›› Negotiating with an Addict

Whether we realize it or not, we are continually negotiating with the addicts and alcoholics in our lives. Negotiation is our attempt to reach agreement or solve a problem. But most families are poorly prepared to negotiate with an addiction and end up losing to the addiction. We forget that it is the addiction doing the negotiating in an attempt to protect itself.

If we truly want to handle the addiction problem, we must identify our negotiation styles and change our approach to be more effective.

There are five negotiation styles in families of addicts: adversary, aggressor, appeaser, avoider, and analyst. These are all taking a position on the playing field of the addiction’s game. We are playing by the rules established by the addiction. And, like a gambler in a casino, we will discover that the house always wins. To overcome the addiction, we must take on a role outside this game, using a negotiation style we call the ambassador.

In order to effectively use this approach, we must understand which negotiation style we currently use:

Adversaries are the addictions themselves. They take a defensive stance in an attempt to protect the addiction and avoid pain. The thought process is that addiction is a solution, and attempts to handle it are not help, but attack.

Aggressors are those convinced that their approach toward handling the addict is the best. They commonly try to bully the addict into sobriety and control the family’s approach. They frequently create more problems and friction within the family, making a handling increasingly difficult.

Appeasers try to smooth over the current crisis, often at the expense of an ultimate resolution. They tend to submit to the addict’s threats while trying to convince themselves that the situation is improving. Appeasers tend to lose the respect of others while settling for an increasingly difficult life.

Avoiders ignore problems and conflict. When a negotiation or fight surfaces, they leave. They make family communication and intervention difficult as they provide no support. They live with increasing fear and isolation.

Analysts try to understand and explain. The risk with this approach is that they tend to delve into explaining the problem rather than confronting it. They often search for the root cause and end up mired in logic that does nothing to handle the situation. Over time, they will tend to become increasingly emotionally detached.

Ambassadors are able to operate outside the addiction’s sphere of influence. They understand the difference between the addiction and the addict and do not grant the voice of the addiction any power. Instead, they come from a position of love and direct their intention toward the person behind the addiction while keeping the ultimate goal at the forefront.

When the family can take the position of ambassador, without wavering, we get results. The aim of an intervention is to get all family members approaching the problem as ambassadors. When working as a group from this position of love, few addictions can hold up.

Many find that learning to deal with problems from the position of ambassador is more than a solution to addiction. It is the foundation for a solid family relationship and a far richer, more rewarding life in the future.

[Reference: No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction by Debra Jay]