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Helping a Loved One With Their Addiction

Helping a loved one with their addiction

Much more often than not, attempting to talk to friends or family members about their potential drug or alcohol abuse 1 is a sensitive, challenging, and sometimes painful undertaking. It is natural for an individual who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, not to recognize the long-term consequences that cause pain and suffering to more people than just themselves. When seeking to help others overcome their addiction and the constant struggle with substance abuse, sometimes it is through those caring friends or family members that the user can finally find some relief 2 by setting boundaries.

First, Understanding Addiction

Am I An Enabler?

There have been countless times where a family member has supported another’s addiction without even realizing it. Although it is not easy, letting them experience the consequences of their harmful habit can do some good. Sometimes, addicts are not accustomed to changing and won’t until they have to or are forced to do so.

Do not financially support the addict or their addiction. Ways this has been seen to happen include:

Buying Groceries

Offering to pay court or attorney fees

Covering rent and other living expenses

Providing transportation

Bailing out of any other tough situations

Unfortunately, these seemingly selfless, caring, and loving acts will typically prolong their addiction. This happens with the opportunity of always being given to avoid the consequences and eliminates accountability.

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration 3, drug abuse and mental health illnesses are complex, and each experience can vary. Substance use disorders are considered chronic diseases and require a successful recovery process to avoid the various consistent negative consequences4.
It is of the utmost importance of all close friends and family members to be consciously aware of signs and symptoms that substance abuse and mental health issues5 are capable of creating. These basic understandings of these abuse problems and being able to lend help through support groups or by encouraging addiction treatment. Small steps like this have proven to be enough to save a life.
Below are a few of these signs and symptoms6 that are regularly seen:
Withdrawing from activities and hobbies that were previously delighted themselves in
Frequently experience intense cravings
Consistently taking more of the prescription or substance than intended to originally
Experiencing visible withdrawal symptoms when the drug use is cutoff
Taking the drug primarily to alleviate those withdrawal symptoms
Continuing to use the drugs regardless of the issues being caused by it
Failure of cutting back or to quit using
Consistently taking more of the prescription or substance than intended to originally
Video Transcript
I have some people that I would like you guys to meet this is my family now for a while I felt that my family was different now I know what you’re thinking you look at this picture and you think they don’t look different they look perfect and polished and happy well I felt different for a very long time the reason I felt this way is because of the little boy on the left side of the screen that is my oldest brother he was diagnosed with the disease five years ago and it’s changed my life in ways that I couldn’t fathom before the disease I’m referring to his addiction my oldest brother is an addict and he’s been struggling with substance abuse for about five years now now it’s really important for me to frame this to you as a disease because that’s exactly what it is it’s been a really long time for me to grapple with that idea in my head when I first heard about addiction and saw it in action I thought it was something monstrous scary but my brother described it to me in this way he told me that it feels like if someone put a cup of water in front of you and you haven’t had a drink in three days you’re incredibly thirsty then they try to have a conversation with you while sitting right next to it odds are you’re not gonna care about what they’re saying about the relationship or about how you’re behaving the only thing you can think about is having that glass of water now imagine if you were in that kind of survival mode all the time how you would act and how you would think and how you would feel this survival mode is what has caused a lot of internal psychological repercussions in my family I learned about all of this when I first went to a rehab when I was in high school as far as my friends knew I was on a fun beach vacation in Palm Beach on my snapchat it was all pictures of palm trees and the pool and fun but in reality we were going to rehab for a family weekend had addiction center that’s where they told me something that changed my life forever they told me that addiction is actually more dangerous for family members than for the addict themself and I know that doesn’t make much sense it didn’t make any sense to me at all I didn’t understand how a drug that I wasn’t using could be dangerous to me over the years it unfolded and they understood why the reason this is is because in the very worst moments of addiction and the overdoses and the relapses the suicide threats the addict is numb they’re completely unconscious to who they are and what they’re feeling but the family is sober not only do they have to watch somebody that they love turn into somebody that they don’t know but they also have to watch them turn into somebody that they might fear which is what I’ve experienced I first experienced the psychological effects of the family disease that I like to call addiction when I was 16 years old I was 16 I woke up one morning my parents were out of town and my other brother was gone as well and it was just me and my oldest brother in the house I was ecstatic because we were finally at that age where we could be friends and we could start getting to know each other on a deeper level I woke up that morning with plans of what we were gonna do that day how we were gonna spend it bonding and doing our favorite activities I went to his room to wake him up for a brunch reservations knocked on his door and there was no answer so I walked in that’s when I saw him on the bed motionless I thought he was just sleeping so I went over and sat on his bed that’s when I saw him trying to murmur words to me that didn’t make any sense and he was trying to move and cut in and I felt his hand it was cold and it was beating so slow his heartbeat it’s going so slow at that moment the only thought in my head was is my brother dying I’m sixteen I don’t know what that looks like I don’t know if this is an overdose or relapse he’s just sleepy I couldn’t tell but I knew I was too small to pick him up and put him anywhere and taking the hospital I didn’t know who to call or what to do and the only thing I could think is how do I save my brother’s life at that moment I couldn’t decide anymore if I wanted to have a childhood I couldn’t decide if I cared about who I was taking to homecoming that weekend or if I had a math test on Monday all of those seeing things suddenly seemed very arbitrary when it came to something so life and death at that moment everything changed and I started to harbor these feelings of fear every day it would be a happier story for me to tell you that that was a one-time occurrence but it wasn’t that’s something that I’ve experienced so many times over these past five years and my family has as well the phone calls and the suicide threats and the terrifying moments when you