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10 Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Addiction

Common Questions About Drug and Alcohol Addiction from Parents and Loved Ones

Friends and family members of addicts are often hurt, confused and have lots of questions about addiction and the behavior of their loved one. Kathleen Bendul, LCSW, and a recovery and addiction therapist at Full Recovery Wellness Center, has listened to many painful stories from parents, spouses, and siblings consumed by worrying about someone with the disease of addiction. They have many questions about drug and alcohol addiction and often neglect taking care of themselves.

Here are answers to the most common questions Bendul is asked and some guidance for taking care of yourself during this difficult time.

1. What is drug addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders, and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.

2. Why is drug addiction and why does the addict keep misusing substances when it’s so bad for him/her?

Addiction is a disease. Yes, it’s true that many people use drugs and alcohol. But for the addict, substance abuse has become a physical and emotional need. Use has become abuse which has become addiction. In other words, an addict has crossed over the fine line between consumption and addiction.

3. Why can’t he/she stop drinking and drugging other people have?

When is enough, enough? Where is rock bottom? The unfortunate answer is this: Only when the negative consequences are too high for the individual to tolerate, does one hit his/her own bottom.. Every addict is unique. For some addicts, the negative consequences are too high when they get charged with a DUI. For others, it happens when their jobs or relationships are threatened. Some addicts embrace addiction recovery treatment immediately, at the first AA meeting. Others have gone through rehab countless times.

4. Why is he/she doing this to me?

The addict is “doing this” to himself, yet he is so sick, and suffering so much, that he can’t figure that out. Addiction becomes a single-minded focus for the user and they’re not thinking of the impact on their loved ones. They are not intentionally trying to hurt anyone. The disease has taken hold of them.

5. If he/she loves me, why doesn’t he stop drinking or drugging for me?

The hard reality is that both can be true. He loves you. And he can’t stop. People think it’s a choice. In a way it is, but it is a disease that needs to be put in remission with hard work and dedication. If an addict isn’t ready to get help, he won’t get help.

6. How am I supposed to take care of myself when I’m worried about him/her?

Go to Al-Anon. Go to Nar-Anon. These are 12-step support groups for friends and family members of alcoholics and addicts. People there will help you, and people there will share their experience with you. You will be able to take a deep breath, and you will begin to move onto more solid ground. At these support meetings, which are held nationwide, everything is confidential. The process of healing is a process of baby steps, and you first need the help of someone who understands. Friends and family members often have forgotten how to take care of themselves. Friends and family members come to accept they are powerless over the alcoholic. The Serenity Prayer is often recited at meetings, says Bendul, and helps to resolve to accept the things you cannot change. Here is the first verse:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Another important realization happens at these meetings, and its power cannot be understated: You are not alone. Indeed, many family members are astonished and relieved to hear so many stories that are similar to their own. She knows exactly what I’m going through. Does she live in my house?

7. What is enabling?

Enabling is doing for someone the things they can and should be doing for themselves. Enabling is making excuses for the addict. If you’re calling in sick for the addict, or paying her bills because she’s spent all her money on drugs, you are enabling.

8. How do I stop enabling?

Enabling can take many forms, small and large, and it can be difficult to stop enabling. Many families, for example, don’t want to talk about the chaos of the previous night when today seems peaceful. In the life of an addict, peace often is hard to find. In order to stop enabling, you need to set boundaries, say no more often, learn not to be obsessed with the loved one.  Many people become better at this after hearing examples from others who have gone through the process.

9. Why do I have to seek help when I’m not the one with the addiction problem?

Addiction is a complex disease, even for the experts. Education is key to treatment. Ironically, many friends and family members are unaware of many aspects of the disease of addiction, even though they are living daily with its effects. Education changes everything. Enablers, for example, learn what they’re doing wrong. Family members learn how to take care of themselves.

10. Why can’t I fix his addiction?

Recite the Three Cs.

  • I did not cause it.
  • I cannot control it.
  • I cannot cure it.

The good news for friends and family members of addicts is that their own self-care can lead to real change and help you begin to make better decisions for themselves, and start to free themselves from the worried grip of addiction to their loved one. “I absolutely watch them become stronger and often when one family member improves their health others do, too – including the person suffering from addiction.” says Bendul.

Her greatest takeaway: Addiction is a complex disease. Education and support are critical for friends, family members and addicts, alike. If you or someone you love is suffering, put your self-care first and have a full understanding of support options  available to your loved one.

Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the president and CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery: The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put a full year of 24/7, secure and private addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere, and on any device. His mission is to help others have access to the life-changing and lifesaving tools of recovery that he uses every day – even after 28 years in sobriety. Why? Because currently only 4 percent of people in America who need addiction recovery support get it. Find out more here.

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