Understanding Your Loved One’s Addiction
Drug and alcohol addiction is a national public health crisis in the U.S. The disease of addiction affects millions of Americans every year. Addiction is not discriminatory and is prevalent among rich and poor, in all regions of the country, and within various ethnic and social groups. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” This disease is considered a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.
Due to the rampant nature of this disease, it is likely that you or someone you know has been affected by the disease of addiction. Each addictive substance has different effects on an individual’s mind and body. Some substances are more addictive than others. Similarly, some drugs have more potent effects than others. Over time, when abused, these illicit substances often carve the path for full-blown addiction.
Contrary to social stigmas, quitting drug and alcohol abuse is not an issue of morality or will power. Overcoming addiction is a daunting task, even for a person who genuinely wants to quit. There are several factors that influence whether your loved one is predisposed to developing an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. These factors include:
- Emotional/physical trauma
- Family history of drug/alcohol use
- Abusing drugs/alcohol at an early age
- Underlying co-occurring disorders
- Medical history/history of chronic illness
Continuous drug abuse actually leads to physiological changes within the brain which ultimately affect how the brain functions over time. Substances such as heroin trick the brain into releasing an influx of neurochemicals, producing a euphoric high. Drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine cause an influx of the “happy” chemical dopamine. In other words, these substances alter the brain’s chemical production which predisposes the user to develop an addiction.
Recognizing Your Loved One’s Addiction
Identifying a substance use disorder is a difficult and complex process. Some addictive behaviors are obvious, while others may be more difficult to recognize. If your loved one is addicted, it is likely that he/she will try to hide their substance abuse from family, friends, and coworkers. Identifying addiction is similar to diagnosing any other illness. The individual must meet certain, scientific criteria that define the illness in question. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has created a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) with criteria to determine the presence and severity of a substance use disorder. Here is a list of the criteria found in the DSM-5:
- Lack of control – The user requires larger amounts of the substance over time, for a longer period of time than the individual intended.
- Desire to limit use – The user has a desire to cut back on use, but is unable to do so.
- Time spent – The user spends a considerable amount of time attempting to acquire the substance.
- Cravings – The user has an intense desire or urge to use their substance of choice.
- Lack of responsibility – The user neglects work, school, or home obligations in order to prioritize substance use.
- Problems with relationships – The user experiences consistent conflict within interpersonal relationships due to excessive drug use.
- Loss of interest – The user neglects important social or recreational activities in favor of drug use.
- Dangerous use – The user continues to use drugs and/or alcohol despite dangerous consequences.
- Worsening situations – The user continues to use substances despite worsened physical or psychological problems.
- Tolerance – The user needs larger amounts over time to achieve desired effects.
- Withdrawal – The user experiences physical and emotional withdrawal side effects when attempting to quit using the substance.
How to Help A Loved One Struggling with Addiction
The best method to help a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol often seems counterintuitive, especially for individuals who struggle with codependency within their relationships. Some of these methods seem harsh, but when they are approached with love and the goal of helping your addicted loved one seek help, it can potentially save their life. Here are a few basic steps for helping your loved one overcome his/her addiction:
- Remember addiction is a disease of the brain – not a choice or moral failing.
- No one can overcome the addiction for the addict, the individual must learn to manage the disorder for themselves.
- Set healthy boundaries and don’t budge on them.
- Encourage your loved one to seek help and offer substance abuse treatment resources for them.
- Find a therapist or specialist who has experience in addiction counseling and ask for help.
- Be supportive of your loved one, but do not enable them. Allow your loved one to experience the consequences of their addiction.
- Always remain optimistic. An addict is more likely to seek help if they constantly receive ongoing encouragement to do so.
Once you have opened the conversation and your loved one begins to respond, in a positive manner, offer the gift of a drug rehab program. Be prepared to offer a few choices for your loved one to look over and choose from. Encourage your loved one that substance abuse treatment is available for each person and there are a ton of options for individualized treatment in North Carolina. If your loved one is willing to seek treatment, don’t hesitate – call us today for a free consultation.