How Families Can Help Deal with Drug Addiction
By. Dr. Louise Stanger, Ed.D, LCSW,CDWF, CIP
Drug Addiction Statistics in the U.S.
We are a nation in crisis.
There is hardly a family that has not been affected by addiction. The statistics on the matter of opioids, alcohol and marijuana are alarming:
105 American lives are lost each day to an opioid-related overdose.
1 in 8 Americans experience an alcohol addiction
1 in 8 American smoke marijuana as legalization rolls out across the states.
So, What Can We Do?
I am a fierce advocate for systemic change on the micro (individual), mezzo (family) and macro (community) levels. In the wake of our national drug crisis, action mU.S.t be taken to help loved ones and their families achieve health and wellness.
In this article, I’ll start by describing what addiction is. Then, we’ll look at WHAT NOT TO DO: Bail out your loved ones. Finally, we end with a section on hope. I’ll guide you through the 7C’s of change.
KNOW THIS: If your loved one has gotten caught up with drugs, you did not caU.S.e it. Continue reading for more on active steps you can take…and if you have questions, please leave them at the end. We love hearing from our readers and will try to provide you with a personal and prompt reply to all real-life questions.
The Definition of Addiction
Let’s begin with unpacking the definition of addiction. Per the American Society of Addiction Medicine (March 2011), the clinical term for addiction is substance U.S.e disorder. Further, this disorder can be defined as:
“A chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”
Like diabetes and heart disease, addiction is chronic, progressive and if left untreated fatal. A person who is drug-addicted looks for relief via substance abU.S.e and other behaviors. What does substance U.S.e disorder look like?
Addiction is typically characterized by any combination of the following:
- A dysfunctional emotional response to experiences and circumstances
- An inability to quit the drug and stay quit.
- Impaired behavioral control.
- Impaired ability to see problems with one’s behavior.
- Impaired ability to see problems in interpersonal relationships.
Addiction takes many forms from alcohol and other drugs to process disorders. Consider the following list of possible non-drug addictions:
- Eating Disorders
… even digital addiction.
These addictions often overlap with substance U.S.e disorders. They tend to twist and twirl together with additional co-occurring (mental health) disorders.
Unpacking Addiction: It’s Like a Volcano
As a clinician and interventionist, I work directly with families and their loved ones on drug addictions, process disorders, and mental health issues. It is important for me to unpack and address the complex nature of these issues.
When folks think of “addiction”, they typically believe it’s an individualistic disease affecting only the one caught in its grip. In truth, addiction creates a volcano effect. Like a volcano that slowly and steadily builds pressure, steam and corrosive lava, addiction erupts with a powerful force and disrupts families and friends, colleagues and associates, bU.S.iness partners and co-workers.
Like the unstoppable lava that flows in the streets, addiction disrupts everything in its path.
And becaU.S.e one form of addiction bleeds into another – co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, juxtaposed with medical problems such as chronic pain, legal or school issues – many family members feel like they are constantly caught in a spin cycle of destruction and despair. They struggle to find a quick fix with the next bail out for a loved one or for an employer. Emotions hiss and pop. However, a heated concoction of nagging, pleading, begging, lecturing, or screaming will never work.
Add to this… Chronic Pain Issues
Moreover, there are over 133 million people in the U.S. that experience chronic pain. This pain is often treated with a prescription pain killer – an opioid – that is highly addictive. This is another piece of the pie that fuels addiction! In fact, substance use disorders often start with a simple prescription.
Whether or not someone is “addicted” is confusing to many family members. They believe their loved one’s problems have a firm medical rationale. Chronic pain is clinically defined as:
“Pain which is persistent and lasts more than 3 months.”
However, our bodies are designed to heal within 90 days. After that, it is our emotions that fuel our pain. Our thoughts and feelings drive us into addiction and the belief that we need pain killers. The findings from the University of Arkansas in 2016 on opioid use are alarming.
With a 10-day supply of opioids, 1 in 5 become users a year later.
Families Can Make Addiction Even Worse
Families often respond to addiction is ways that do not help anyone. They become codependent. In fact, addiction and codependency become soul mates… holding each other hostage. Codependency is defined as:
Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires attention due to an illness or an addiction.
In effect, a codependent relationship causes the loved one of the person experiencing addiction to make excuses for their behavior. I don’t really like the term “codependency”. Instead, I call this phenomenon: The Ultimate Bail Out. But bailing out a loved one is counterproductive. You fuel the addiction. You get in the way of progress.
How can you know if you are actually making an addiction worse? Here are signs to look for when experiencing The Bail Out Syndrome, otherwise known as codependency:
- “No” is not part of your vocabulary.
- Always saying yes to whatever is asked of you.
- Apologizing to others for your loved one’s behavior
- Being secretive.
- Calling work, school, or rearranging appointments for your loved one.
- Difficulties showing intimacy.
- Difficulty setting limits or boundaries.
- Feeling anxious and fearful about being abandoned or rejected.
- Feeling responsible for your loved one’s problems.
- Feeling trapped or held hostage in your relationship.
- Giving money or not realizing money is missing from your wallet.
