Finding out that a loved one is addicted to drugs is a confusing time for family members, often evoking feelings of anger, anxiety and helplessness. When the addict finally enters treatment either willingly or not so willingly, family members struggle with many questions and often have misconceptions about addiction.
- Addiction is a choice.
Starting to use drugs does have an element of choice. Many people start out experimenting with drugs out of curiosity or to fit in with a crowd. Others may start out taking addictive medications such as Opioids and Benzodiazapines for legitimate medical concerns. The problem is that up to a point consuming these drugs is a choice, but the element of choice becomes supplanted by an increasing need for the drugs. No one starts out with the goal of becoming an addict. Eventually the drugs are needed just to feel “normal”.
- “I put down my cigarettes one day and never picked them up again, so my loved one should be able to do the same with the drugs”.
If only it were that easy for everyone. There are some fortunate people who can do that with cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs, but these people are in a minority.
- Drug addicts are immoral, selfish people that care only about themselves.
This could not be farther from the truth. It Is true that addiction can result in the individual doing things illegal and/or hurtful, but he/she does not do those things to intentionally hurt those that love them. They do these things because the addiction can hold a powerful sway over their thinking causing them to do things that they would never dream of doing otherwise. Drug use is known to make significant changes to how the brain works. Drugs disrupt the normal production and activity of neurotransmitters in the brain and in some cases will change the structure of the brain and the thought processes. These are among the reasons that addiction is known as a brain disorder.
- “If the addict stops using drugs and graduates from recovery, then life will get back to normal.”
A client may graduate from a treatment program, but not from recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process of change. Life may never be the way it was before the addiction. It will be different and maybe better than it was before, but it will be different.
Recovery does not consist of only being sober. Sobriety is only 10% of recovery. The other 90% involves a complete change in lifestyle. In some cases the newly recovering addict must learn how to do things that non-addicted people can take for granted, such as learning how to keep a job, learning how to problem solve, how to communicate effectively, how to write a check and pay bills, how to open and maintain a bank account, how to help the children with their homework and make sure they get on the school bus in the morning, and setting a reasonable bedtime for the kids instead of letting them stay up until 3 AM.
- “If the sober addict can get a good job, then he/she will not need to use drugs.”
Some families have gone so far as to arrange a job with a “good” future for their newly sober addict, thinking that this will give them something for which to stay sober. For the newly sober addict, a job with a high income can work against the recovery because the newly sober addict will have means to pay for drugs again. Having access to money without first learning how to manage it as a recovering addict, can short circuit sobriety.
The preceding list is a sampling of myths and misconceptions that have been frequently heard by treatment providers. The question now is “What can families do to help?”
- Get support and family counseling if needed.
Addiction is a family illness. This does not imply that the family is to blame for the addict’s drug use. Most recovering addicts will agree that it was their own choice to start using drugs. One way to look at addiction is that it causes family members to be sick with worry, anger, anxiety, depression, panic etc, and family behaviors will revolve around the addiction. If this is a family illness, then recovery is a family process.
- Do not try to insulate the newly recovering addict from stressors, but support their efforts to take responsibility and to learn effective stress management skills.
- Listen without judgment when they need to talk.
- Try to understand that they need to be with other recovering addicts regularly.
- Learn about the illness.