Understanding Addiction and the Effects It Has on Families
Addiction is a family disease, so it affects families and children in addition to the suffering individual.
For the average individual, when the consequences are bad enough they can stop using drugs and drinking. They don’t even need to put up a fight. I once knew a person who, when he finally lost his job and no longer had money to pay rent, stopped using. Just like that, he made the decision to stop. He was able to stop and not have the urge to drink or get high all on his own.
I, however, am irrevocably different. When I was a teenager in high school I failed a drug test and was sent to substance abuse classes. At this point, I was able to stop. I stopped long enough to pass my next drug test and to keep participating in extracurricular activities. What made me different at that time was my mind. I was counting down the days until I could drink and drug once again. Not even an hour after the second drug test, I was off to the races once again.
When I went off to college I fully believed that I would get sober and stay sober. I had a drive for success and I was determined to do well in school. My first night in school I was faced with the opportunity to drink, and I took it. In the next two years, not only did I have several encounters with the police, but I became physically addicted to opiates in the meantime. My addiction led to losing my scholarships, getting kicked out of school, and experiencing opiate withdrawals while sitting in a jail cell for the first time. Again, for an average individual, this would be enough to stop. My disease had progressed to a point where I no longer cared about the consequences. The only thing that mattered in my life was getting high and drinking.
I had a firm resolve, once again, that this time I would stop. I believed with everything in me that I could control my drug use. I told myself that this time would be different. I made it about three hours without getting high, but something happened in those three hours that completely baffled me. My firm resolution to stop had suddenly left me. My mind convinced myself that I could just get high one more time. Then I would stop. So I proceeded to get high without a single thought about that firm resolution that I had earlier that very morning. Staying sober was completely beyond my control.
My family frantically begging me to stop couldn’t keep me sober. My friends abandoning me wasn’t enough. Facing multiple charges didn’t even faze me. Whatever was happening to me was controlling my every thought and action.
Eventually, I reached an emotional low point that no amount of opiates or alcohol could fix. At this point, I had become convinced that I had absolutely no power over drugs or alcohol. These substances were controlling my life. I reached out for help and went to treatment.
Finally, my problem was explained to me. I learned that when I don’t have a substance in my body, my mind lies to me. My mind tells me that I can use successfully. It tells me that I can control my drug use. When I finally give in to this mental obsession to drink or get high, a physical phenomenon of craving develops, meaning that I simply cannot stop. This craving is so strong and so overpowering that nothing in me can stop myself from using again and continuing to use. I have an obsession of the mind and an allergy of the body where I react abnormally to mood and mind-altering substances. I have the disease of addiction and alcoholism. I knew I needed detox—because I was different.
As a woman who is now in recovery, I am now able to see that my addiction not only harmed me, but it caused detrimental harm to my family. One particular group of people who suffer as a result of the alcoholism and addiction of others is innocent children. Approximately 13% of American children live in a household where a parent used drugs, and 24% live in a household where an adult was a heavy drinker. In addition, US News reports that in 2016, 34% of cases where children were placed in foster care were due to substance abuse in the home.
Often times these families are harshly judged by people who don’t understand the disease of addiction. People may think, “well, if the parents really loved their children, they could just stop.” In reality, this is so far from the truth.
I loved my parents, I still love my parents, but the emotional appeal of love and affection never sufficed for me when it came to sobriety. I love my beautiful nieces but being banned from being a part of their life wasn’t enough, either. Love doesn’t have the ability to make somebody want sobriety. Only deep, tormenting pain has the ability to make an addict or an alcoholic want sobriety enough to attain it.
Parents struggling with substance abuse need resources to get the help that they need. For some, outpatient treatment may be the way to go. Others may need medically assisted detox and intensive inpatient treatment. Many treatment facilities will provide family therapy, where parents can openly speak with their children and loved ones about their disease in a safe, therapeutic setting. These families need understanding and compassion. They need help and support, not judgment. Judgment never got any of us anywhere.
In addition to providing support for the parents, the children need support as well. Family therapy will help them understand more about why their parents do the things they do. It is also important for kids to recognize that they are not alone and to seek counseling so they can talk about the hardships that they are going through and learn how to cope with their struggles.
By spreading awareness around the disease of addiction and alcoholism, we can support those who are struggling to get the help that they need. Children can be reunited with their families and addicts can maintain long-term sobriety. The first step is educating those who do not understand addiction and providing treatment, detox, and counseling services to parents and children.