energies must be focused. This is the most important role you could possibly play. If your loved one is no longer taking things into their own hands, someone needs to step in and gently, lovingly, guide them towards a place where they can begin to deal with the addiction.

So, with that ultimate goal of treatment in mind, consider next whether having your loved one living at home is supporting their use, or their non-use. In other words, is their living at home making it easier for them to use, or pulling them in the opposite direction? You know the situation well, so you’re probably well qualified to make that call. Letting them know that there are consequences to their drug or alcohol use is one important way you can support your loved one and guide them to seek treatment.

If They Stay at Home, Are You Enabling their Addiction?

If you determine that having your loved one stay is supporting their use (enabling their addiction), asking them to leave may be the next step. This can be seen as a “natural consequence” of your loved one’s addiction and behavior. They are making bad decisions for their self, and it follows that they will then stumble, and even fall. And that fall, as scary as it feels to stand back and let it happen, may very well be part of what ignites their motivation to seek help.

If you decide you must ask them to leave, use positive communication techniques and choose a calm moment to explain your position. You might say something like:

“I want our relationship to work. I want you to stay living here, but I’m not comfortable with it, because I am inadvertently supporting your alcohol/drug use. I love you, and I can’t continue to have you living here while using. Please consider these options for help. When you’re able to stay sober, you can come back.”

If you choose to use leaving as leverage, and your loved one still says no to treatment, back off for a couple weeks. In our experience, loved ones often reconsider during this grace period.

 

Mean What You Say – Follow Through

But if this technique does not sway your loved one to enter treatment for their drug or alcohol abuse, you must be willing to follow through and ask them to leave. In the case of a son or daughter, you can help them find their way out of the house by paying for their first few months of rent.

Remember that clinging to an unacceptable situation out of fear that something might get worse often translates to enabling your loved one’s use. Channel your love for them, and your faith that things can and will improve, into a determination to let natural consequences occur.

Join the Allies in Recovery member site today for full, unlimited access to our e-learning platform, expert guidance, and the chance to connect with others in your situation. Learn more here.

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About the Author:

Dominique Simon-Levine
Dominique launched Allies in Recovery in 2003. Her work has been featured on HBO and NPR. She is a facilitator and a trained speaker on issues of addiction and the family. She has worked extensively developing and evaluating federally-funded substance abuse programs for organizations and clinics throughout Massachusetts and New York. With an interest in recovery and substance abuse that spans 20 years, she sees a huge need to help families develop the skills that will help a loved one recover fully in a supportive, whole, and lasting way in their families and in their communities. Her mission is to have Allies in Recovery fill that gap.