Vital Points about Addiction
The urgent need to address addiction today has been overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the ravages of addiction continue and it looks like have been made worse by the pandemic. There are several key concepts essential to grasp for a balanced understanding of addiction and what can be done.
Addiction Cannot be Controlled by the Addict or by Loved Ones
Often, family members––partners, spouses, children, parents, etc.––try to help by giving what they feel is support: money, a place to stay, second chances, another car, a job, bail money, and yet, the madness continues. This is called enabling and actually prolongs the problem.
The Addict is Not the Disease
Unchecked, the alcoholic/addict’s behavior at some point will become too painful for the loved ones to bear. Then, the only thing the family can do is protect themselves. This requires either professional help and/or attending helping groups3.
The Addict Runs the Family
The readers who have had the experience of a loved one with addiction will tell you, the alcoholic/addict and the addiction are the center of the family and the alcoholic/addict, essentially runs the family.
The Loved Ones and the Families Need Help Too.
Think of a tornado tearing its way through your house, turning everything upside down and inside out. This is what addiction can do to a family. And, the family will need repair. It takes work to resolve the resentments, the distorted communication patterns, the almost overwhelming guilt/blame, and confusion. The family needs recovery also.
Addiction Continues to Affect the Family for Generations if Unchecked
Families I have worked with, often feel that, since the addict has stopped using, is living in a different city, or has passed on, has been divorced, that the problem therefore has been solved. I’ve never seen one case where this is true.
I often have clients with issues such as anxiety or depression, and, when getting the family history discover that one or more of the family members (grandparents, uncles, etc.,) had problems with addiction. This affected the client’s parents and these patterns were passed on to the client in some way. We can’t just shut the door on a room destroyed by the tornado and consider the job done.
The Good News
There are many excellent resources for treatment; residential (long and short-term), outpatient services, group therapy, the groups mentioned earlier, and intensive individual counseling. Since addiction has become a prominent, national issue, there are more and more reliable resources for those affected by addiction3, directly or indirectly. Millions of addicts and families have recovered from their nightmare of addiction and live happy, productive, healthy lives.
1. In this article, the term addiction refers to both alcoholism and drug addiction (whether the drugs are by prescription or illegal).
2. More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems, according to a 2012 study. Alcohol sales have increased dramatically since sheltering in place: 27.1% for wine and 31.7% for spirits, and 243% increase in online alcohol of any type, according to a Nielsen study.
3. Groups such as Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), etc. Therapists experienced with addiction know of and can recommend the appropriate treatment for someone.
The references for Footnote 2:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Data Spotlight: More than 7 Million Children Live with a Parent with Alcohol Problems, 2012. Available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3223/ShortReport-3223.html
The reference for the increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic:
“I didn't cause it.”
“I can’t cure it.”
“I can’t control it.”
If you have ever been to an Alanon meeting, you’ve probably heard these before. Though there’s a lot of wisdom in these thoughts, they can be truly hard to understand, especially when you’re family is caught up in the addiction cycle.
A lot of times, family members try to do things to control the addiction behaviors of their loved one. To do so, often feels like self-preservation. We’re just trying to survive it with as little damage as possible. There’s a theory in psychology called change theory, which basically states that we don’t really make any changes unless we’re uncomfortable. So, avoiding discomfort may actually be perpetuating the disease process in our loved one. Our interference with them being uncomfortable can actually allow their suffering to continue longer than it would have. Wrap your mind around that one!
We are not meant to control their behaviors, or rescue them from their consequences. We are allowed to let it go. In fact, most times, our desire to control them backfires on us.
Family members and mostly parents can feel like they have somehow caused the addiction. The reality is, there are many factors that contribute to the creation of the disease and it’s very rarely one person or one event. Genetics can be a factor in someone developing the disease of addiction. On the other hand, there are many people who are genetically loaded for it and never manifest the disease. In addition, people experience many painful things in their lives. We just are not capable of rescuing our loved ones from all of them and allowing them to go through these pains, often make people better.
How are we supposed to know the difference? We can’t bubble wrap our loved ones to protect them from every life event. Our addicted person may try to blame us, which is common. But once we choose to let go of that blame, it can allow them to take responsibility for their own lives and grow from it.
I wish we had a quick fix or a pill that could cure addiction. I’d have to find a new line of work and I’d be okay with that. But, in reality, those do not exist. There is no quick cure. There is only continued progress toward health and peace. If you think about it, most diseases are like that. Our body tells us there is something wrong and we may be able to change our lifestyle (this can mean taking medication, or not) but if we go back to an unhealthy-for-us lifestyle, the disease comes back.
Addiction acts the same way. We, as the army of family members, do not have a way to cure the addiction for our loved one, but we can support their recovery, and our own. As we learn what addiction really is, we can help with the recovery process for our addicted family member. Learning how to have boundaries with them and to create a sense of safety in the family is key.
Most of us begin this journey with no idea how to do this. It’s part of the process of moving our family into recovery. Having a group of supportive and knowledgeable people in your life is important and will help you and your loved one enter into, and stay in, recovery.
About Julia: Julia Wesley, LMFT-S is a therapist at Curis Functional Health who specializes in addiction, codependency, couples, and family therapy. Click here to schedule with Julia today.
Curis Functional Health is a multidisciplinary functional health center that integrates mental health, chiropractic, and dietetics. Click here to learn more about Curis.