When you’re involved in a relationship with someone who has an addiction, you spend a lot of time hoping they will change. It’s understandable why, as your loved one probably does many things that hurt you, such as lying, stealing or neglecting your needs. The person you once loved seems to be fading away, while the addiction is clearly taking over. What is there left to do?
If you’re like most people, you start with an ultimatum. “It’s the drugs or me,” you say to your loved one. But the reaction that comes from this often brings shock and devastation. You may hope and expect that your loved one will choose you now that you’ve put your foot down, but things aren’t that simple.
One of the most difficult questions that the families of addicts have is why their loved one keeps choosing drugs over them. Is it because they don’t love their family anymore? Is it because they don’t care?
Understanding the Nature of Addiction
Although it’s hard to understand, addicts don’t consciously choose drugs over their friends and family. If they had that power over their behavior, they would probably choose to stop using. Addiction is something that occurs in the brain, and it causes the addict to be obsessed with getting the drug. So, your loved one is not actually making the conscious decision to use drugs over you. They don't have that control.
Even if your loved one tries to stop using, the physical and psychological effects of withdrawal begin to take over. If they aren’t detoxing in a safe and secure environment, then the symptoms they feel will be so intense, they are likely to start using again. Addiction has nothing to do with strength or willpower. It is something in the brain that takes complete control over a person.
Recognizing the Addict's Brain
Chances are, your loved one has been using for quite a while, so there are changes that have taken place in the brain. Neurotransmitters are altered, so the brain doesn’t know how to find pleasure in normal, everyday activities. The brain now relies on drugs. Also, the brain has changed the way it learns information and makes decisions, so you can’t expect your loved one to have the same thinking patterns as you.
As hard as it can be to accept, your addicted loved one has no control over their life anymore. Drugs won’t just come before you, they will come before everything. That’s why many addicts eventually lose their jobs, neglect personal hygiene, retract from friends and family and even stop eating or sleeping.
When you see how powerful addiction is over the mind and body, you can better understand why addiction is not something that can be overcome in a 30-day stay in rehab. A sober lifestyle takes time, hard work and diligence.
How You Can Help Break the Cycle
If you make the commitment to stand by your loved one, you must accept that you have no control over their actions. But, there are ways that you can have a positive influence on their life.
Intervention: An intervention is a constructive way to get the addict’s most important people together in one structured setting and encourage them to seek treatment. Be sure that you work with a professional interventionist who will guide you through the intervention process and serve as a mediator.
Therapy and Support Groups: The addict is not the only one who needs support. You do, too. Seek friendship and advice from family support groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. You can also talk to a professional counselor or therapist to help cope with your emotions.
Get Informed: Learn about addiction from support groups, professional speakers or even social media. The more you learn about addiction, the better you can understand what your loved one is going through and how you can be of help.
Don’t Enable: Of course you love your family member, but you must not confuse enabling with love. Know the signs of enabling and make sure that you are not contributing to the continued drug use.
It’s a personal decision to stay in a relationship with someone who has an addiction. If you do choose to do this, you must learn to protect yourself, set boundaries and discontinue enabling the negative behaviors. You must also be aware that if/when you are rejected, this is not because the addict doesn’t love you. It’s because the addiction has taken over and holistic treatment is needed.