Family Addiction – A Tough Nut to Crack

Guest author – Lisa Fredriksen from breakingthecycles.com:

I was 49 years old when one of my loved ones entered a residential alcohol treatment program and I found myself plunged into a whole other world – a world that included terms and concepts like codependency, adult children of alcoholics, 12-step programs, co-addictions, dual diagnosis and the role a family member has in the denial that protects a loved one’s drinking. The family addiction world was a world I found confusing and overwhelming as I learned just how many of my loved ones had an alcohol problem and what that had meant in my life.

True to my nature, I began my quest for deeper understanding in the same way I’d approached my six other published nonfiction books and numerous articles. I immersed myself in research, intent on learning as much as I could about the subject – in this case alcoholism and treatment programs – and then all of the other issues that emerged as I tried to understand why a loved one drinks too much and why someone like myself puts up with it for so long. I started attending Al- Anon meetings, doubled my individual therapy sessions and attended family-help group sessions at the treatment center, as well.

codependencyMy book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop! What You Really Need To Know When A Loved One Drinks Too Much, and my blog, www.breakingthecycles.com, are the culmination and continuation of my discoveries. I hope that by sharing what I have learned, others – whether a parent, friend, sibling, spouse or child – will find the tools they need to live their lives.

I share this information because I wish I had known it, that it had been openly and freely talked about, long before I’d spent decades grappling with my various loved ones’ drinking. I try keep my shares (including my book) very short and simple. I know, myself, that when I first started looking for information, I was frustrated with the variety and depth of the books and research on what I was striving to understand – excessive drinking (alcohol abuse), alcoholism, co-addictions, adult children of alcoholics, codependency, dual diagnosis, how to help the alcoholic stop drinking, how to heal the family, how to talk to your children, family in recovery – and the list went on and on.

For now, I’d like to leave you with my top key discoveries:

1. Alcoholism is one of the diseases of addiction – a chronic relapsing disease. Check out www.hbo.com/addiction for a wealth of information. It’s produced by HBO, NIAAA, NIDA and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
2. To begin treating addiction, the substance of abuse must be stopped in its entirety in order to allow the structural and chemical changes in the brain to change and recover.

These first two discoveries freed me from my continued efforts to try control my loved ones’ drinking and thus stop my nagging, raging, deal-making and shaming – the behaviors I’d been using in order to “help” them stop [hence the title of my book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!…]. They also allowed me to respect the person but hate the disease and know that until that person came to grips with the power of addiction, they would/will continue to drink, no matter how hard they try to control their drinking.

3. Other family members need help, too, in order to change some of the behaviors they’ve adopted in order to survive but that are actually getting in the way of their living healthy, happy, fulfilling lives, regardless of whether their loved one stops drinking or not.
4. Alcoholism is a young person’s disease. Due to brain imaging technologies of the past fifteen years or so, neuroscientists have been studying how the brain develops. According to NIAAA, half of alcoholics were addicted by age 21 and two-thirds were addicted by age 25. Click here to better understand why.
5. Having a dual diagnoses (a mental illness, such as depression, bipolar, ADHD or PTSD) and an addiction (to alcohol or drugs) is common. Click here for information.

Don’t walk this road alone – Tips for those still struggling

Trying to quit an addiction can be challenging for many reasons. One of the biggest problems, especially at first, is the faulty learning that has taken place while using (or engaging in addictive behavior). For this reason, finding a long term residential addiction treatment option is ideal for people with severe and long addiction problems. And yet, for many, this solution is simply impractical.

If you can’t remove yourself from your everyday life for long enough to change your now addictive patterns, make sure to enlist the help of others around you.

Be honest with people who are close to you and are not using (at least not abusively) and ask them if they’d be willing to act as de-facto chaperons (or sober buddies). I’ve talked about it on here before, but if you’re anything like me, your addiction permeates your life. Make sure that you have planned activities that fill up your free time with those who are willing to help you. Read my treatment-related posts for specific ideas on things to fill up your time with (exercise, reading, gardening, etc.).

While you may have forgotten what going to the movies when not stoned feels like, trust me, it all comes back in time. Just make sure you have someone there to help you along the way in the beginning…

Like so much else, the biggest first step is asking for that help. Once that’s done, so much of the rest gets easier!