“Acceptance is not approval.” This saying reverberates through the rooms of 12-step meetings. The saying is common because acceptance is difficult to understand and not easy to achieve.  In fact, it may be easier to understand what acceptance is not: it is not approval, or forgiveness, or weakness.  It is: agreeing with reality AS IT IS, and agreeing to the past AS IT WAS, instead of fighting, denying, regretting or otherwise wasting energy on the unchangeable.  We don’t have to like reality or the past, but to be healthy we need to learn to accept them.

Acceptance is an important part of drug or alcohol addiction treatment and recovery. Gaining acceptance means overcoming denial and getting past emotional barriers such as anger and fear that keep a person from seeing clearly that they or their loved one has a disease called addiction.  For a family member or loved one of an addict, coming to terms with the addiction involves: 1) developing an understanding that addiction is a family disease; 2) gaining acceptance that as a loved one of an addicted person you have been affected by the disease; and 3) because you have been affected, accepting you will need your own recovery.

Acceptance also means understanding that you are powerless over the decisions of others. The first step of the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and other drugs and that our lives had become unmanageable”. Loved ones of an addicted person are powerless over the addict’s decision to get or stay sober. Family members often have a very strong emotional response to the choices an addicted person makes when they are abusing alcohol and/or drugs and the resulting consequences. This is understandable because these choices and consequences have an impact on everyone.

Many family members, not knowing what else to do, try to control the behaviors or actions of the addicted person.  This usually leads to conflict with and defensiveness from the addict. The resulting conflicts and divisions in relationships often lead to unhealthy behaviors throughout the family.   Instead trying to control, it is often best for family members to learn to detach and allow the addicted person to experience the natural consequences of their choices, including the abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.  By experiencing these consequences, the addict often begins to see and accept their addiction.

In addition to an addict’s frequent denial of their disease, family members often have their own denial based on the belief that they aren't the ones with the problem. While they may not be addicted to alcohol or drugs, they are still impacted by the behaviors and choices of the addicted person, including the consequences and problems caused by the addict’s decisions and actions. It is helpful for each family member to identify how the addicted person’s abuse of alcohol and/or drugs has affected them and to seek help in healing themselves.

An excellent guide toward Acceptance is to remember the 3 C’s of Al-anon: You didn’t Cause it, You can’t Cure it and You can’t Control it. Having acceptance of these basic principles and engaging in a family recovery program and/or your own recovery program can lead to healing yourself and your relationships.

If your addicted loved one is in an addiction treatment facility (or rehab), be sure to participate in all family activities sponsored by the addiction treatment center.  If you or your loved one is looking to enter rehab, look for a treatment program that includes family in the treatment.  At New Hope Recovery Center we involve family and loved ones our addiction treatment through family group days as well as regular counselor sessions with family/loved ones and the client.

If you or your loved one is seeking treatment for drug, alcohol or other addiction, please contact New Hope Recovery Center at 773-883-3916 or info@new-hope-recovery.com.  We are located on the Northside of Chicago and have treated clients from across the country.

Contributing Writer for New Hope Recovery Center: Mauri Hackett CRADC

For other articles helpful to family and friends about addiction, please see:

Addicted Loved One? 5 Common Triggers You Can Help Avoid

Forgiveness: Healing from Addiction

Alcohol or Drug Addiction? Healthy Boundaries for Parents

Restoring Trust Damaged by Addiction (Part 1 of 3)

Restoring Trust Damaged by Addiction (Part 2 of 3)

Restoring Trust Damaged by Addiction (Part 3 of 3)