Addiction is a complex disease, and it’s often an uncomfortable topic to discuss with a friend or family member. Before you speak to a loved one about their addiction, it’s important to understand what addiction is and what you should expect from your friend or family member. Addiction is a disease that affects the brain, specifically in the reward center. It’s characterized by compulsive drug use despite the serious consequences. Heroin is notoriously addictive; confronting and addressing such an addiction can be challenging.
Someone who’s addicted to a psychoactive drug might not realize they have a problem, even if their drug use is causing medical, psychological, social, financial, or legal problems. In other cases, an addicted person might realize they have a problem and still find that they can’t stop their use or seek help.
Addiction changes the way a person perceives drug use. The reward center is designed to take notice of activities that affect your levels of “feel-good chemicals” in your brain. Eating a good meal, sleeping in a warm bed, and hugging someone are all examples of activities that your reward center notices and encourages you to repeat. These activities keep you mentally and physically healthy and strengthen social bonds. The reward center helps us survive by encouraging us to seek life-sustaining activities over and over.
Unfortunately, many psychoactive drugs have a profound impact on these chemicals in your brain, and it can trick your reward center into treating drug use as one of these other activities that are vital to your survival. That means an addicted person may seek drugs like someone who is starving would seek food.
For that reason, it’s important to approach the issue of addiction with compassion and without judgment. Substance use disorders often start with poor choices, but addiction is not a matter of moral failings or bad habits, just like poor dietary choices can lead to diabetes. It’s important that you realize that addiction is a disease that needs treatment, not punishment. This is an important lesson particularly for the parents of someone who’s struggling with addiction. It’s a disease that can’t be solved with a scolding, grounding, or even a heart-to-heart conversation.
Like diabetes and other chronic diseases, addiction takes treatment and a lifelong commitment to recovery.
When you’re dealing with a loved one who’s developed a substance use disorder, it’s important that you offer help without hurting. That means avoiding any enabling behavior. Most people are aware that enabling addiction can be dangerous, but you may not be aware of what constitutes enabling behavior. It can sometimes be difficult to know the difference between enabling and helping. The most important thing to remember is to encourage treatment but avoid getting in the way of consequences that come from drug abuse.
If you act as a buffer between an addicted loved one and the consequences of addiction, it may only prolong the time it takes for them to realize that they need help. It will also harm you, which is bad for your personal mental and physical health and weakens their support system.
Here are a few examples of common acts of enabling behavior:
When someone you love has developed a substance use disorder, it’s important to avoid one of the most common pitfalls the families of addicted loved ones face: codependency. If your loved one is dealing with addiction, your life might be altered and centered on addiction as well. As a result, you may feel isolated, manipulated, overinvolved, guilty, responsible, and even loss of yourself and your personal identity. You may feel the pressure that if you don’t take care of an addicted loved one, something terrible might happen.
Codependency occurs when your life revolves around an addicted person, and you become overprotective and over-involved in their life. Codependent people may seek to protect an addicted person from everything to the point of enabling their continued addiction. In some cases, codependent people may resist sending the addicted person to treatment because they are made anxious by the thought of sending them away.
It’s important to realize that getting them the help they need is the most you can do. Codependency does more harm to both you and your addicted loved one.
Once your loved one has entered a treatment program, you may still be involved if you want to help them achieve lasting recovery. Family involvement in treatment can be a huge benefit to the addicted person and their family. Many treatment programs offer family therapy services or other opportunities for family involvement, as long as it would benefit the client. Clinicians have identified a wide variety of positive factors that can come from family involvement in treatment.
Benefits can include:
If someone you’re close to is struggling with a substance use disorder, there is help available. The first thing you should do is to get as much information about the disease of addiction and the challenges ahead of you as possible. Learn more about addiction treatment by speaking to an addiction specialist at Ocean Breeze Recovery. Call 855-960-5341 or connect with us online to hear more about the addiction therapy options that are available to your friend or family member.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019, September 15) Quality and Science. Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/definition-of-addiction
International Journal of High Risk Behaviors and Addiction. (2015 June) Effect of Different Psychoactive Substances on Serum Biochemical Parameters. Dilek Beker Sanli, Rabia Bilici, Ozgur Suner, Serhat Citak, Kazim Kartkaya, Fezan Sahin Mutlu Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4579556/
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Psychology Today. (2012, July 11). Are You Empowering or Enabling? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-anatomy-addiction/201207/are-you-empowering-or-enabling
Lancer, D., J.D. (2016, December 05). Codependency Addiction: Stages of Disease and Recovery. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/codependency-addiction-stages-of-disease-and-recovery/
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39.Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2004) Chapter 1 Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64269/