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For Families and Loved Ones of an Addict

Addiction is a family disease. It affects everyone, not just the person addicted to the substance. Below are some tips for families and loved ones of an addict.

The first thing to realize is that addiction is a “family” disease. Secondarily, nobody wants to be an addict. Thirdly, it is not something that they can just “stop” if they want to. Let me tell you a personal story of how addiction is a family disease.. When I was 17, I found myself in France with blood alcohol poisoning so bad that I was coughing up blood, my eyes had a yellowish tint, my complexion was off color and my hair was thinning. A few years earlier I was a bright-eyed teen in a gifted school program with the world of opportunity ahead. My alcoholism and drug addiction first showed up in my radical change of behavior, which was not to be confused with the common misinterpretation of a hormonally challenged young person going through puberty. I had not only run away but ran off to Europe from my home in California in the 1980’s and subsequently almost lost my life.

My parents, completely unaware of addictive behavior and having no understanding of what was wrong, thought I was “going through a phase. “ I remember how they looked when I finally made it home; angry, hurt, worried, distraught and relieved. It took six more years for me to figure out that I had the disease of addiction before I got help for myself. I was lucky, I understood it at a young age and was able to find help, even though my family and friends were at a loss. In my near 30 years of being around, helping, and giving counseling to people afflicted with addiction, I have seen hundreds of people in recovery struggle, but I have also met with dozens of family members who seem lost and desolate, which is why I want to help. If you have or suspect a loved one of being addicted to a substance it can be very daunting and scary about what the “right” thing to do is. First off, I like to ask about how communication with this person is, and if you can have a conversation with them. Healthy communication is the key to all relationships, whether it is with a partner, friend, business relation, and family member. Often, the closest people to us, the ones we love the most, are the ones where our communication falters due to the emotions that exist between us. Here is a tactic which I hope can help when speaking to someone who is defensive or guarded, and doesn’t like conflict. Speak in only “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “You” statements come across as blaming, and that makes an addict shrink even farther away from wanting to talk. An Example: “ Are you using drugs? I can’t believe you would lie to me. You are better than that. Why don’t you just stop.” What we really mean to say is “ I am scared about drug use. I feel that when I am lied to, it is a betrayal and I can’t trust the person that I really love. I don’t understand about drug use so I don’t know what it feels like, and I am confused on why people can’t stop.” By taking the “you” out of communicating to your loved one, it is much more probable that they would open up to you and you can find a solution, together.

YOU CAN’T FORCE SOMEONE TO GET HELP. THEY NEED TO DO IT. BUT, YOU CAN HELP THEM GET TO THAT DECISION ON THEIR OWN. Most family members and loved ones are in a panic when it comes to addiction. There are steps to take when assisting the addict. The first is to identify if in fact, they are addicted a heavy user, and/or there is a mental illness attached to the behavior. Depending on the age of the loved one, there are also legalities that may sometimes inhibit, such as, if your child is a legal adult which may affect decision making.

ADDICTION IS A FAMILY DISEASE MOST OFTEN THE SYMPTOM OF A DEEPER ISSUE Before blaming and accusing, try and find out the root cause. The addict is already in their own cesspool of their mind with shame and blame, you don’t have to give them anymore.  A loved one can help the addict by trying to identify the underlying reasons. Sometimes they don’t know, and that’s all right too, but try and get them to talk about their feelings that happen before they use or drink. Help yourself. Try not to be consumed in helping the addict. Attend therapy yourself, or 12 Step programs like ALANON, where the groups have like minded people who can help you through it. Educate yourself. Many family members do not understand about drugs or addictive behavior and it helps to learn more about it as a disease. Then there is often the revelation that family members are too suffering from addiction and not knowing it, or denying it, and also need to take a look at their own behavior. In the addiction field we say “this is a family disease” because it is often cause from , and/or effects, the entire family. Treatment centers often include the family and can assist a great deal in the healing process, transition, and aftercare.