think it might be your last words to that person now imagine with me for one moment somebody you love more than anything in the world imagine them in your head now imagine if every morning every night you woke up with the thought I went to sleep with the thought that they might be dead the next day imagine what that would do I can tell you what it did to me at first it was just anxiety then it turned into chronic anxiety and then chronic depression eventually and recently and turned into suicidal thoughts of my own which was terrifying and even more recently self-harm which is something I never thought I would do to myself but addiction and seeing it in action effects your mind in a different way you start to become numb to the idea of death and you start to become numb to these terrifying events more than that I knew that if I came and told my family what I was feeling or if I went and told my friends it would seem stupid because what do my emotions matter when somebody’s life is at stake why should I share my experience I thought of myself for a very long time in one word a burden I thought that I was going to be a burden if I opened up and shared what I was feeling I thought it didn’t matter I decided silently to myself that I would be anonymous that I wouldn’t talk about it but no one was going to know about this because I didn’t want to put any extra stress on my family and my friends put them through anything more than they needed to go through it wasn’t just me who decided to be anonymous my family silently and collectively decided to do this as well we thought together this will be the best way to conquer addiction we won’t talk about it it’ll be hidden no one will know and we continue life as normal the show must go on same way it always has the reason we started doing this at the beginning was because we wanted to save my brother we thought that anonymity would be the way to make him safer to put him in the shadows so that people wouldn’t judge him differently as see him differently maybe that he would not get a job or his friends would leave or something like that but then we started realizing it wasn’t working and maybe the real reason we wanted to be anonymous wasn’t to save him but to save ourselves there’s a stigma against addiction in our culture that we don’t like to acknowledge we like to think of families of addicts as almost bad families often I hear when I say that my brother’s an addict people ask me what happened in his childhood to make him become an addict what traumatic event triggered this right well I’m here to say we were raised the same way it could have easily been me that became an addict and that I just equate to luck sometimes it’s not necessarily about a traumatic event or a bad family it is a disease inside of your brain but having that stigma for us and thinking that we were going to be viewed as a bad family and that we were all bad in some way may just want to stay hidden it’s not just my family and I that decided that Anonymous was the best way to go Society has done that as well think about the biggest weapons we have against addiction in our society Alcoholics Anonymous Narcotics Anonymous they even have family groups but they’re all anonymous my question is why do we think that this helps why do we want to stay anonymous well I believe we only want anonymity for two reasons the first is fear we they’re afraid of the addict of what the disease is of what they’ve done about what people think of us or we’re ashamed we’re ashamed to have them in our life that they’re part of our family that we might have done something to caused them to be this way and that’s not true we’re ashamed to recognize that this is a part of our society and for me I was ashamed to recognize that this was a normal occurrence in my life that was just something that was happening after all the years of seeing how addiction affects families I can tell you two things number one I am Not Afraid of addiction anymore I’m not afraid number two I am certainly not ashamed of my brother I love my brother I think he’s brilliant and the fact that he has disease saddens me but does not make me ashamed to call him my brother and to have him in my family what I propose is vulnerability we also have a belief that vulnerability equates to weakness we think of it as our Achilles heel something that can completely destroy us but I think vulnerability might be the only way we can fix the I’m not here to necessarily bring awareness to addiction if you’ve seen addiction in your life you know what it can do you’re pretty aware what I’m here to do is to give it a face different than how you’ve imagined it before as I bet when you first came in here you might have viewed it addiction as something dark and scary and dirty but what if I told you addiction looks something more like this my family we keep addiction in the dark and that is our biggest mistake because addiction is an interesting disease and that it completely thrives in the darkness that’s where it does its absolute best work darkness thrives in the darkness which is why I think we need to bring this problem to light vulnerability is amazing to me it’s absolute courage vulnerability is a mother sitting down her child’s like my mother did last summer she held my hands and I saw her cry for the first time in my life when she cried she told me that she was afraid never in my life have I had more respect for another woman than in that moment because to admit you’re afraid to a child somebody that you’ve tried to be composed around for so many years that means the world phoner ability is watching your sister talk about addiction and talk about your family in front of you and hope that she says the right thing vulnerability is telling the world that you’ve self harmed not knowing if they’re gonna see you differently to me that is not how I show weakness it’s how I show strength through all of this my anxiety and sadness hasn’t necessarily come from a place of worry it’s more come from a place of feeling voiceless feeling completely unseen my brother’s expressed this to me as well that not only does he feel voiceless but that no one even cares to listen no one cares well by listening to me today I have to thank you because you’ve given me a voice now if everyone would do me a favor and please take out your cell phone and turn on the light and hold it up high like I said addiction makes you feel voiceless I think we need to give it a voice the world that I envision to be perfect is not one where we completely mask everything bad and shove it to the ground and pretend it doesn’t exist the world that I envisioned to be perfect is one where we can say yes these awful things happen has happened to me it’s probably happened to you and yet even then we can be brave and strong and we’re going to continue because there is so much love in this world in an ironic twist fate tonight I am also celebrating my 21st birthday well as you can imagine there’s not gonna be any alcohol in celebration of my 21st birthday and I could not care less I really couldn’t because while there will be no alcohol tonight the lack of alcohol there will be absolutely no lack of love because in the end I don’t think my story’s been one about pain and sadness and fear it’s been about every single person along the way who has encouraged me and supported me and held me up when I thought I was going to fall down who have given me a backbone who have been someone to cry to someone to hug someone to love one that is what my story’s about it’s all the people in life in my life and in your life that make life worth living an addiction worth surviving thank you

