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While love conquers many things, alone and without knowledgeable resources and support, it does little to conquer addiction. By contrast, those who invest their attentions toward the addict’s wellbeing over their own (a primary characteristic of love) are the ones who feel the most pain.
The loved ones of addicts should know that addiction is considered a chronic brain disease that strips away the free will of the addict. According to the NIDA, addiction “is a complex brain disease characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use despite devastating consequences.” You will notice radical changes in your loved one’s demeanor, attitudes, behaviors, associations, and health as their tolerance and dependency progresses.
From the impulsive use of drugs or alcohol, there are many physiological and psychological changes that occur as the brain and bodily systems adapt to the presence of the drug and the behaviors they learn to maintain their habit. The accumulative neuro-adaptations that take place in the reward systems and stress mechanisms of the brain cause the progression of tolerance and dependency in the addict that goes from using the substances for their positive effects to having to use them to avoid the negative ones such as cravings, anxiety, or withdrawals.
Know What to Expect When Loving an Addict
Loving an addict means your relationship could be plagued with problematic dishonesty, lack of communication, denials, rejection, loss of income, productivity, or valuable self-interests, and overt senses of fear, anger, confusion, adultery, and shame. It’s hard to block the pain of loving an addict even when their actions appear rewarding and sincere, but, the emotional upheavals that addiction brings to a relationship are uncontrollable, unsustainable, and unhealthy to endure for long.
For the family, the addition becomes their disease, too. Spouses, partners, children, and parents who are closely bonded with the addict are strongly impacted. According to the Institute of Medicine (US),”Drug abuse leads to reallocation of economic support away from the family; lack of participation in family activities, including caregiving; lack of emotional commitment and support for parents and children; and the inability to provide a reliable and adequate role model for other family members, especially children.”
For an addict, it’s not a matter of willpower to quit. Many addicts have tried to do so, on their own and several times before realizing they need help. The loved ones of addicts can pique their motivations for recovery when they begin to help themselves.
Codependency and Enabling
Throughout the course of the loving an addict, the relationship will become strained in one way or another and the byproducts are usually codependency and enabling. According to Co‐Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) codependency is described “as being overly concerned with the problems of another to the detriment of attending to one’s own wants and needs.” Life becomes a ritual of “walking on egg shells” to keep from triggering negative reactions in the addict.
Loving an addict naturally brings about compassion for their sufferings, worries for their safety, and concerns for their overall wellbeing and doing things to help them may seem logical. It may not seem like providing them shelter, safety, food, transportation, money, or other resources can be harmful when, in fact, you may be enabling them to continue in their addictive habits and contributing to their self-destruction.
Suggestions for Loving an Addict
Addicts can cause a great deal of unnecessary pain to their loved ones, despite who they were before the addiction set in. Things will get worse if nothing changes, but, there is hope and the following are some suggestions:
Educate yourself: Learn about addiction, the behaviors, consequences, and the co-existing issues that you may be affected by when loving an addict.
Don’t be naïve: Addicts can be extremely manipulative, aggressive, abusive, and overbearing to get what they want. Don’t be naïve to their behaviors, excuses, denials, or other impositions.
Join a mutual aid group: Groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon offer education and ongoing support to families and others who have a loved one suffering from addiction. These groups have people who share common interests, experiences, insights, and advice that helps the loved ones in recovery sustain hope and wellness.
Learn to detach and take care of yourself: Detaching from the pain and negativity of loving an addict may require blocking those feelings of hurt, anger, guilt, and mistrust to find peace of mind. Relieving these stresses and assuming responsibility for your own behaviors and wellbeing will empower you physically and psychologically. Remember, your goals and values are important, too, so lose the fear, start setting boundaries, and expressing yourself.
Get others involved: Whether you need help from other relatives, friends, loved ones, employers, physicians, counselors, clergy, or others; the more people you get involved to support you, the better off you will be. Don’t isolate yourself and lose communications. Building a positive support network is crucial and keeping family involved for the children’s sake even more so.
Stop enabling behaviors: Many of the behaviors you use to cope with loving an addict may be enabling without realizing their effects. Stop blaming, denying, minimizing, rationalizing, or altering problems. The more reality you and the addict have to face, the more difficult maintaining their addiction can become.
Understand and prepare for relapse: It’s bound to happen. Falling back into old behaviors is as easy as it is for the addict to relapse to substances after trying to quit. But, don’t give up. Prepare a contingency plan with a strategy that will help you get back on track quickly.