Struggling with Addiction
in the Greensboro News and Record
Why is the person I care for an addict and How can I help when I don’t understand?
What is going on? Why can’t I understand what they are going through? Why can’t they just stop using?
For those of you out there with a family member, loved one, or even a friend going through an addiction, how many times have these words graced your lips? Addiction is a confusing thing for those suffering from it and those suffering with them.
The scientific answer to these questions is that Addictions are genetic. From all parts of the world, there are different cultures that are affected by different types of substances. A few examples of this are the Asian cultures with a past history of issues with opiates, the opiate war; and Native American populations with alcohol, called fire water back then; and last, to the use of alcohol among the Irish, Scottish, and European populations. No matter what part of the world you come from or claim as your heritage, we all have these genes from our cultures. You may ask, “why is my significant other addicted to this stuff and I’m not?” The simple answer is we don’t know. In some people, the underlying gene to become an addict stays out of the picture, and for others, it likes to be the center of attention. The honest truth is when this gene is activated in an addict, he/she starts to crave the substance. In the tests in rats, it was shown that in some rats the addiction/ cravings were so strong that they would give up food for days and only eat and drink water when absolutely necessary.
The use of substances has occurred for a long time in the history of the world. There were uses by the Egyptians. It was discovered that alcohol was made roughly 5,000 years ago. We also know of some cultures in the past that used substances to see visions or “communicate with the spirits or gods.” However, like all things in the world, excesses occurred and those with the gene for addiction were brought into the limelight. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle describes in one of his books the opiate dens that even the great Sherlock Holmes was said to inhabit. This example was further shown in the more recent film with him drinking embalming fluid and running from the sunlight as Watson opened the curtains at the beginning of the film.
So, getting to the second part, how can you help? The first fact after reading all the above is this: Blame and Shame do not help! They don’t make the person want to come clean or get better. This is an old idea that never worked. The second fact is that no matter what you do, offer, or provide, they are not going to start recovery until they are ready. I have witnessed parents and families spend ridiculous amounts of money on specials spas and treatments with the person leaving “cured,” and within a short time, the addict is right back to it. I have also seen this style called enabling. This is where the supporting person gives in a little or only helps a little so the person will not be in an unsafe place when they use or similar ideas. The main thing that you can do is this: be there for them. They will always be your son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband, friend, etc. Just like a person with a medical condition like diabetes, this requires support and the right treatment. Contact a counselor like me or a substance abuse treatment facility and see how we can help you with them. We have specialized training to work with these populations, and also since we are not in the family, we have more flexibility than you do. This third outside voice is why some come to counseling vs. “keeping it in the family.”