Addiction Recovery: Fear Reconsidered


One of the most difficult and potentially destructive aspects of addiction is FEAR.

For the addict?  Fear of being found out, fear of all that may be lost when others discover the addiction. 

In recovery comes the fear of failing, falling, or not having what it takes to overcome the addiction. 

Fear is one of the key reasons many addicts stay stuck.

Fear also plays a huge role in the lives of those closest to the addict.  When the addiction is revealed, many behaviors finally make sense.  All the lies, secrets, hiding, manipulation and betrayal come to light.

(Can you say ANGRY? But that’s another topic for later.)

Those closest to the addict realize that their gut feelings were true.  They now see that their suspicions that something was terribly wrong were indeed warranted. The addiction was real and they were seeing clearly.  They weren’t crazy!  Trust is deeply damaged.

Though an addict may feel fully committed to recovery and healing, many of his addiction attitudes and compulsive behaviors may persist. 

Family members and friends may struggle with the fear that the addiction will never go away.  Some are told to kick the addict out and have nothing to do with them because “once an addict, always an addict!”

For those who hang in with the hope of recovery, flashes of debilitating fear are normal and sometimes daily occurrences.  They no longer explain away the attitudes or behaviors of the addict as before. 

Those gut feelings now scream, “Oh NO!  Those are the actions and attitudes of the addict!  Have they really quit?!? Are they playing us again? Have they relapsed?”

Family and friends can try to ignore or stuff these feelings.  This will only lead to angry accusations, judgmental outbursts, and what John Gottman calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”: contempt, criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness.  These only create deeper relational division, pain, and destruction.

What could we do instead?

How about an agreement that allows open, clear communication? 

An agreement that allows our closest family to say something like…

I have been experiencing _____________, which is how the addict used to always act.  I’m feeling really scared that you are leaving your recovery and returning to the addiction.  What is going on?  Do you see this too?

Keep the conversation open with what you are experiencing, feeling and seeing.  Do not resort to name calling, blaming or accusing, as this will hinder healthy communication.

Then, trust your gut!  You will either get truth, or your BS meter will flash red and you will know to set a boundary to protect yourself or bring change.

This is a difficult process and requires a support person who can be a sounding board and give healthy “next steps” in responding to the addict.

I’d be glad to support you in having your turning your fear and anger into tools that protect and aid in letting go of harmful behaviors and encourage healthy relationship building. 

~Doug Harsch, LPC, CSAT-C