Living with their addiction

21:06, Nov 04 2013
BEYOND HABIT: "I was convinced that by sheer willpower I could cure his problem."

Blind Drunk is a new book about an old problem - how do you cope when someone you love has a problem with alcohol? After moving to rural Ireland for a tree change, author Anne Morshead, a relationships counsellor, fell in love with a man who turned out to be dependent on alcohol.  What happened next was what happens to zillions of other lovers, parents and friends of people with an addiction: Morshead thought she could make him better.

"I was convinced that by sheer willpower I could cure his problem or at the very least control the drinking by throwing bottles away, by pouring the contents down the sink  by monitoring exactly where he was and what he was doing at all times," she writes.

Although the book is subtitled 'Light at the end of the tunnel for anyone living with a loved one's alcohol problem',  you could easily scrub out 'alcohol' and slot in cannabis, heroin, ice or any other addictive drug, or even gambling,  because the issues are similar. The mission to rescue someone you love from their addiction can be all consuming - and lonely, partly because the problem feels too shameful to talk about even to close friends, and also because someone else's substance problem can be hard on your social life, Morshead says.

In her case, her partner Liam became so drunk that friends stopped inviting them out.

Blind Drunk is a sympathetic and practical guide for anyone stuck in this situation from a woman who learned how to cope.  But first Morshead had to accept that the only person who could control his drinking was Liam himself. To do that she had to detach herself from his problems and curb the urge to dive in and intervene. It wasn't easy.

'Not preventing a crisis takes a hell of a lot of courage because it goes so much against the grain not to help in some way,' she says.


Among the tools that helped her cope were using mindfulness to tame the anxiety, learning to walk away from conflict, practising gratitude - reminding herself of what was going right in her life - and reclaiming time for herself.

Morshead's story is a familiar one to Tony Trimingham, CEO of Australia's Family Drug Support, the service that offers 24 hour phone support to anyone whose life is affected by someone else's problem with alcohol or other drugs.

"The urge to fix the other person's problem is universal - people can basically give up their lives to do everything they can to help," says Trimingham.

While it's great if someone finally stops using drugs or gets sober - as Morshead's Liam finally did - abstinence isn't the focus of FDS, nor is tough love. Instead it aims to help families and friends deal with alcohol and drug issues in a way that helps strengthen relationships by teaching skills like handling conflict and better communication. It also emphasises the importance of having a life.

"When someone close to you has a problem with alcohol or drugs it can feel like you're walking a tightrope - and to do that successfully it's important not to throw the balance pole away," he says. "In other words don't sacrifice the things that help keep your life balanced like making time for yourself and having a social life."

Blind Drunk by Anne Morshead is published by Balboa Press.

For support here in New Zealand call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 or the Gambling Helpline on 0800 654 655. 

Has someone else's addiction been a problem for you?

Sydney Morning Herald