How Difficult Is Recovering From A Drug Addiction?

Of the individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the hefty majority7 of them cannot merely quit using all of a sudden. It is proven to be significantly challenging to overcome, even short-term addictions.

As time passes with an addiction, there are a variety of changes to the brain’s chemistry8 that gets altered as a result of the abuse. Many of these changes brain changes work to overpower any addiction recovery efforts that are being pursued and, instead, encourage more substance abuse behaviors.

It is crucial to know and thoroughly understand that the addiction your loved one is suffering from is not your fault. Being helpful and supportive is beneficial, but the decision to get clean through a certified treatment center like Opus Treatment in Costa Mesa9 is ultimately up to the user.

Should I Be Involved?

If the person agrees to enroll in an addiction recovery program, it is encouraged for loved ones to continue and be involved in the recovery process10. Just sending them off and assuming that everything will go well is not an option worth being considered. The ongoing love and support from friends, family members, and other loved ones is vital.

While they are in the treatment facility, visiting often and sending or dropping off packages can show a great deal of support and ease some of the burdens being experienced. It is encouraged for the family to participate in programs and group sessions so that crucial bonding skills can be developed together.11

By doing these things, you convey a willingness to be a good and healthy influence throughout their recovery. The involvement of loved ones and their support has proven time and time again to provide feelings of comfort and safety12 to those receiving treatment.

Sparking The Conversation With Loved Ones

There is an often misinterpretation that individuals who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs need to experience hitting rock bottom before they can genuinely start to get better. Our team of professionals13 have many years of experience and always strive to provide each patient with expert level care. If you suspect a close friend or family member is struggling with addiction, do not hesitate for one minute. The sooner the addiction can be addressed and treated, the better.

What To Do:

  • If possible, approach them when they are already trying to recover from their habit
  • Voice your concerns in a caring and compassionate way
  • Remain calm and do not let their response change your mood
  • Propose or recommend suitable treatment options and explain how they would help
  • Express your willingness to remain involved and stay by their side throughout the entire treatment process

What Not To Do:

  • Being contentious and combative will only push them away further
  • Never approach the conversation while out in public
  • Always avoid talking about their addiction while they are under the influence
  • Set all judgments and blame aside. All that will cause is the user feeling guilty and most likely, angry

Hearing lectures or other’s life lessons is never helpful to a struggling addict. Usually, they will be unable or not willing to take what you are saying to heart and apply it in their life.

Although challenging, holding them accountable and offering the appropriate help and guidance is often precisely what they need. You cannot expect those you want to help to keep their promises, and the disease makes that nearly impossible.

If your friend, family member, or someone you know is seeking recovery and needs help, learn more about our industry-leading treatment facility in Costa Mesa. Reach out today to hear about our evidence-based processes and procedures14 and how programs we offer could be a suitable fit for each situation.