Trying to Help a Family Member Who Is Addicted to Sex

Posted on December 2nd, 2014

Trying to Help a Family Member Who Is Addicted to SexSeeing a family member struggle with addiction isn’t easy. Sex addiction is much like other forms of addiction; those who are suffering from it may try to hide the problem—they might not even think they need treatment. A recent question to the advice columnist on Seacoast Online comes from a relative of somebody who’s struggled with sex addiction for years. The author, identified as “caring relative,” asks:

“I’ve noticed the times when this family member seems to be ‘holding it together’ or ‘keeping it under control.’ I don’t think you can be ‘in control’ of an addiction. It shows in the face, attitude, weight loss or gain, social life and daily living. It pains me that I can’t help. I’ve been told by several family members that ‘you can’t save everybody.’ Well, I want to try. What can I do?”

The response is concise, but covers some important points for anybody going through a similar issue.

Faulty Assumptions About Sex Addiction

The idea that you can’t be “in control” of an addiction attracted the attention of the columnist immediately, who suggested that the relative stop making such assumptions about addicts. The core point is that you can be in control of an addiction; otherwise nobody would ever get better. It’s definitely a challenge to stay in control of your addiction (and it could be that your loved one does only have the illusion of control), but with the right support it is obviously possible. While you may not believe in this particular fallacy, it’s important to think about your assumptions and how they might be influencing your behavior toward your loved one. A good piece of advice is to learn more about sex addiction (or the specific addiction your loved one has), so you understand the problem a little better and won’t be as likely to support potential harmful viewpoints.

The Three C’s of Al-Anon

Al-Anon—the AA-associated group aiming to offer support to families and friends of problem drinkers—developed the “Three C’s” to help people like the “caring relative” when somebody close is suffering from an addiction. The three C’s are: you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, you can’t cure it. Other family members had told the relative that he or she couldn’t save everybody, but this message doesn’t seem to have sunk in.

That’s why the three C’s are important: although you may feel like you’re responsible, like you need to do more to keep your loved one’s behavior under control or that there’s something magical you can do to “solve” the problem forever, it just isn’t realistic. More importantly, these viewpoints can lead to you taking too much responsibility on your shoulders and making yourself miserable in the process. If you’re thinking any of these things, you’re only trying to help (and it’s completely understandable), but there really are limits to what you can do. Ultimately, it may sound harsh, but the problem is the individual’s own responsibility, not yours. You can’t make an addict get better.

Getting Support

The most important thing is to be as supportive as you can and to try to get your loved one into treatment. Approaching the subject isn’t easy, and you should keep in mind that you can’t force recovery on anybody, but suggest that your loved one get help from a group like Sex Addicts Anonymous or another treatment provider. Additionally, don’t forget that you might also need some additional support, and groups like S-Anon exist specifically to help other people affected by a loved one’s sex addiction. Addiction doesn’t just affect the individual dependent on a substance or behavior. It impacts the whole family.

Nobody says that situations like the one “caring relative” is experiencing are easy to deal with. Addiction puts a lot of strain on relationships, and it’s hard to see a loved one’s day-to-day life suffering because of an illness, but remember that there is always hope for getting better. When your loved one is ready, he or she can work to get in control of the problem. Be as supportive as you can, but always remember that you can’t force him or her to recover and that you need to take care of yourself, too.

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