Here’s one thing I know about what so often happens in families affected by a loved one’s drug or alcohol use. The denial and the gaslighting can get pretty intense. So intense that you seriously start questioning your reality.
And maintaining your sanity in the face of the denial and gaslighting really does require effective support, because if no one outside of your family circle is affirming that you’re not crazy, it is REALLY hard to not start thinking that you’re the one with the problem.
As as gen-x Swiftie, I can’t restrain myself. I just have to say, “you’re not the problem. It’s not you.”
But there are a number of reasons you should take your concerns with your loved one’s substance use seriously – like right now, in spite of the denial and gaslighting – and get the kind of Effective Support you need to be able to do that.

And a number of these reasons have to do with the fact that you have the ability to positively influence the problem, and many families are not aware of that.

You’re probably aware that we have a cultural narrative that is dominated by messages from 12-Step recovery saying you don’t have control. And you don’t, but what you don’t hear that cultural narrative acknowledging is that you DO have influence. You’re influencing your loved one no matter what you do.

So it’s important to understand how to influence your loved one’s in a positive direction, to learn what that actually looks like.

Because substance disorders occur on a spectrum. And the lower on the spectrum the substance use disorder is, the easier it’s going to be for you to have a positive influence.

So, don’t dismiss your concerns just because your loved one is denying them and gaslighting you. As the problem gets worse, you’re going to have to work even harder to have a positive influence on it.

But Effective Support is really important if you don’t want to get taken down by the denial and the gaslighting. Because without Effective Support, this kind of dynamic of denial and gaslighting can really push family members to start reacting in ways that become problematic. And then you do become part of the problem. Which only gives your loved one more ammunition to use to try and blame you.

If this is the dynamic in your family, there’s no judgement here – it’s damn near impossible not to get sucked into this kind of dynamic without Effective Support. And families don’t know what they don’t know.

So what might taking your concerns seriously in the face of denial and gaslighting look like?

Well, the number one suggestion I give to the families I work with is to actually drop the arguments about whether or not there is a problem. Unless you’re drug and alcohol counselor professionally trained in doing substance abuse assessments, the reality is, you’re not technically qualified to make that determination.

I don’t say that to suggest you’re wrong – I trust your own assessment. And often the problem is glaringly obvious. But I suggest dropping the argument because it’s not one you’re likely to win with your loved one. And it’s an approach they’re very unlikely to hear.

Rather, discuss how their drinking or drug use is negatively affecting you. Here, you have full authority. It’s your experience after all. Now, this doesn’t mean that your loved one won’t argue with you. They most certainly will. And they’ll try to gaslight you about your own experience. But they’re going to have a harder time getting under your skin here – especially if you have Effective Support – because you’re talking about your own reality here and not theirs. It’s going to be much easier to hold your ground from this place.

So, take your concerns seriously – today – because it’s much easier to have a positive influence on the concerns the sooner you start taking those concerns seriously. And focus on how the drinking or drug use is affecting you and the family.

And get the Effective Support you need to do that. That support can come from support groups, a therapist, or a knowledgeable and informed friend or faith community. I’ve got a list of potential support resources on my resources page.

And if you’re interested, I’ll be launching my own online support community in April. Make sure you’re on my email list so you can be the first to know when that drops.


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