Featured photo by Ben White
A Little History
While most forms of drug addiction are fairly unique to the last few centuries, addiction to alcohol goes back centuries. The abuse of fermented beverages existed in early Egyptian civilization. Alcoholic drinks were also imbibed in China around 7000 BC, in India between 2000 BC and 3000 BC, and in Babylonia around 2700 BC. In fact, even Greek literature is replete with warnings about excessive drinking of mead, a fermented beverage with honey and water.
The famous French satirist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, is credited with coining the phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” While this may not always be true, it’s true for those struggling with alcoholism. Despite the world having changed beyond recognition over the centuries, families still struggle with helping a member overcome their addiction to alcohol.
Today, alcohol is only one of many addictive substances. If it appears to be more popular, it’s only because it is more easily available. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimate that out of a nation of 300 million people, about 23.5 million are addicted to substances that create an altered state of consciousness and mood change.
However, only about 11 percent receive the treatment they need to enjoy a healthier life. Illegal substances like meth are highly addictive drugs and meth addiction symptoms include picking at the skin, rotting teeth, suppressed appetite and drastic weight loss, and regular nosebleeds due to snorting meth.
Supporting a Loved One
How do you support a loved one that’s struggling with an addiction? You need to create a good support system and find ways you can help them make life changes.
The best approach is to get professional treatment, encouraging the family member to seek help. However, even after this step, you have to stay involved in the treatment and recovery process.
Let’s take a look at 7 steps Towards Addiction Recovery:
1. Get educated about addictions
After getting professional help, you need to get educated about the nature of addiction, ranging from understanding how long it takes to detox to figuring out how to offer support without enabling, especially avoiding financially supporting the addiction.
An addiction can’t be stopped through an act of sheer will-power. Many family members unaware of the powerful nature of the addiction try to control the problem by lecturing, trying to induce guilt, or trying some form of emotional persuasion. These methods not only fail, but they make the situation worse.
Addiction is a fairly complex phenomenon. There are many underlying causes—unresolved emotional traumas, chemical imbalances, and psychological disorders. As a way of dealing with these unconscious sources of distress, a person uses alcohol as a way to self-medicate.
Besides the primary addiction itself, there are often co-occurring disorders like other addictions, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.
2. Offer psychological support, but don’t enable the problem.
It’s easy to get confused about the difference between offering support and enabling. When you enable someone, you often don’t even realize that you’re doing it. Enabling can take the form of letting someone live in your home without contributing to the household income, getting away with dysfunctional behavior, or finding excuses for the person’s refusal to face their problem.
Since enabling is often difficult to recognize, it’s best to work with an addiction counselor. Why? To understand the difference between showing care and concern and enabling the addiction.
3. Financially supporting the addiction.
Financially supporting an addict is not necessarily about buying their drinks for them. You financially support an addict when you allow them to live in your home without paying rent, when you pay their bills, or when you loan them money.
All these are forms of enabling because they allow the addict to avoid the struggle of getting a job and making a living.
4. Establish firm boundaries.
Sticking with firm boundaries is the best strategy to avoid enabling the alcoholic. The boundaries you set have to be realistic, and you have to be willing to follow through on them. Healthy boundaries protect you and your family while unhealthy boundaries are merely an attempt to control the addictive behavior.
5. Avoid trying to fix the problem.
Even when your addicted family member is getting professional treatment and appears to be making some effort to improve their situation, you might be tempted to force them to change their ways at a faster rate. The temptation to lecture the family member can be especially strong when you see them backsliding. Although you may have the best intentions when you lecture, you only aggravate their feelings, which cause them to go on a new binge of self-medication.
6. Stay in control of your own life.
There are many ways that an addiction can take over your life. You have to carry on with your life’s goals, like finishing a degree, advancing in your work, or raising a family. You also have to stay loyal to your interests, friendships, and community responsibilities. Ironically, your behavior to do your own thing will have a positive impact on the alcoholic family member, because you will serve as a positive role model of what is possible.
7. Join a support group.
Despite your best intentions to get educated about addiction, quit all forms of enabling behavior, and carrying on with your life, you will still find it an uphill struggle. Consequently, it’s essential for your sense of well-being to join a free 12-step support group. Spending time in a group with people who have a similar struggle will emotionally support you and give you insights on how to handle different types of situations you might be facing as you struggle with your family member’s addictions.
A Long Road to Recovery
Recovering from addiction is a huge challenge for your loved one as well as for you and your family. Like any journey, there can be breakthroughs and breakdowns. Only through patience and perseverance is it possible to succeed on this long journey to recover from an addiction.