16 Jan Living with Addiction – Pointers for Parents
Whether you are a parent, a partner, sibling or close friend of someone suffering from addiction, adjusting to cope with the destructive ripple effect of the illness can be a learning curve. For the afflicted, addiction and the mental illnesses associated have a way of infiltrating and affecting the lives of those around them whether they want it to or not. Addicts in the throes of the disease, withdrawal or just trying to maintain their regular use will often
isolate, lie, cheat and steal from those closest to them. At a certain point there is nothing but the drug and the continued use of the drug. Nothing else matters. Not you, not their own personal health or well-being.. Nothing. Stories of addicts who were faced with losing their homes, families and potentially their lives if they did not stop, but whom continued to use are plentiful. Addiction is the ultimate trap. A black hole of depression, anxiety, physical and emotional suffering that, as far as the addict is concerned, can only be solved with using their drug of choice. In this state of being the concept of a way out does not register as possible or even plausible. And the brain and body will support this implausibility because it wants the substance. Put simply, if you have a loved one suffering from addiction, they are under the influence of an entity that cannot be felt or seen, but which is very real to them. Everything about them that you once knew can disappear very quickly and it can often feel to families that they have lost the person they were long before the disease inevitably takes their life.
Below are five simple, straightforward, pointers for how to approach your loved one in addiction.
- ANGER ACHIEVES NOTHING
It is very easy to become frustrated and furious with the behaviour of a loved one in addiction and this is not irrational. Their behaviour is often unacceptable. But getting angry with them, shouting, blaming, trying to punish them will only push them farther away. Remember the world they exist in is a desperate one.
- TRY NOT TO JUDGE
Unless you have first hand experience of addiction it is safe to assume that the world your loved one lives in, is perceived vastly different from yours. An addict may have a promising career, a loving family, money in the bank. To everyone around them they may seem to have a very comfortable life. An addict, when desperate enough, will also trade all these things for a life of suffering in a heartbeat. This can be hard to understand. But really, all you have to understand is that this is a disease, and these are the symptoms.
- DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DETOX A LOVED ONE ON YOUR OWN
Occasionally it can be very tempting for family members or friends to forcibly isolate or coerce an addict into going cold turkey from their drug of choice in an attempt to help them, particularly when loved ones are at the end of their tether. This can be EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Particularly when drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepines are the drug of choice. The body becomes dependent on these drugs to actually function and stopping their use immediately can result in severe withdrawals, brain damage, heart attacks and even death. It is always advised to pursue medical help and a controlled medical detox to ensure the safety of an individual getting clean.
- BE PATIENT
As challenging as it is to live with or around a loved one in addiction, patience is key, especially if they are making a concerted effort to change. Not many get it right the first time and overcoming a life of addiction is not only massively challenging but is also a big change. Becoming free of the substance is painful, becoming free of the behaviour is another process in itself entirely. An addict in early recovery is transitioning from a world where they had no options, a world where perhaps the concept of living a normal life was so alien to them that when they do begin to experience change the real world can be quite a scary place. Simple day to day processes, normal management of life as people experience it will take some getting used to. Be compassionate, be helpful and give them time. They are more than capable, they have after all survived in an environment that few average people could. Never assume an addict has no willpower. It takes an endless amount of willpower to make it day to day in the world of addiction. Give them time to redirect that will.
- LOVE THEM BUT DON’T ENABLE THEM
As I mentioned before, it takes a particular kind of person to exist in the world of addiction. Addicts become very proficient in maintaining their own skewed version of survival in this world. We can become particularly adept at manipulating others around us and make no mistake, an addict will ride your emotions relentlessly if they are desperate enough and if you let them. Sometimes an addict needs to go through a process before they reach out and really want help. This endgame will be all the easier for them if you as a loved one have it made it clear that you will be there for them when they are ready, but will not tolerate being used as a bank or treated poorly. There can be a faded line here when an addict is suffering from withdrawal. Do you fund their using to stop them suffering or do you stand your ground and risk them becoming severely ill or even going to unthinkable measures to get their drug? We would usually advise some kind of intervention in this situation, particularly when dealing with an alcoholic or benzodiazepine user. Hospital or a treatment centres are options but getting your loved one there can be a struggle. Stand your ground. This is the help you are offering. And it is more than reasonable.
So, there we have it. Five simple ways to approach living with a loved one in addiction.These are just guidelines. Living with addiction is a multifaceted experience. It is full of highs and lows, success and tragedy. Remember that you have no control over the addict, what they do, how they feel or the choices they make. It is likely you may never come to understand what drives this disease or those affected. But all you have to do is be there, be supportive and be strong. Because when an addict makes it out the other end of the tunnel, what they need is love and understanding.