Addiction has a wide, devastating area of effect. Many times the focus is on the addict themselves, but those around the addict are just as affected emotionally.
There are a lot of things you may go through if a loved one is struggling with addiction. You may not even recognize it as addiction at first. A drinking problem may, for a long time, just look like a mostly harmless habit. Maybe their drug use is kept largely secret, and you simply have a series of unexplained mood swings and apparent malnutrition to deal with. Addiction has many different forms, and it helps to understand addiction to know how to approach the possibility of it in someone you love.
One thing that is common with addiction of all forms is that it doesn't generally feel like addiction to the addict themselves. Their brain chemistry has been altered to the point that being under the influence of drugs and alcohol is what they need to feel "normal." For them, being sober is the undesirable "altered state."
So for them, the idea of stopping isn't even going to occur to them, unless they suffer serious consequences (a "wake-up call," if you will) first. These consequences may be financial, legal, personal or professional. And because you love them, there's a strong chance you're going to want to help them and protect them from these consequences.
Unless their life is endangered, don't do that. People who help and protect addicts from the consequences of their actions have a name: Enablers. Enablers shoulder the burden placed upon them by their addicted loved one and assume it is their job to keep their addict's life from falling apart. You don't want to see your loved one in pain, so it seems like the most sensible course of action to you.
The reality is, you can't stop addiction by enabling it. The crescendo of consequences is only going to get bigger and bigger, and eventually you'll be unable to stop it. At that point, your loved one's problem will be far greater than it was when you started protecting them.
Instead, use one of those negative outcomes as an opportunity to bring up the presence of a problem. You have to put your foot down on this, and it isn't an easy path - often your initial suggestion of a problem will be met with aggression and denial.
You'll be tempted to just let them have their way in order to keep the peace. But whatever "peace" you think you might get from the easy road will be short lived, and will only lead to increased chaos down the road.
If you really want to help your loved one, get them to admit they have a problem. Stage an intervention. Get them to understand what their substance abuse is doing to them, and to the people around them. Convince them to get some kind of treatment. If you're not sure how to do that, here are some ways to start. You can also contact us to discuss the situation, and we'll do our best to give you some strategies to approach your loved one.
Sometimes the worst is over once you're gotten your loved one into treatment. Sometimes it isn't. But either way, your support is as important as ever once they start the process of overcoming addiction.
First off, having your loved one in rehab gives you a chance to reflect on the way addiction has affected your family, and how to reshape your life without it. Many people discover that some of the things that seemed normal were unintentionally enabling those addictive behaviors.
Few people become enablers because they want to. They're just trying to do what's best for the people they care about. It may be helpful to speak with your loved one's addiction counselor to understand how their treatment is going, and what you can do to help remove obstacles on the path to recovery.
Of course, while rehab does place something of a burden on the family of the addict, it is one with a light at the end of the tunnel. It is a lighter burden than addiction itself, and it will get progressively smaller each day.
But still, don't ever feel like your suffering is unimportant. Addiction is hard on everyone, and there are ways for you to get support as well. The process of recovery is just as hard on you as it is on the person getting treatment. That's why groups like Al-Anon/Alateen and Nar-Anon exist.
These are wings of the very successful Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups that focus specifically on providing support to families of recovering addicts. These groups help you not only understand how to help your loved one get through their recovery, but how to provide ongoing support to keep them clean.
Most importantly, they help you understand and cope with the very natural whirlwind of emotions that is likely to bubble up within you during your loved one's recovery. It is not unusual for feelings of resentment to arise about the suffering they have caused you, even at the same time as feelings of love and compassion. These groups can help you by connecting you with other people who understand what you're going through better than anyone else could.
For more information about support groups in your area, check out our pages on resources in the Bellevue area, and resources all across Washington State.
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