- Keeping addiction a secret.
- Lying to the person so as to hide the truth.
- Making excuses for your loved one.
- Making up stories about why your loved one is the way s/he is.
- Needing to be in control.
- Needing to look good to the outside world.
Behaviors that Characterize Codependents
Not recognizing how attached you are to your loved one and how your behavior has become part of the problem DOES NOT HELP ANYONE. But if you can’t identify the problem, you cannot change it. If you or a loved one is experiencing an excessive relationship with an individual who has substance abuse or mental health disorder, here are more common behaviors you might be taking on:
- Accepting that the situation will not change: “It’s just this way.”
- Being a martyr: “Look what I do for her.”
- Being a victim: “Look what s/he has done to me and our family. Poor little me.”
- Being unable to distinguish the difference between yourself and your loved one’s problems.
- Blaming situations or other people instead of the addicted loved one: “He has such a tough boss,” or “She has a mean teacher.”
- Blaming your loved one who has an addiction for everything that’s not right with your life.
- Feeling angry and resentful about someone’s behaviors and still bailing them out.
- Feeling angry with righteous indignation towards the person.
- Finishing your loved one’s sentences for them.
- Ignoring the addicted individual’s negative or dangerous behaviors such as stealing, lying, fighting, or legal trouble.
- Making excuses for the loved one.
- Not being able to label one’s feelings beyond mad, sad, or angry.
- Putting the addicted loved one’s needs first
- Refusing or denying there is a problem.
- Repeating the ideas that “Everything is alright.”
- The inability to share, know or express feelings
- Using excessive “we” terms. Rarely saying “I” or “me.”
Change is Possible: The Role of Change Agreements
Despite the destructive and painful reality of addiction and its grip on circles of families, friends and business associates, change is possible. There are several parts to this. The first is to learn about substance abuse, process disorders, mental health and chronic pain.
The second is that you need not be part of the problem – be part the solution! In doing so let the 7 C’s be a guidepost for your new way of being.
- You did not CAUSE your loved one’s addiction.
- You alone cannot CURE the addiction.
- You alone cannot CONTROL your loved one’s addiction.
- You can take better CARE of yourself.
- You can learn to COMMUNICATE your feelings.
- You can make healthier CHOICES.
- And you can CELEBRATE yourself and your growth.
The third aspect of change is creating healthy boundaries for you and your family members and the loved one with addiction. Here are questions that need to be asked related to building honest and healthy boundaries:
- What is okay behavior and what is not okay?
- What was okay before treatment and how has that changed?
- What was NOT okay before treatment and how can you make it better this time?
- What gets confusing?
I always tell the families I work with that they must be able to wake up each morning, look themselves in the mirror and know that they are worthy and that they can stick to the boundaries they have set and their own personal recovery map. To assist in this process, clients and families in collaboration often develop Change Agreements to help guide the way
Change Agreements are a written document in which one clearly articulates what they are willing to do to support their loved one in recovery. Plus, you get to define ways in which family members are going to do to take care of themselves. Change Agreements often include family members attending Al-anon and other support groups and/or professional counseling as well as setting firm limits in what their financial and other types of support they will render that supports recovery. Expectations are concisely articulated. For example, a loved one may engage in treatment as outlined by a professional. This usually includes:
- randomized drug testing
- attending meetings
- attending intensive outpatient treatment
The key notion is that healthy boundaries are critical for personal health and happiness. Once a loved one experiencing addiction seeks treatment, all family members, friends and colleagues and business associates must take a hard look at their own behaviors and re-draw these boundary lines to find change.
Fourth, it is of paramount importance for the codependent to begin to take care of themselves: physically and emotionally. You need to turn to your personal values to find strength. This may come in the form of spirituality or a connection with a higher power. Al-anon, other support groups, meditation, mindfulness, exercise and social bonding aid in the healing process.
Lastly, movement starts with a willingness to change, sprinkled with fierce love and commitment to family and loved ones, coupled with the tools necessary to change. When those are in place, family members (You) no longer have to travel down a pity path that leads to cajoling and bargaining. No longer will you mortgage your homes, blame others in an effort to have your loved one stop using.
You Can Help Your Family with Addiction
The great Martin Luther King, once said,” We shall Overcome.” I am here to proclaim, announce, shout that you can overcome the sleepless nights, the GPS tracking of cell phones, relinquish the baited breath waiting for that overdosed unconscious voice on the phone that disrupts the 4:00 AM reverie of your dreams.
There is no need to start and finish everyone’s sentences or be an indentured to the endless employment of the Royal “WE.” You no longer have to make up false stories in your head about where your loved one is or is not, nor do you have to sign on that a medical marijuana card for your 15 year old is ok.
You can finally unequivocally tell the truth without shame, guilt, fear, humiliation, fear of recrimination and a lifetime sentence that you are the eternally bad sister, mother, father, brother, husband, wife, partner, lover , grandparent, business manager, or personal assistant. Because now you know you do not have to have all the actions.
NOW you Can Take Positive Action!
Be the Warrior!
Be Vunerable and Be the Non Co-Dependent YOU!