How to handle an addict parent

Reena asks: It’s been more than nine years now that my single mother is an alcoholic. I won’t bore you with the details because even I am genuinely fed up and bored. Pastors, priests, counseling, therapy, lectures, elderly wise ppl advice etc. Everything is tried and tested, nothing has worked. SHE DOESN’T WANT TO QUIT. I am not a manipulative person and don’t know how to handle the issue. Over the years she has ruined our Birthdays, feasts, all special occasions with her uncontrollable drinking. The problem is, she is not a bad person. When she is sober, she is the sweetest, nicest person you might have met. When my friends come home, they like her more than me. I have asked her repeatedly over the years, what she wants? But she won’t open up. Trust me Shirelle, if she wants to re marry, I’ll stand by her. Forget society, forget her brothers and sisters. I’ll stand by her. Maybe she’s lonely, I don’t know. I’ve tried to figure out but in vain. She is a hairstylist and a few months back lost her work stuff worth almost 25,000. Lost a watch I gifted her worth 10,000 and has lost so many phones that she could appear in the book of records. She couldn’t care less. In my society, I am the crazy one because of my yelling and crying and breakdowns. I have stopped all that now since it is only painting me badly. I am all of 27 and am being very honest in this email. I have no Life and though I don’t show it, my colleagues see through me. They know I have no Life. There are a lot of money problems going on in the house right now and I give my entire salary in the house and sit at home every weekend because I have no money to go out. I have lost a few friends because of this and guys who I could date. Believe it or not, I have dated just one guy so far, that too online relationship. He never came to meet in person. My cousin’s sister makes fun of me because she knows I never have money. I am trying to help her as much as I can but don’t know what else to do. Maybe lack of money is the reason for her drinking, I don’t know. I have never told this to anyone but I am confiding in you in this email. I am even contemplating never getting married so I can help her financially till the end. She is a single mother and my father never provided any alimony. I know Life has been hard for her. And all I can do is help her. But I really don’t know what else I can do. She is very immature and I am tired of playing her mother. I genuinely don’t want to. I want to live like other normal single girls my age, who live and enjoy their lives. Please advise ??

Hi Reena –


Oh my dear, I have so much to say in response to you, it’s hard to know where to start.  But maybe it’s best with the physical.


I don’t know about birds, fish, or insects, but it does seem that all us mammals have brains that can become addicted to things.  You might have heard or read about scientific studies with mice.  And certainly it’s true for us dogs.


Now what do I mean by Addicted?  Well, of course we all have things we’ve enjoyed, and want to experience them again.  Handsome drops a peanut butter sandwich onto the floor, and I grab it before he can pick it up, and I really like the taste of it and want to have it again whenever I can.  Or he scratches that spot just under my ears, and I love it and hope he’ll do it again.  This is all sensible and purely healthy.


But there are certain substances that work in different ways in our brains.  It’s not even about enjoying them (though at first, at least, they’re almost always enjoyable).  It’s that our brains tell us we NEED them.  And a situation is created where we feel really bad when we aren’t getting them (this is called “withdrawal.”).  Now this can happen on a minor level.  People get addicted to lots of sugar, or to playing video games, and feel something’s wrong if they can’t have them.  One can even develop an addiction to high exercise, or to the chemical (adrenaline) that comes with excitement.  I definitely have those – and they’re not all that bad as addictions go.  And of course, we develop an addiction to those we love and live with – I’m a wreck when Handsome leaves town for days.  It’s not just that I like having him around, or miss him; I’m literally suffering withdrawal from him (and he from me, which I can feel in the way he hugs me when he gets back!).


But with certain substances, it gets far far worse.  Some chemicals interact with brains in special ways, that make the brains feel they need them like we need air or food or water.  And even though we know that we don’t really need them that badly, these chemicals make our brain believe it anyway.  And THAT’S when addictions can become really dangerous.


You see, it’s one thing if I want a cookie so badly that I get myself in trouble by jumping up onto the kitchen shelf to get one, and break the cookie jar to do it.  I’m going to get punished for that, sure.  But what if I knew that my jumping up on that shelf would ruin Handsome’s life?  Or kill me?  Of course I wouldn’t do it.  Unless I was truly addicted to those cookies!  Then nothing would get in my way, because suddenly getting cookies would become The Most Important Thing in My Life.  And if, instead of cookies, what I wanted so badly was something that changed my style of being (like alcohol or certain drugs), I’d find myself unable to stop taking more and more of that substance, even though it did terrible things to me like making me mean, stupid, unconscious, ugly, or even in danger of dying.  I simply wouldn’t care.


