Addiction doesn’t discriminate. The demise of famed pop star Whitney Houston is a clear reminder of the grim truth: it doesn’t matter if someone is rich or poor, uneducated or holds multiple degrees, addiction is a lifelong battle. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is treatable but considered a chronic disease that requires continued treatment and support to manage. While there is no universal template for who will become addicted to drugs or how it will impact his or her life, we know that there are some uniform stressors experienced by their loved ones. Loving someone who is using drugs, whether he or she is “strung out” or high functioning, is a traumatizing experience. His or her behavior and mood swings may become unpredictable. This individual who you once admired will likely continuously disappoint you and betray you emotionally, physically and financially, eroding your ability to trust. You may fear for him or her, causing much stress and anxiety. Worst of all, you cannot force him or her to change. It is ultimately his or her battle.
There’s only one thing you can do; take care of yourself. Here’s how.
Understand the problem
Most addicts are grappling with additional issues—depression, insecurity, etc…—that serve as triggers for substance abuse and can make maintaining sobriety an issue. Rehabilitation and thriving will depend on the user’s ability to develop healthy coping skills to release stress and eliminate maladaptive coping mechanisms (drug abuse).
The entire family suffers when a loved one uses drugs—not just the addict. Folks worry together. Folks endure the emotional roller coaster as a unit. Folks ride the financial instability as a team. It’s easy to bow to the stress and let the insanity dictate your behavior and how you personally begin to deal with problems. Finding a support group is the best way to unload your feelings and thoughts freely, normalize your experiences and develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with problems/stress.
Decide what level of support you can give your loved one and give yourself permission to stick to it. If it isn’t safe for a person to spend the night at your house, borrow your car or pop up at your place of employment make it clear that the behavior isn’t acceptable and don’t engage if he or she tries. Do the same with lending money, interacting when the person is under the influence or any other potential enabling behaviors. You can’t control anyone, but yourself, so create standards of what’s acceptable in your life.
Everyone’s journey with addiction and sobriety will be different. Understand that your loved one is dealing with a chronic health issue. Don’t expect a miraculous recovery or assume that you life will be like a scene from New Jack City. Just know it will be a journey.
Shame is almost as powerful as addiction. While it is important to exercise judgement in who you share your personal business with, trying to hide an issue as big as addiction from people who can potentially be supportive is a disservice. A loved one’s addiction—and how it’s impacted your family—is not your shame to carry. Give yourself the opportunity to be helped and supported by opening up.