Recognizing Addiction as a Disease
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a disease as a condition that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms. Diseases are progressive, permanent, and fatal. Addiction is progressive because the longer the body uses certain substances, a larger quantity of that substance is needed to produce the desired effects. Addiction is permanent because there is no vaccination or medical cure against it. When a person has cancer, they can be in “remission”, but there is always the chance that it comes back. When somebody is an addict, they may be “recovered” when they no longer have the desire to use drugs, but there is always the chance that it too can come back. Lastly, addiction is fatal. In 2017 alone, there were nearly 30,000 fatal overdoses, and that is only in the United States.
It is important to recognize that your loved one may no longer have a choice over whether or not they use drugs. It may be beyond their mental control. Saying things to them like, “why can’t you just stop” won’t make them change their behavior. Many people must first reach an emotional bottom where the drugs are no longer working in their day to day lives to numb their emotions.
When a loved one is struggling with the disease of addiction, it is common to develop codependent behaviors. In a codependent relationship, one usually has a loving desire to help the addicted person by taking responsibility for the addict’s happiness and actions with the intentions of keeping the individual safe. However, this sort of relationship is not as healthy as it may seem. In fact, it can enable the addict to continue his or her addiction in the long-term. While you feel as though you are protecting the addict by driving them to the bar or to obtain drugs so that they don’t get a DUI, you are actually only enabling them to continue using drugs or drinking.
Codependency may begin to consume the life of the person who is only trying to help. They may begin to put the needs of their loved one ahead of their own, leading to self-neglect. Just like when one is on an airplane that is losing pressure, one cannot help another before making sure his or her own needs are met first.
Hindering Enabling Behaviors and Maintaining Boundaries
After acknowledging a codependent relationship, one must take steps to end the codependency and stop enabling the addiction. It may hurt at first to say no to the old behavior of protecting a loved one, but it is essential. Refusing to participate in codependent behaviors is the toughest – and strongest – way to love an addict. It must be a firmly planted idea that you will no longer support the drug user in their active addiction. The family must allow the addicted person to not only see but to face the consequences of his or her drug use. In an extreme case, if this person does get a DUI, let him or her face the legal consequences. Most addicts will not get help until the consequences of their addiction have become too much to handle alone.
Once these boundaries have been set in place, it is vital to stick to them. If the addict learns that eventually, you will give in to their needs, they will begin to manipulate their loved ones into enabling them once again. Here, the cycle of codependency and enabling starts again.
Work with a Professional
Addiction doesn’t only affect the addict, it deeply affects their family and loved ones as well. One of the most painful things about addiction is watching a loved one who can’t seem to get sober and stay sober. Family therapy is useful in order to understand the mind of the addict, recognize codependency, and help maintain firm boundaries within the relationship. This kind of therapy can help repair relationships among family members and aid in resolving problems. One can learn just how important it is to be assertive when dealing with the addicted family member. Therapy offers a safe place for families and loved ones to heal and cope with the disease of addiction.