Understanding Addiction Equips You to Help Your Loved One Toward Recovery
Having a family member with an addiction is a complex and difficult situation and you may find yourself vacillating between compassion and anger. More than likely you have tried to get your loved one to change his (or her) behavior, yet you can't understand why he won't quit his addiction when it's clearly so damaging to his life. However, with a clear understanding of addiction, it can help you not only cope with your own stress, but also lead your loved one on the road to recovery.
Addiction is a chronic but treatable disease that causes compulsive substance seeking behavior. A person may make the initial choice to take drugs or drink alcohol, but the impulse control becomes weakened over time. The longer someone stays in their addiction, the more difficult it becomes for them to recover.
Drugs and alcohol mimic certain chemicals already present in the brain. Dopamine is a normally occurring protein that affects the brain's reward system and many drugs affect the brain by overstimulating this system. Eventually, the brain stops producing dopamine, so the addict needs to continue taking drugs in order to continue "to feel normal" and/or achieve the same pleasurable feelings.
Addiction is not caused by a lack of moral character or self-control. Often, the addict wants to make a change, but the effects of alcohol and drugs will cloud his judgment, so he can't see the need for change. Further, the disease of addiction is so invasive it becomes extremely difficult to abstain, or maintain recovery, especially without support.
Successful recovery from addiction will likely require ongoing professional help and support from family and close friends. The extent of professional intervention necessary will depend on the individual, the substance(s) abused, the severity of the addiction and if there are coexisting mental health issues. In some cases, but not all, a medical detoxification may be necessary.
Relapse is common, just as it is with other chronic diseases, but a relapse should not be considered a failure. If the addict receives the help he needs after a relapse, he can recover again. It may be helpful to see a relapse as another opportunity for the addict to learn more about his addiction and himself. Each relapse can bring him closer to longer periods of recovery as he develops the tools to be successful.