Addiction is Complicated
No one is arguing the fact that addiction is complicated. If it were easy none of us would be here looking for help. As a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor working with substance abuse patients and their families for nearly a decade - I've made it my life's mission to help those struggling with addiction and equally as importantly, supporting the family who love them. Often times, family members really just want to understand the world that their loved one is living in. It's irrational, illogical, harmful and hurtful. Frankly, it doesn't make any sense and those who try to understand it end up hurting their heads.
Unfortunately, even the person struggling with an addiction usually doesn't have a lot of insight or understanding to offer, especially if they haven't been working with a counselor or participating in a program for an extended period of time.
While each family's story is unique they all have striking similarities.
Let's first Look at the Family Member's Perspective
Loving someone with an addiction can be one of the most difficult things you ever do.
I know this first hand as I am the child of an addicted parent. I sit where you are sitting. I ask the questions you ask. I wonder what is it going to take for them to change?!
Will they ever stop? How can they not see all the hurt they're causing?
I know late, sleepless nights. I know endless tears. I know hospital stays, legal issues, and ultimately loss.
I am you.
As the loved one, it's hard to understand how someone can seemingly choose drugs or alcohol over their family, over their job or over their responsibilities.
Unfortunately, we have all of these questions and concerns for our addicted loved one and they are sometimes unable or unwilling to help us find the solution.
The perspective of a person struggling with addiction
After talking with hundreds of patients I can share with you some things that they want their loved one to know:
"I don't know why I drink or use."
"I do know that it's hurtful."
"While I see the pain I'm causing - I can't seem to stop."
"I'm filled with guilt and shame, which makes me want to use even more."
"It's easier to escape these feelings than it is to face them head on."
"I don't have healthy coping skills."
"I'm worthless. No one can beat me up more than I do myself."
"I truly am sorry and it's not okay."
Addiction recovery is no different from any other lifestyle change. While a family member may not have experience with abusing drugs or alcohol - they oftentimes can understand when I replace substance abuse with their favorite food. For example, would you struggle to give up chocolate or chips? If the answer is yes, then you can understand addiction on a small scale.
Or what about cigarettes? While some people have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, many family members have been or are current smokers.
When we talk through quitting nicotine lightbulbs start to go off.
You've heard it said, "We all have our vices." In a sense this is true. We all have coping skills. Those coping skills are either healthy and helpful or unhealthy and unhelpful.
Some people cope with difficult emotions by working out, journaling or prayer.
Others cope with difficult emotions by escaping, numbing or self-sabotage.
Some people thrive under pressure. Others crumble.
It's difficult to assess why people are the way they are, but we've found that the "why"
(while important) isn't a completely necessary component for recovery.
At least not at first.
Yes, a person with an addiction must have a desire to heal from past hurts,
but the road to recovery really begins with having a willingness and a motivation
to be open to a new way of life.
It's the old cliche "They have to want it."
We all may do things to please others or do what we have to do to get by in the short-term,
but real, long-lasting lifestyle changes require the dedication and commitment to
putting in the work. And no one does that unless they are truly ready.
An Addiction Counselor's perspective
It's my opinion that we can't fully understand either person's point of view without having some understanding about addiction. Essentially, when a person is in active addiction - their brain has been hijacked and even if they want to get sober they are likely going to experience painful physical withdrawals, which are a huge deterrent. We've all heard our loved ones say
"You can't understand - you don't know what it's like to be an addict."
The truth is they typically don't understand addiction themselves.
This is why seeking professional help is so important for everyone involved.
As an Addiction Counselor it is one of my top priorities to help the person struggling with addiction gain insight and prepare them with the skills necessary to be successful in their recovery. It is also my role to provide education and support to their family members.
But as a Christian it is my firm belief and understanding that God has given us free will and he will not make any of us do anything, however he will help us through everything!
We need only ask.
Something that is not often discussed is how the prayer life of an addicted person is negatively impacted. They know their behaviors are not pleasing to God, so there's this separation, a divide, a distance. They don't feel worthy to pray or ask God for help. Therefore, I sincerely believe the most powerful thing you can do is intercede on your loved one's behalf.
Pray for them!
Is God going to heal them or take their addiction away? Maybe, maybe not.
For my mom - he didn't. She died from cirrhosis. She died addicted to alcohol, pain pills and cigarettes. However, in a way he did answer my prayers. I prayed that she would stop hurting. I prayed that her struggles would end. I prayed that she would go be with Jesus and for me there is peace that surpasses all understanding knowing that that is exactly where she is.
I have a unique position.
I see patients struggle with lapses and relapses time and time again. On the contrary I also see success stories. I see patients celebrate years of recovery.
The one common denominator I've found is that those who surrender to God and utilize the skills they learn in counseling are successful.
It doesn't mean they're without temptation or without difficult days, but it does mean that when they are tempted they run to God and away from drugs or alcohol.
For more information regarding addiction or if you just want someone to pray with you -
Please join me at Your Praying Friend.
Substance Abuse Counselor