Addiction: A Family Affair

It is said that families, and those living with an addicted person, often become equally as sick from addiction, and I believe that to be true. Addiction takes a piece of the heart from those who remain close to it, leaving it broken and in pain.  The stress and anxiety, fear and anger, and the ultimate strain substance use and addiction place on a family system are unimaginable and extremely toxic to the health of that family system.

Understanding Addiction

Understanding substance use, addiction, and recovery are vital in any attempt to help those affected and take care of themselves while supporting the addicted person. To heal from addiction, all involved need to understand its impact and learn how to stay healthy while trying to help and support those addicted or misusing substances to seek treatment.  Notice that I don’t call this condition Heroin addiction, cocaine addiction, or alcohol addiction. That’s because the sickness of addiction doesn’t really concern itself with which substances (or behaviors) provide the needed relief for the person using or exhibiting them.  Although the substance or behaviors are part of the overall problem, it’s really the addiction that is the culprit. Many addicts will agree that any substance that provides relief will do when they can’t obtain their drug of choice. Provided the substance or behavior alters their feelings, then it will work as a temporary solution, providing relief until they can secure their favored substance.  Part of a large misunderstanding, even among those addicted, is that if a person is addicted to heroin, the only task ahead is to avoid using heroin, ignoring the danger of continued use of other dangerous substances or engaging in unhealthy behavior.

Why Choose Lake Ave Recovery?

Our approach to addiction at Lake Ave Recovery (LAR) is holistic, addressing the mind, body, and spirit when treating addiction.  We believe that individuals use substances (and behaviors) to cope with life, especially those who have never learned healthy coping skills, to manage the stress and emotional turbulence of life. As humans, we all experience rejection, disappointment, hurt, loss, grief, and a host of other emotions over our lifespans. For those who have had help in learning ways to identify, express, and manage their emotions, there might not be a need to use substances or certain behaviors as coping methods. However, those who have had to learn and develop those skills without help often discover that coping with emotions or life challenges can be done by ingesting alcohol or other “self-soothing” substances or behavior. If the relief sought is obtained by this, it provides reinforced conditioning of how to cope with life.  I’m not saying this explains all there is to know about addiction, but it seems like a good place to begin. Drugs and certain behaviors alter how we feel through a biochemical process in which our body’s own naturally produced chemicals are released, providing a euphoric feel.  It makes sense that what those individuals become addicted to is the relief or escape from their current feelings. Using our holistic approach to addiction and treatment, we seek to understand (and help those in treatment to understand the nature of their distress, discomfort, and/or pain. If we understand what is generating the unpleasant feelings, we have a much better chance of helping that person address their issue(s) and learn how to change or develop alternative ways to cope that will eliminate the need for substances or unhealthy behaviors.

The Impact on Family

We at LAR also help those in treatment understand family dynamics and roles, which often play a part in individual development. We believe that families need support and education around addiction and recovery and can be a wonderful source of support to their addicted loved ones.  In our clinical opinion, it makes no sense to only treat the individual using substances and ignore the family, who have usually been involved throughout the addicted person’s life.  Families need to understand what is happening to their loved one who is behaving in a non-characteristic manner and seems out of control.  When families don’t understand addiction, they react in ways that exacerbate the stress and chaos. Helping families understand the sickness of addiction and the recovery process doesn’t cure it or make it all disappear, but many people learn about addiction from how it is portrayed in the media, movies, etc. They don’t see the positive or bright and beautiful side of the issue; the Recovery. It helps them to know how to support their loved ones and care for themselves as well.  In her article, The Setup: Living with Addiction, author and therapist Tian Dayton explains what happens to families when addiction is present and talks about how and what families can do to understand it (Dayton, 2019).   Often, the negative, dark, and horrible aspects of substance use and addiction are all that are seen by society, only adding to the negative stigma, but please be assured that people DO recover from this sickness and go on to live healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.  Our belief at Lake Ave Recovery is that with help and support Recovery is possible; there is HOPE!!!