You’re wrong about a lot of things. In hopes of dispelling some myths, I felt compelled to write you this letter. First and foremost, I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I want to alienate myself from the people I love most so that I can focus on drugs and alcohol 24/7”. That whole shift in my priorities and my moral compass and my boundaries? That happened over time.y
There’s not just one factor that got me to this point, and it wasn’t always this way. What started as experimentation for me has become a lifestyle and one I’d never anticipated for myself. I’ve lost everything that matters but ironically, the only way I feel like I can cope with those feelings is by using again. It feels like a hopeless cycle.
It seems like you’ve already got some ideas about me. Maybe it’s easier to dismiss me as a criminal or a neerdowell than it is to examine the factors that led me to such a dark space. So while I’ve got your attention, I’d like to address some of the things you think about me. I’d like you to know how it feels to be on the receiving end of these assumptions:
Addicts Are Bad People Who Deserve What They Get
Despite stereotypes that perpetuate the image of a disheveled homeless man passed out on a park bench, addicts cross all socioeconomic, gender, race, and age boundaries. Anyone who uses drugs or alcohol has the potential to become addicted to them. 12 Keys Rehab offers a more in-depth view of the diversity found within the addicted population and attests that, “The truth is that drug addiction is pervasive throughout the country, whether you group people by age, gender or income.” These tables from the National Institute on Drug Abuse illustrate racial and age breakdowns of admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities:
By Drug: Admissions to Publicly Funded Substance Abuse Treatment Programs, 2008
By Race: Admissions to Publicly Funded Substance Abuse Treatment Programs, 2008
By Age Group: Admissions to Publicly Funded Substance Abuse Treatment Programs, 2008
Researchers have pinpointed the most common risk factors that lead to addiction and further confirms that substance abuse can cross all types of societal boundaries. These factors include a family history of addiction, a lack of family involvement, the presence of anxiety or depression, and everyday peer pressure. The Mayo Clinic provides a more comprehensive breakdown here: Addiction Risk Factors.
Addicts Choose to Keep Using and Would Quit if They Cared About Anyone But Themselves
Medical News Today highlights the difference between habits and addictions as follows: “With a habit you are in control of your choices, with an addiction you are not in control of your choices.”
Addiction – there is a psychological/physical component; the person is unable to control the aspects of the addiction without help because of the mental or physical conditions involved.
Habit – it is done by choice. The person with the habit can choose to stop, and will subsequently stop successfully if they want to. The psychological/physical component is not an issue as it is with an addiction.
And when the line is crossed between habit and addiction, support becomes critical. Assuming that an addict can simply wake up one day and say “no more” is both naive and counter-productive. Recovery not only carries psychological implications, but physical ones as well.
If An Initial Stab at Treatment Proves Ineffective, It Will Never Work
Addiction is a very nuanced disease and addiction treatment options have, as a result, grown more and more individualized. While navigating a relapse can be an extremely frustrating experience for both addicts and their loved ones, it is not an indication that the situation is hopeless. “For the addicted individual, lapses to drug abuse do not indicate failure—rather, they signify that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed” (National Institute on Drug Abuse). What proves to be an effective treatment regime for one addict might not resonate at all with another.
“The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse at some point is not only possible, but likely. Relapse rates . . . for people with addiction and other substance use disorders are similar to relapse rates for other well-understood chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components.” – National Institute on Drug Abuse
It is estimated that 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts relapse after treatment, which is why it is so critical that substance abusers seek out treatment that is both comprehensive and individualized. Detox alone will not address the underlying issues that have fueled the addiction.
Addicts Have to Hit “Rock Bottom” to Get Help
There are countless factors that can motivate addicts to get help. Oftentimes, pressure from employers, friends, or loved ones can lead to voluntary treatment. In some circumstances, addicts are mandated to seek treatment due to involvement with the justice system.
“Treatment does not have to be voluntary. People coerced into treatment by the legal system can be just as successful as those who enter treatment voluntarily. Sometimes they do better, as they are more likely to remain in treatment longer and to complete the program.” – Wayside House, Inc.
Some addicts do seek out help on their own. The progressive nature of addiction means that there are periods during which the substance abuser can still recognize declines in his or her own functioning. Some addicts recognize these red flags early enough to initiate treatment on their own. As a result of addressing the addiction before it reaches it’s most debilitating stages, the addict may require less restrictive treatment measures like outpatient therapy or regular participation in support groups.
Addicts Want to Hurt Their Loved Ones
With a substance abuser often presenting as a mere shell of the person she was prior to the disease, addiction can feel like an assault on the family system. It can become quite difficult to separate the person that the addict was from the person they have become and loved ones often take the destructive behaviors personally.
It is far more productive for families to remain supportive and proactive in the addict’s road to recovery. Clear boundaries must be drawn to ensure that family members don’t cross the line between supporting and enabling the addict. AddictionsandRecovery.org encourages families to embrace the three C’s of helping an addict:
- You didn’t Cause the addiction.
- You can’t Control the addiction.
- You can’t Cure the addiction.
One of the most effective means of remaining objective in this emotionally draining process is to equip yourself with your own supports and coping strategies. By connecting with other families that have navigated the addiction journey, you will quickly recognize that your struggles and experiences are normal.
People Addicted to Illegal Drugs are Worse Offenders Than Those Addicted to Prescription Drugs
Society attaches a far more damaging stigma to abusers of illegal substances than those who misuse prescribed drugs. There is, however, little difference between the two.
“When a person takes a prescription medication in a larger dose or more often than intended or for a condition they do not have, it affects the same areas of the brain as illicit drugs and poses the same risk of addiction.” – Psychology Today
A recent study by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, states that, “[O]nly 14 percent of parents mention prescription drugs when they talk to their kids about drugs, and one in six parents said prescription drugs are safer than street drugs.” This is a dangerous misconception and yet another example of the power that informed parents can have on the drug and alcohol use trajectory of their children.
I hope you know that I wouldn’t wish this struggle on anyone. There are moments in which I remember my old life, but they just aren’t enough to break me free from this cycle. When you encourage me to get help, I will likely fight you tooth and nail. But what I need you to know is that, regardless of my protests, I need you in my court. I can’t fight this alone.
Your Addicted Daughter (Son, Brother, Sister, Friend, Wife, Husband)
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.