And this is what’s so horrific, Reena.  This is what’s happened to your mother.


I have no doubt that she loves you like crazy, and knows that you’re more important to her than any silly drink.  And she shows this when she’s away from the booze.  But while she knows that, her Addict-Brain tells her the exact opposite.  And it’s incredibly hard to fight that.  Especially because once someone has a true addiction, they can never get rid of it.


Now when I say that, do I mean that anyone who’s addicted to a drug or alcohol has no chance to improve their lives?  No, I’m not saying that at all.  But the only way for them to move forward is to stop taking that substance, and work hard every day to deal with the fact that their brain is that way.  And it never gets easy.


You see, if I go a year without having a cookie, and then have another one, I’m just going to remember how good it tasted, and that’ll be as far as it goes.  But if a true addict works hard to stop taking their drug-of-choice, and then goes a year without it, and then tries it again, they can become crazy all over again, putting that substance ahead of everything and everyone, and ruining their lives.


For centuries, there was no solution to this.  But more recently, people have created really great organizations to help addicts.  The most famous of them is called Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA is a special program where people work through twelve projects to help themselves take control of their lives back from their addictions, while continuing to go to meetings to help keep themselves strong, and avoid falling back into the bad behaviors.


So when I hear of someone battling alcoholism or any other addiction, my best recommendation is to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous (or Marijuana Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, etc.) meeting and start their program.


But there’s one problem here.  The problem you’re living: the program only works if the person wants to become sober badly enough to go through Hell to get there.  And I do mean Hell.  My withdrawal from Handsome is painful; the withdrawal from an addictive drug can be devastating.  There are some great movies about this process; to anyone who’s dealing with these issues, I strongly recommend The Lost WeekendDays of Wine and Roses, and Transpotting, for starters (note: all of these are strictly for adults or mature teens only).


And Reena, here’s where it breaks my heart to say what I have to.  As you’ve learned… No one can make another person change.  Your mother knows how awful her disease (and yes, alcoholism is a mental disease) is, and she doesn’t have the strength to fight it – at least not yet.  And there’s nothing you can do to make her do so.


This is the supreme evil of addiction.  Not that it does terrible things to the addict’s life, but how much it wrecks the lives of those around them.


Here you are, a woman of gigantic heart.  And you’ve lost tons of property, and you’re denying yourself the relationships you want, the family you want, in order to take care of your mother’s addiction.


And while I love that you love your mother that much, I want you to seriously consider that doing that might be the very worst thing you could do.


You see, people in Alcoholics Anonymous talk about how they never would have gotten there if they hadn’t hit their “bottom.”  For some people, they hit bottom when they get arrested for driving intoxicated, or when they’re so drunk they don’t remember what they did the next day.  Others might hit bottom when they drunkenly hit a family member, or crash their car, or get fired from their job.  And those who try to protect these people from hitting their bottoms are called “Enablers.”


The fact is, we want your mother to hit her bottom.  Hopefully in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else.  And your being so wonderful and helpful to her is preventing her from getting there.  So, crazy as it sounds, the best way to help your mother is often to not help her at all, and let her suffer the effects of her actions.  You can still be there for her in the most important ways, but not the way you’re doing it – not to throw your life away in order to make it easier for her to keep making bad choices.


(I know, it’s crazy for a friendly helpful dog to talk this way – it sounds like I’m criticizing my own way of living.  But I’ve seen some terrible things over the years, and have a great fear of addictions).


So if this is true, what can you do?  There’s all this help for alcoholics and other addicts; what is there for those who love them?


Well, there is something.  It’s an organization closely related to Alcoholics Anonymous, called Al-Anon.  And Al-Anon is for family members (and other loved ones) of alcoholics.  It’s a place to work with others who are dealing with similar issues, to help with the ways your life is being affected, and, most importantly, to help you deal with your mother in the most useful ways possible.


I don’t know where you live, Reena, but I can almost guarantee there will be an Al-Anon group fairly near you.  You can find them by going to this website:


As a dog, I love nearly all people, and I certainly have no reason to dislike your mother.  But I do fear her.  I fear her weakness over her addiction to alcohol.  I fear how this affects her, and how it affects those around her, and especially how it is affecting your life.  It’s not fair, to anyone.


So I bow to you for your honesty and openness, and for your enormous love.  And I sit up and beg you to please check out an Al-Anon meeting near you.  And to find ways to help your mother that don’t stifle your life from becoming all you want and deserve it to be.  (And to let me know how it goes, and reach out for any help I can possibly give)


With all the love and respect I’ve got,



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