Helping Your Loved One – A Guide From a Non-Addict

It can be difficult to understand addiction if it isn’t something you’ve gone through personally. If your loved one is struggling with substance abuse, learning about these issues can give you a better understanding and help you support those in recovery.

Hearing others stories and being involved in a sober community can reveal and highlight so much about addiction and its effects on an individual. Drawing from my own experiences, I’ve found that becoming more involved can be an enlightening experience.

I grew up being open-minded about addiction because my close relative is an alcoholic, who has now been sober for about 30 years. He has always openly discussed his struggles with addiction, and from other relatives, I would hear about how it affected our family.

However, being in a relationship with someone with a past addiction problem has helped me understand everything much more clearly, and so many questions and discussions have ensued since. Shortly after our relationship began, I became more engaged in the meaning of sobriety and started attending AA meetings regularly as well as befriending many within recovery. It really opened my eyes to so many things I never fully internalized, such as how some people become addicts while others don’t, the misunderstandings of addiction, and how that can affect a recovering addict and recovery itself.

From my interactions with others throughout my life, I’ve encountered many that don’t understand addiction. Tragically, I’ve found that addicts can be mistaken for lacking things such as willpower or moral fundamentals and that abuse can simply be stopped by adjusting what’s seen as problematic behaviors or attributes. This is definitely not a reality as addiction is a complex disease, and there is so much more that goes into quitting than just a will to do so.

What I’ve found to be a very simple yet important description is that addiction is a chronic and deadly disease that causes compulsive drug and/or alcohol seeking and abuse. And despite the fact that originally taking drugs is voluntary for many, changes within the brain from substance abuse can make it even more difficult over time to curb instincts to use.

Congruent with other long-term conditions such as cancer or depression, addiction can be managed. However, like these other diseases, falling back into the illness can occur. What I’ve learned is that relapsing doesn’t mean that a program or individual in recovery has failed. It exemplifies that their particular form of treatment or involvement needs to be reinstated or altered in order to reclaim control and continue onto their path of recovery.

Another part of addiction that I’ve come to learn is that there is no single indicator of whether a person will become addicted or not. Although the risk of addiction can be influenced by components such as biology, the individual’s environment, and their stage of development, no single cause triggers addiction disorders. In terms of environment, factors leading to addiction can involve everything from socioeconomic status to quality of life and relationships with friends and family. Also, experiences such as various forms of abuse can affect the potential for drug use and escalation of addiction in someone’s life.

Lastly, development can play a role as mentioned above. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier the drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to more serious abuse. And because areas within children or adolescents’ brains are still developing, specifically areas that govern decision making, judgment, and self-control, they may be especially prone to risk-taking behaviors.

Overall, I am so happy to have had the chance to learn more about addiction and the recovery process. I feel like I can better understand and support my loved ones, and it makes me even more proud of them for all that they have accomplished. Most of all, it makes me happy to know that my loved ones understand that I love and accept them just as they are. I’m glad I got the opportunity to share my story, and I hope that it has helped others in some way.

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