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The Professional's Perspective: Dealing with the anger and resentment of addiction and alcoholism

This is a guest post from board-registered interventionist and family counselor Ricki Townsend.

We all experience anger and resentment as we deal with our addicted or alcoholic loved ones. We may be angry because their substance use disorder is derailing our lives and sucking up our time and money. Their alcohol or drug abuse may be driving a wedge between family members, or tearing the family apart. We may be resentful when our loved ones do a disappearing act that leaves us behind to pick up all the pieces. And we may be very angry (and hard on ourselves) if we’ve been fighting the monster of addiction for so long without even recognizing this wily foe: “All this time, s/he’s been messed up by alcohol, and I didn’t even know. How stupid am I?”

We may be angry because we mistakenly believe they are simply choosing not to control their drug or alcohol consumption. When you understand substance use disorder as a brain disease, you’ll know willpower or character don’t come into play.

While their lives may seem “footloose and fancy free” in the midst of drug and alcohol abuse - trust me - they are not. Your loved ones are suffering even more than you, and they are deeply ashamed of their inability to walk away from alcohol or drugs. And when anger wraps around your heart, you’re not being the person you want to be, either. So, what do you do with all that anger and resentment? Here are five ideas:

  1. You may choose to seek professional support to help you work through your anger, which is a natural part of the process of grieving about lost dreams, disappointments and sorrow.
  2. Learn all you can about the brain disease of substance use disorder, which can help you get rid of your resentments. As the Al-Anon Open Letter from an Alcoholic says, “You wouldn’t be angry with me if I had cancer of diabetes. Addiction is a disease, too.”
  3. Seek support from others. Consider attending Al-Anon meetings or other family support groups. On-line support groups can offer relief in the dark of night.
  4. Don’t offer loved ones your solutions to their problems. Give them the dignity of figuring it out on their own. When faced with a dilemma, they can work it out with their sponsor, a counselor, a lawyer, the police, trusted friends. When you get out of the business of “owning” their solutions, you also get out of the business of “owning” their problems and the resentment that creates.
  5. Take care of yourself. Stop yourself in your tracks if you start to take on your loved one’s problems. Instead, go for a walk, get a massage, feed your spiritual practice, listen to great music, watch a silly movie, or spend time with friends who nourish and support you.

Ricki Townsend, BRI-1, CAS, RAS

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