When someone we love and care about is battling an addiction, we often feel powerless. The cycle of addiction causes intense pain to both the addicted person and those around them. It feels impossible to simply observe the damage to a person’s health, financial status, interpersonal relationships, career, and reputation and choose not to intervene in some way. Often times, if the individual is not ready to make changes, attempts at intervention fail to yield progress and can even drive a further wedge in the relationship. Increasing our awareness of the reality of addiction assists us in achieving a greater understanding and of how best to help those we love.
Addiction is a disease, not a choice.
Research has proven that there are multiple genes that can increase an individual’s susceptibility to addiction. This susceptibility, along with inherited and environmental factors are the reasons why some people find the experience of a drug pleasing and others find it unpleasant. This is also the cause of why some people are unable to stop using a substance without issue, while others struggle to. No two addicted people are impacted genetically in the same way, nor will those with similar genetic makeups experience addiction in the same manner. We are still learning about the science of addiction with relation to genetics in order to improve available treatment options. The important take away from this is that the addicted person is biologically different from the non-addicted person and that their susceptibility to addiction is a not a choice.
Sometimes it takes multiple courses of treatment before recovery takes place.
Recovery is a process. The cycle of addiction is rarely amended through a single course of detox and aftercare treatment. This fact can feel daunting when you want your loved one to be “better” as soon as possible, however, knowing that the recovery process requires changes to both the physical and emotional experiences of an individual provides insight into the challenges of the process. Recovery often involves confronting deep-seeded, painful realities that feel overwhelming to the addicted person. When the “coping skill” (i.e. the substance) they have used for so long is no longer an option, they must re-learn how to handle feelings, problem-solve, and manage the obstacles of daily life. Emotional growth stops for an individual when their active addiction begins, often leaving adults with the emotional resilience of adolescents. Understanding that the growth and change associated with recovery goes far beyond cessation from a substance is essential.
Lying, manipulation, selfishness, and deceitful behaviors are common.
A person in active addiction will lie, steal, omit important facts that reveal their behaviors, and manipulate situations to protect their ability to use substances. These behaviors are damaging and destroy established levels of trust in health relationships. The person will even, at times, believe the lies they are perpetrating and justify their damaging behaviors as necessary. Your role is to understand the root of these behaviors (maintaining the use of the substance) and avoid personalizing. This is no easy feat, especially when you feel levels of personal violation with the individual. Avoiding enabling the addicted person financially and establishing healthy boundaries is key in reducing the frequency of these behaviors in your relationship with the individual.
You did not cause it, nor can you fix it.
No amount of wanting an addicted person to stop using a substance will ever result in their cessation. This can be a difficult concept to internalize, as we do not want those we love and care for to be in pain. Implementing healthy boundaries related to finances, transportation and allowing the individual to experience consequences (legal or otherwise) of their actions is the only “control” you can exercise in the situation. When the addicted person’s life becomes unmanageable and they are finally ready to seek help support them as you are able to in that process through counseling (family, couples, etc.). Your presence at that time can make all the difference in preventing relapse.
You’re not alone.
You are not the first person to experience having a loved one with an addiction. Seeking help from a counselor trained in addictions treatment or attending a peer support group (such as Al-Anon) can help you navigate through the process of recovery, as well. Getting help to address your own emotional experience related to your loved one’s addiction can assist in establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries and heal the wounds you too have experienced.
About the author: Natalie Gomes MA, LPCS, LCAS is an individual counselor in Wilmington, NC. She also offers telehealth (aka online therapy) to North Carolina residents. Is someone you love’s addiction impacting you? Call her today at (910) 216-0194 for a free telephone consultation or to schedule an intake assessment and let’s start working towards life feeling more manageable for you.