Working in the substance abuse treatment field I’m exposed to many opportunities to sit down with families looking for help for a loved one struggling with addiction. As a recovering addict myself with two brothers in recovery, and a mother and sister that have been to family groups, it benefits my ability to provide perspective and experience. Sometimes I meet with the addict themselves alone, sometimes it’s with a handful of family members, but most of the time it’s the addict, and a spouse, a sibling, or the parents. Over the years the experiences I’ve witnessed meeting with people are surreal, inspiring, heartbreaking, frustrating, alarming, and at times miraculous. Part of assessing families and addicts that need help in aiding the support system with information that’d be useful, and critical if they truly want to help, and not hinder the addict’s suffering. Here are 4 ideas you can adopt to really and truly help your loved one start their recovery.
1. STOP COMPARING yourself to the addict suffering. Addiction is a disease of instinct, not a disease of willpower. Addiction attacks the midbrain, which is the part of the brain that we use for survival. We eat to survive, sleep to survive and drink water to survive, and addiction eventually takes priority over all of these basic survival instincts. Those that have the disease have lost the ability to choose logically, and make rational decisions to change. Your life as someone who doesn’t have the disease of addiction is an entirely different world in comparison. The idea that they should be able to control, quit, limit, or change the way you’ve changed, or quit a bad habit like your Diet Coke habit, is a different world. It’s a different galaxy. Their brain functions differently than yours.
2. EDUCATE yourself on what addiction really is, a disease. It’s alarming to sit with family after family, spouse after a spouse, and listen to the shame of the addict they love and verbally berate them for not being able to quit. I understand the behavior and actions of an addict aren’t pretty sometimes, and they affect all within an arm’s length, but it’s not because they’re bad people, lacking value, weak-minded, or unintelligent. I can’t count the parents, usually fathers, that pridefully scoff at their loved one that “just doesn’t get it.” So, get some Education. Just a google search and 10 minutes of reading about the disease of addiction would do wonders for our communities. Seriously, a google search and 10 minutes. Addiction is a medical condition, not a series of bad choices. If your loved one had another life-threatening condition that takes as many lives as addiction (and there aren’t many) we’d be lining up at clinics, treatment centers, hospitals, hell anywhere that could take them in and treat them. But, families keep them in the house, hidden from the neighbors and safe from embarrassment, waiting for the addict to make better choices and get clean. Overwhelmingly the statistics will show that this plan is a pipe dream.
3. Find support groups for YOURSELF. For real. This is usually the suggestion that I get looked at with little patience and disgusting surprise. “You’re telling me I need help when my son is addicted to Heroin and stealing all our valuables!” That’s exactly what I’m saying. Family support for the addict comes in the form of healing and learning the tools needed to truly help, not continue handing them $25 dollars a day for “food”, or “gas”. Healing on your end provides
strength in many ways that help the addict. Learning about setting boundaries, getting an education on enabling, etc., and learning about co-dependency strengthens the foundation of change and healing for all involved.
4. ASK professionals for help. Non-Profit, For-Profit, private treatment, state treatment, individual therapists, etc. Ask them for guidance. Any of them. With any other disease, it would seem insane to not give our loved ones the care they need, at least a conversation with a variety of professionals to gather resources and make an informed decision.
My hope is to reach families that are stuck, frustrated, up at night, sad, terrified, and who’ve lost hope.
There is hope. People recover every day and it’s beautiful. The epidemic that is afflicting our community is treatable. If we do our due diligence and educate ourselves, while seeking help from those who have recovered from addiction, our communities can heal. An open mind and understanding of the disease of addiction will help many.