Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
7 Things You Should Know About People Who Struggle With Addiction.
If you’ve never struggled with addiction, you’re lucky. You will never know the horror of being addicted, or of wanting to stop and not being able too. Imagine something so powerful that it uses you. It’s like that for those of us who are susceptible to addiction.
We voluntarily take our first drink or drug and then it takes over. We develop a psychological dependency – an emotional and mental process that goes hand-in-hand with addiction. Our inebriated state becomes our brains new normal.
Our body becomes physically dependent. We need higher and higher doses to create the same euphoric effect. As tolerance builds, signals are sent to our mid-brain, over-riding our frontal lobe – the area of our brain responsible for executive functions such as planning for the future, judgment, decision-making skills, attention span, impulse control and inhibition. The mid-brain is the area responsible for survival. It’s our fight or flight responses. The signal it receives says ‘get high or die.’
The susceptible person’s brain responds differently to chemical stimulation than non-addicts do. The majority of people will be able to use drugs and alcohol with few consequences. They don’t over-indulge because they don’t like feeling out of control. However, for those of us struggling with addiction, we don’t feel out of control when we use. We feel in control, maybe for the very first time in our lives.
When we’re sober, we’re uncomfortable. We stand in a crowd but feel lonely, separate and different from the people around us. We’re observers – outsiders, looking in. Something is missing. We try and fill this void with food, shopping, relationships, work, exercise, gaming, porn, or drugs and alcohol. Our first experience with substance or other mood-altering behaviors will change the way we feel about ourselves and our perception of the world around us. The feelings of euphoria and happiness are so powerful that we will chase this feeling for the rest of our lives.
As a person in long-term recovery who works with substance abusers, there are seven things you should know about those struggling with addiction:
- Addiction lies in your own voice: Becoming addicted is easy because no one knows that’s what they’re doing. We tell ourselves we’re having fun. We need it to relax. We minimize the severity of our addiction by focusing on what we still have, not on what we have lost. For example, I have a roof over my head. I still have a job. The alcoholic says I only drink beer. The cocaine abuser says I don’t use meth. The meth addict says I only smoke drugs, I don’t inject them. The pill-popper says at least I don’t use heroin. Addiction denies itself in the scariest voice of all – your own.
- Addiction is not a moral failing or weakness: Those struggling with addiction aren’t bad, although they do bad things to maintain their habit. They are just very sick. Addiction is a brain disease that rewires the cerebral cortex resulting in poor judgment and impulse control. It manifests in compulsive substance use in spite of harmful consequences. It’s progressive in nature ending in jails, institutions, death or recovery.
- Those struggling with addiction need an enabler to help them stay sick: The enabler aides in their loved one’s addiction by making excuses for them. They clean up their messes, loan them money and keep their secrets. The enabler believes they know their sick loved one better than anyone else but in reality, they’re usually the easiest person in the family to manipulate. This one-sided relationship allows the addicted person to under-function in all their affairs and focus solely on their relationship with drugs or alcohol.
- Shame is their second skin: An addicted persons experience high levels of shame. They are not comfortable in their bodies. They may mask this with sarcasm, jokes, or with a grandiose attitude of entitlement. They have a love-hate relationship with themselves and their drug of choice. They love the way they feel when high but hate the things they do to achieve this feeling. They judge themselves harshly, calling themselves a loser, junkie or a waste of space. They may believe they’re too weak to quit using and their family would be better off without them.
- Love won’t make them better: You’ve nursed them back to health. You’ve watched over them as they slept. You’ve loved them when they weren’t very loveable. You’ve done everything in your power to help them get better. Instead of thanking you for it, your addicted loved one pushed you further away. Now you’re exhausted and left wondering if you did something wrong. While you may have made mistakes, please know you didn’t cause their addiction and you can’t love them well.
- Addiction is a family illness: When one family member struggles with addiction, it affects the whole family. Trust is broken, hurt accumulates and builds, exploding in an eruption of emotions and regrets. You may find yourself protecting the addicted person, or blaming them for your own unhealthy behavior. Parents may turn on one another in their frustration. The family walks on egg-shells around the substance abuser, fearing they may upset them. In healthy families, everyone can get their needs met. In addicted families, the only one getting their needs met is the substance abuser.
- If you’re doing the right thing your addicted loved one will probably be mad at you: The hardest thing you’ll ever do is love an addicted loved one without enabling their illness. Boundaries keep you safe. They tell your loved one what you’re okay with, and what you’re not. When you say no to enabling behaviors, you threaten their addiction. They’ll be mad at you and may pull away, but say no anyway. Learning to set boundaries is the best way to maintain your health and ultimately, help your addicted loved one.
Please know addiction is a highly treatable illness. The key to recovery is breaking the code of silence by reaching out for help and connecting with safe, supportive people.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance 1-888-614-2379.