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When my phone rings, it's not just crummy news. Often, a heartbreaking event has occurred. Like last week, a woman called crying: "I came home from the hospital, I'd been quite sick and there he was, drunk again, wearing nothing but my housecoat! Before I knew it, he had a knife to my throat."

That caller was a 67-year-old grandmother from the Midwest describing the irrational behavior of her husband of 42 years, a retired physician. Her family was outraged by the news and demanded he get help. Although her husband's problems had been smoldering for years, it wasn't until the flames became impossible to ignore that she sought help. Why did she wait so long to act? There are a few reasons: Dr. Robert Friedman, medical director at Seabrook House treatment centers, reminds us that families all too often protect the addicted by keeping up appearances: "Many families have a culture of secrecy. We all have such busy lives, we're moving so fast and have our hands full with managing our schedules. So it's all too easy to let what's unpleasant, hard to bring up and talk about get swept aside."

People also wait for things to work themselves out. One study has found that it takes friends and family, as a group, seven years to admit there is a problem. That's eighty-four months! Wait, worry, pray. Repeat. You hope things will just resolve themselves, but you have a sinking feeling the situation is just getting worse. And you're right.

The sad truth is most addicts struggle in plain sight. We see them, we share their pain. And when that "last straw" occurs—a car accident, an eviction notice, an obesity-related stroke—that escalates a life into crisis, it's rarely the case that those gathered around didn't see it coming. It's simply that they didn't want to acknowledge the problem or they didn't understand that addictions rarely work themselves out.

Next: 4 telltale signs of abuse