How Do You Forgive a Loved One After Addiction?

Addiction is hard on everyone, including the addicted person’s loved ones. It is understandable for the main focus to solely be on the person who is battling with drugs and/or alcohol. But the people who go through addiction with their loved ones also lose things, as well, including their peace of mind. Often, they do not emerge unscathed from these experiences, and in many cases, relationships are destroyed. 

When addiction and relationships mix, people break away from their families or people who care about them, which can include just about anyone, from neighbors to co-workers to casual acquaintances. When people in recovery are picking up the emotional debris after the storm, they often find their relationships are in pieces or gone. The lies, deceit, the cheating, and stealing, the emotional withdrawal, the mental, emotional, and even physical abuse—all of the markers of addiction kills relationships.

After these dark chapters, an addicted person’s loved ones are also left to pick up the pieces, too, and some may not know where to start.

Understanding Addiction Is a Place to Start

It is important that everyone affected by addiction understands what it is. While it does not erase any harm that occurs, it can help a person’s loved ones to understand the addicted person’s illness.

Addiction, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), defines it, is a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. 

“It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brainthey change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.”

As these brain changes set in, an addicted person’s relationship with drugs or alcohol changes as well. They become more chemically dependent on the drug, and as they do, they will become increasingly focused on using it. 

How Loved Ones Get Pushed Out of an Addicted Person’s Life

Addicted individuals may start to only hang out with friends with whom they do drugs, pushing out their relationships with others. Addiction often takes over the person’s life, poisoning their health and healthy relationships.

Substance abusers may often apologize for their deeds, only to repeat them again and again. After so long, “I’m sorry” and “I won’t do it again” falls on deaf ears and causes a rift. The longer time passes, the wider the rift will grow, leaving addicts isolated and alone.

Losing key relationships could be “rock bottom” for someone addicted to drugs. People in this group will come to realize at some point that they will need to make amends with those they have disappointed, hurt or upset during the time they were deep into their addiction. 

How they decide to go about it is up to them, but the decision is a big one and requires a great deal of thought and a plan. What’s not talked about as much is that people on the other side also have decisions to make, and among those is whether to reconnect with an addict who has hurt them.

The Decision to Forgive Is a Personal One

Deciding whether you’ll forgive a loved one after addiction is a personal decision. Making amends helps everyone who is overcoming addiction to start healing from past hurts. You may have waited for your loved one to change or acknowledge their problem and fix it. Or, you may have grown increasingly disappointed as interventions failed to work and just gave up on the addicted person altogether. 


Whatever the situation is, you will have to sort out for yourself where you are on forgiveness. But consider forgiving this person for you. Why? Because you have to move on with your life and be as whole as possible, regardless of what happened with your loved one. Letting go is essential to living fully.

Mayo Clinic lists some benefits of letting go of past hurts and disappointments. They include:

  • Stronger immune health
  • Better mental health outcomes
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
  • Healthy self-esteem, self-image

Moving past old situations can also affect how you enter new relationships and take you away from enjoying the present moment. Grudges can also serve as gateways to depression and other mental health problems.

Tips on Forgiving a Loved One After Addiction

The first thing to remember about forgiving someone is to recognize that it is a process, one that can take a few weeks, months, or even years. There are also different ways to forgive someone. It doesn’t have to look a certain way. Forgiveness does not mean you have to reestablish a connection with the person. It does not mean you have to look past the hurt and just forget that all of it happened. That’s not healthy either.

Take some time to figure out what forgiving your loved one after addiction means to you. If you’re open, you and the person can work together on creating a new relationship with boundaries that work for both of you. You can redefine your role in the relationship, as well.

Here are a few tips as you consider what your new relationship will look like after a loved one’s addiction.

Realize the value of time: Forgiveness doesn’t come overnight, but it will come. As mentioned earlier, it is a process that could take a while. There is a lot to process, so there’s no need to rush.

Reach out to your loved one: If you feel ready, you can connect with your loved one for a talk and tell them how you feel. You can let them know that you want to create a brand-new start. They may be ready to make amends as well. During your talk, you should make an effort to review the past honestly. You will need to step outside of yourself to consider the other person’s perspective, but this is a time where you can also share how you feel. Empathy plays a key role here as it will help you as you set out to rebuild a relationship you care about.

Hold your loved one—and yourself—accountable: This is a good time for you to tell your loved one how you feel and see if they are willing to own up to their words and actions that occurred during their addiction. If there were things you said or did during that time, you could acknowledge that, too. It also can empower you to own past situations so you can move forward for good. When both sides accept responsibility without excuses, it shows that you are serious about doing things differently should the relationship change for the better.

Be realistic. It’s OK if you are not willing to review the past with the person who hurt you during their addiction or reconnect with them permanently. Either way, the goal is for you to move forward on a positive note. Sometimes, we have to do that on our own and away from the person who hurt us. The main goal is to let go of past things weighing you down. Besides, even if now is not the time to reconnect, that could change in the future. Remain open to the possibility while working on your relationship with yourself.

What If Your Loved One Wants to Make Amends?

Many whose addiction derailed or ended their personal relationships seek to heal the past by making amends for what they have done to the people they have hurt. This is not just about apologizing, however. Saying “I’m sorry” is only a part of the amends process. It mainly, however, involves taking proactive steps to correct a past mistake or misdeed while saying sorry just acknowledges what happened.

Step 8 and Step 9 of the 12 Steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program urges participants to go beyond the apology and correct the situation where it is possible to do so. Step 8 says, “Made a list of all the persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all,” and Step 9 is, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Everyone’s making amends approach will not look the same. There are different kinds of amends, according to John MacDougall, who was interviewed for the article, “Making Amends Is More Than an Apology,” on the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation website. 

According to MacDougall, making amends is about restoring justice as much as possible. That could mean returning money to a person that was used for buying drugs or replacing an item that was stolen, or repairing one that was broken. 

All of those instances would be considered direct amends. Indirect amends means doing something to correct a situation that can’t be undone. For example, someone involved in a drunk-driving accident that left someone dead could donate their time to speaking to young people about the dangers of drunk driving. That would be considered indirect amends because the survivor of the crash can’t undo the other person’s death. 

Making amends aims to show others that the person working to overcome their mistakes during their addiction has made a true change. The goal is also to show that they no longer let addiction rule their behavior or run their lives.

If your loved one is trying to restore respect and trust in your relationship in this way, you can remain open if you wish and give them a chance to see where it may lead.

Do what’s best for you, as you are on a healing journey of your own after a loved one’s addiction.

Tap to GET HELP NOW: (888) 783-3291