Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

They Form a Closed Loop – What Can I Do?

boy sitting on bed defensive

In our previous post, we responded to AiR member Christy's comment about her accute concern for her sister and her nephew. Christy then supplied us more information about the situation. Her new comment, and our new response are below.

Thank you for your response, Dominique, but it's even more involved than anyone can imagine. My sister who is elderly (67 but seems older) also take opiates and denies they both have problems. I have tried reaching out but she gets very defensive in her denial and lashes out. I've been over there in the past, where I've seen my nephew high as a kite, and she got mad at me for bringing it to her attention. How dare I say that he's high and telling me "he's FINE"!! There are other forces there that get in the way. She speaks for him, to the point, where I have to say, "I'm not talking to YOU"! He defends her, she defends him, it's just a drain on me to the point where I've had to step back and just pray for them. They don't want counseling and when they do start, there's no follow through. I can't make them do the things necessary for their sobriety…They do have to want that, and they don't want it clearly…

My nephew has absolutely no life skills and I'm afraid that if something happens to his mom, he won't want to live. She does not encourage him at all to have his own life, because then she would be alone…esp since her husband died last year.

They were too high to bury him, and I had to make arrangements, in spite of others telling me to not do it because I was enabling. I did it out of respect for his family. They showed up high as a kite to the funeral and I was so embarrassed for them, as well as myself, but I've been dealing with this for years now. I'm walking away now. I've even asked Elder Services to step in, but they said unless she wants help, she really has a right to live how she wants in her own home. I've had to bail them out so many times in the past, but it's never appreciated or even acknowledged. If anything, they'd rob me blind if they had the chance.

My only hope is really for my nephew at this point, but what addict wouldn't want to stay where his supply is, and nothing expected of him, in the way of going out and making his own way. I'm just afraid of the aftermath, should my sister pass…I'm too old and too tired to take on his addiction. I've care-taken the whole family at one point or another in my life, and did it on my own with no help whatsoever. I need a break. Fortunately they're not calling non-stop like before. She blew thru her inheritance, so the only time she would call is for money. But that well is dry now. I could go on and on but I'll stop here and spare you the harrowing details. I think it's probably more important for me to stand back and figure out my own life. I honestly don't know what else I can do for him. If I send him letters, a cell phone with a private number to call me, she calls…she reads his mail…It's horrible. Thanks for listening Dominique.

Christy, this is such a clear description of the depth and the destructive forces of substance abuse. I am so sorry for your family. Just reading about your repeated efforts to step in over the years was exhausting.

The Closed Loop

What you’re describing between your sister and nephew is one of the most difficult situations. One props up the other, in this reinforcing closed loop.

This loop is most common in partner relationships, where two people in an intimate relationship share a secret life removed from the public, either numb and dumb when high from the drugs, or in a private hell when the drugs run out or when one wants out.

What Does it Mean When Someone Wants Out?

It sounds like this has happened at least several times. One or the other wanted out and made it to treatment, only they didn’t stay in treatment long and were pulled back into the fold.

I would just point out that this is motivation to change.

Going to any treatment, even one time, means that your sister or nephew has some understanding of their predicament and don’t like it. In fact there are times they are so fed up with their life, they are willing to go sit with someone willing to show them the path out.

Your nephew’s home life is made up of an active user, with whom he is enmeshed. This makes getting clean and sober terrifically hard. Whatever inheritance money they received after your brother-in-law’s death probably deepened the drug use.

As hard as all this sounds, the chance that your sister and/or nephew will seek help and get sober is better because you are in their life and you are on this site.

The Stance to Adopt: This is What You Can Do

The stance is one we have described in other posts: you maintain a bridge with them. You are loving and calm, but detached whenever they are high. You don’t step in when you see one or both high. You are at a close distance, ready to help, list of treatment options in hand, support at the ready.

The message you send is clear: I am here, ready to help, when you’re ready. And then you wait.

If the stress is too great, you look into a civil commitment in your area. This is no magic bullet but it completes what you can do.

Two other points:

  1. Like you did by contacting elder services, reach out to emergency responders whenever there is any sign of danger. Call the police and ask for a wellness check. Call an ambulance if you see your family member oddly unresponsive. Put aside embarrassment or other consequences if you can, and pull in public safety.
  1. Once this stance and plan are in place, turn back and focus on your own life. Know that you have done what is possible and, other than patience and waiting, put your energy into what you love. This is also about your life. Our Sanctuary provides lots of ways to kick start self-care.

My heart goes out to you and your family. 



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Hi again Dominique…A few weeks ago, I had my nephew committed because I saw all needles and empty bottles in his room. My sister was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia, so I visited him while she was gone. Anyway, long story short: He was very very sick with blood toxicity from needles and from court, they rushed him to the hospital. He would have died had I not come to visit that day. THey sent him to Highpoint and after 2 or 3 weeks, he had the choice to go to a holding cell(which most do), go home, or go into a shelter…Naturally my sister takes him home!! She knew he almost died and they were in the hospital at the same time!………Fast forward after he came home, I read in the police report that a male on his street was rushed to the hospital from an overdose and it took 4 Narcans to wake him!! she never told me this! I swear it’s a case of misery needs company. She’s sitll on suboxone and whatever other drugs, like benzos or whatever…I could tell she was smoking weed too, because she gets extremely paranoid and argumentative…I can’t talk or be around her when she’s that way. It gets me so upset and she’s not focused at all on his recovery or getting him help! She had the nerve to suggest I do another sectioning on him!!! I told her, NEXT TIME, YOU GO! I’m done!…I feel that I just interfered with nature’s course that fateful day when I visited…My heart is absolutely broken, because now, he knows no other ways of coping or memories of being “normal” that he can fall back on to motivate him…I’m not sure what I can do at this point…I’m praying that God intervenes because I’m at a loss…I love my nephew so much…I hope he makes it, because I’m not doing anymore funerals…I buried all my loved ones, including her husband because they were so high……….Thanks for letting me vent.

  2. Thank you so much for your response, Dominique. It’s such a blessing for me just to be heard. This really has been going on for years, while my parents were alive too. She, her husband and my nephew were all terribly enmeshed to the point of being like a single unit.

    You said if I suspect they’re high to stay away. That is what I’m doing, because they are always high. I just feel so heart broken for my nephew who really never had a chance. It all went south when he was about 11 yrs old. Up until that time, she was a good mom. I know she loves him but opiates got in the way…Suboxone to be precise…to get off the opiates…plus other meds. Why are these doctors that give out the meds and see their condition, allowed to practice medicine. That’s where the fault lies really. They just keep handing out the scripts, in spite of their OBVIOUS addiction. Thats where my anger lies.

    My nephew was pink slipped, as I call it before, but came right back and started again… I feel addicts are just criminalized through the system and the 2 weeks they do get, is not enough to help their recovery, esp if they don’t want it to begin with, so I won’t go that route. Your suggestion that I take care of myself, is what I need to do. If that’s even possible. I do try though. It takes time to break old habits, on my end too.

    Thanks again

    1. Your family history is an example of how addiction affects multiple generations. How it just marches forward. Even kids brought up with an addicted parent, who swear they will never be like them, fall prey. Addiction is strong and insidious.

      The stance we suggest, along with a list of treatment options, is what you can do. I know from many, many years of experience that people struggling with addiction have moments, perhaps fleeting, when they see their addiction clearly and want to change. Having an aunt or a sister at-the-ready is what you can do.

      Until then, may you succeed in living your life fully, in peace. We are here.