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.

Addiction stories: Alcohol, marijuana, crime, and John’s life

The following story was shared by a young reader. I was first drawn to it because it mirrored mine to a large extent. Fortunately, John decided to pull out before he let his life go down as far as I allowed myself to go. For that, and for his courage in sharing his story, I applaud him.

John’s addiction story

My name is John and I am an alcoholic and a raging drug addict. I’m seventeen years old and only used for about 2 and a half years, but that was more than enough for my life to fall to pieces because of my addiction.

When I was fourteen I got a little drunk for the first time. I hated the way the alcohol tasted, and I hated how it made me so sick. The effects were nice, but I wished that I could get them without having the unpleasant side effects.

I found a solution to this problem at age 15 with marijuana. Within my a few months of my first time smoking, I was getting high multiple times every single day. My friends were changing rapidly because the ones who really cared didn’t approve of my heavy usage. I responded to this by getting new friends. Around this time I also became addicted to stealing in order to support my addiction and also in order to look cool by having a lot of money. My friends and I would get high and drunk and then go out at night and steal hundreds and hundreds of dollars from people’s unlocked cars.

I began selling pot at age 16. Dealing was a new experience for me. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t fun – it was, definitely. But the rush of making heaps of money and being loved by all your peers becomes an addiction in itself. I was dealing pretty heavily, for a high schooler selling pot – some days I would sell a thousand dollars worth of it at school. Afterward, I lived what I thought was a carefree and safe lifestyle; I smoked weed with friends all day, and eventually we moved onto harder drugs.

My usage increased heavily and I began using other drugs as well. I slowly began trying all the things I said I would never do, and before long, my life was absolutely governed by cocaine, alcohol, prescription medications, and lots and lots of pot. I got really into cocaine a few months into it – and then everything changed. Walls fell down; suddenly opiates weren’t anywhere near as scary to me, hence my common run-ins with Vicodin, Valium, Percocet, and Oxycontin. None of the prescription pills had the same kind of power coke had over me, though; my teeth still chatter sometimes when I start craving the rush of that manipulative white powder going up my nose. Cocaine is a pretty serious drug, and I was hooked before I even realized what was happening. This is unlike my experience with getting hooked on pot and booze; with those, I could recognize the kind of path I was going down, but I just couldn’t stop. There is a reason coke is called a “hard drug” – because you’ll fall for it. Hard. People go into with the mindset that they can handle it. Maybe some people can. I, however, am not one of those people – the second I pop a pill or blow a line, all I can think about is getting more to keep my buzz going.

Of course I also began getting into trouble with the law. February 16, 2009, I was arrested for the first time after picking up a couple ounces of weed. I met some buddies in town to smoke, but they didn’t inform me that they had vandalized a building at a school earlier. Before I knew it we were being followed by policemen. They caught up with us, encircled us in cop cars, causing a roadblock, and searched all of us. They immediately found my bag of weed and cuffed me, along with all my buddies. I played the innocent child, though, and got off with a possession charge.

The second arrest took place only four months later. I was back to my old dealing ways – by now I was suicidal, addicted to all kinds of drugs, and had no faith in other people. I got high and brought an ounce of weed with me to school, and was found by the school officer in a bathroom stall, selling a few grams to a 14 year old. I was arrested with intent to sell, endangering a minor, possession on school grounds, and possession of marijuana. Also, I was expelled from school. I began saying I was going to kill myself to gain some sympathy, at which point I was placed in a 2 week long mental ward. After that, it was off to rehab for me, where I had sex, did drugs, lied and stole.

A few days after getting out of treatment, I was using again. I remember feeling like an empty shell – I would stay up for days at a time, stealing, lying, and using people to get my drugs and liquor. My family thought I was sober at this point, and I began at a character-based boarding school in August.

I brought a lot of pot with me and resisted everything the school was trying to offer me. Once the pot ran out, I began huffing up to 2 cans of computer duster every day, along with a daily dosage of booze and a whole lot of cough medicine.

I hit bottom on November 16, 2009. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the most important day of my life – that was the day I finally decided I had had enough. I called up my mother, crying and saying I was really done this time, but she didn’t believe me (who could blame her). So I then called up an old friend who I knew was heavily involved in a 12-step group. This man is my sponsor today. We work our program together, and maintain daily contact.

At almost 90 days sober, I can honestly say I have never been so grateful and serene in my entire life. If you’re reading this and you can relate to my story, please know that there is a way out of the twisted insanity that is drug addiction and alcoholism. I should be dead right now, but I’m still here – as far as I’m concerned, that’s proof enough for me to believe in a loving Higher Power. As long as I remember to help other addicts, talk to my sponsor, work my 12 step program, and remain honest, I don’t have to drink and drug today. And to me, this is a miracle.

A little insight

John’s story mirrors that of many other addicts: Early innocent use followed by the dissolution of self-imposed rules about what one will, and won’t, engage in. Cocaine might seem scary at first, but after a lot of weed, alcohol, and some ecstasy, it might just lose that edge. As I’ve talked about in other posts, there are quite a few common personality issues that make it even less likely that a future addict will say no to increasing degrees of abuse.

Once again I want to make a point that I think it important: Drugs are the road, but not the problem per se when it comes to addiction. The vast majority of people who try drugs don’t get addicted to them – What we need to get better at is understanding the process by which those who do, develop problems. This includes earlier identification, better targeted prevention, and more effective treatment. That’s my take on all of this at least.