SHAIR 141: The Right Way to Help an Addict in Your Family with Arden O’Connor

What’s the best way for families to help an addict?

How can families of addicts avoid codependent and enabling behavior?

How can parents use drug testing and alcohol monitoring to help treat addiction?

Today we have Arden O’Connor on The SHAIR Podcast. She is the founder and CEO of O’Connor Professional Group, which helps individuals suffering from addiction and their families by providing concierge services for treatment options and recovery plans.

Arden knows firsthand what it’s like to be in a family where an addict is causing chaos. Her little brother, Chris O’Connor went to 14 rehabs before finding lasting recovery.

Chris is now clean and sober and the host of the Dopey Podcast. He was the inspiration for his sister to begin the complicated business of helping families navigate through addiction.

Listen as Arden talks about her experience as the sister of and addict and outlines no-nonsense strategies for codependency, enabling, and recovery for both the addict and their traumatized families.

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Listen to Arden’s story now!

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Here are a few highlights from our interview. To get the full story please join us on the Podcast now!

Daily Routine

No two days are alike for Arden. On an average day, she speaks to one to three families for an initial meeting before she hands them off to her team to manage their cases. She meets with other professionals in the field who know of families who might need her services. Her to-do list is long, and she tries to make sure she is always knocking things off her list.

Spiritual Practice

Arden is Catholic, and though there are parts of the faith she struggles with, in brings more good into her life than bad. She attends church every week. She has a priest as her spiritual advisor. Outside of church, Arden practices meditation by using apps like Headspace. She also listens to motivational speakers and enjoys Buddhist teachings.

Working in addictions is an emotionally charged and sometimes negative environment. To counteract the intensity of the job, Arden takes frequent vacations. She knows that she won’t be effective if she is exhausted. She also spends time with her dogs. They remind her that the world is much bigger than what’s on her to-do list.

Being the Sister of an Addict

Arden, Chris, and her other brother come from a privileged Irish Catholic family out of Boston. There was addiction on both sides of the family. She was the “normie” and the nerd, and acted as more of a third parent to Chris, who is seven years her junior.

Arden says her brother was a maniac as a little boy, but he grew up to be the smartest, best-looking, and most athletic out of the three siblings.

Things came to easily to him.

Despite all his gifts, Chris barely got into college. The family still had no idea of the extent of his problems. They thought he was using just alcohol and marijuana, until they didn’t have any contact from him. Then they realized that his substance abuse problems were much worse than they wanted to believe.

This was the beginning of the tumultuous ride that Arden and her family would endure for years to come. There were relapses, rescues, and stays at multiple rehabs. They were blessed to have the resources to keep giving Chris treatment, and he eventually did find his own path to recovery.

Arden’s experience with her family gives her unique insight on what a family goes through during an addiction crisis. She knows how protective parents can be, but that their desire to guard the vision of their son’s or daughter’s future can back fire. When looking back on how her family managed Chris’s addiction, she wishes that they would’ve let Chris define his own recovery. Her parents often pulled the strings, making Chris feel like he had no control of his life, which is not a healthy condition for a recovering addict.

Advice to the Family of an Addict

O’Connor Professional Services strives to give families the best advice possible. They incorporate rehabilitation and therapy with drug monitoring and accountability. Family members are too close to the addict and are too emotionally invested to be involved in the addict’s recovery. Arden assigns separate workers for the addicted individual and their family to prevent things from getting too confusing.

Families that can set up an outside recovery accountability system should.

Families desperately want to believe the addict is finally telling the truth. At the same time, a person who has found sobriety does not want to be accused of relapsing. This is why drug testing is effective. The results are data, so instead of outlining vague conditions of behavior, there is evidence. That takes the guesswork out of what is really going on. Parents get the reassurance that their child is following the recovery plan. Recovering addicts get protection from accusations and mistrust.

Best suggestions

The best advice they got as a family, was very early on in Chris’s recovery. Her parents went to family weekend and their counselor recommended that Chris move to a small town, take a community college course, and focus on his recovery first. He should learn how to support himself financially while staying sober for a couple of years. Then his parents could talk about other plans. Arden’s parents did not agree with this. They didn’t want to let go of the plans they had for Chris’s future. The spent thousands of dollars and went through stress and turmoil. Ten years, Chris did follow that advice and it finally got him clean.

Focus on recovery first.

Advice for Parents: Treat this like a chronic disease. It’s not a broken arm where the addict can get fixed and get out. Pretend it’s diabetes, and the addict going to need constant monitoring, as well as a combination of accountability and therapeutic support.

Advice for Siblings: Try to find ways to get your own help. Be as supportive to your other family members as much as you can, while stepping back when you have to. Don’t do it out of anger and resentment, but out of concern for yourself and your sibling.


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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.