What is Addiction/Substance Abuse & How To Treat It?

Addiction is a chronic and often misunderstood illness. Many believe addiction and drug and alcohol or substance abuse are a sign of moral weakness, while stopping the addictive behavior is simply a matter of willpower. Scientific studies, however, have proven this is not the case.

When an individual engages in compulsive behavior such as drug or alcohol substance abuse – despite harmful consequences to themselves and those around them – they are likely struggling with a chronic illness called addiction. Addiction is a brain disease that affects a person’s inhibitory control over their behavior as well as the brain circuits involved in motivation, reward, memory and learning. Specifically, drug or alcohol substance abuse can lead to significant changes in the structure and function of the brain, making addiction recovery a very complex process subject to frequent relapses.

Even though the initial decision to drink or take drugs may have been voluntary, changes in brain chemistry caused by repeated drug or alcohol substance abuse make stopping the addicted behavior challenging. Addiction treatment often requires a combination of medication and addiction counseling or substance abuse therapy. In addition, many drug addicted individuals also suffer from other mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, trauma and PTSD, which need to be addressed for a full recovery.

Addiction Counseling

Under the guidance of a professional addiction counselor an effective recovery must address all aspects of a patient’s life. Addiction and drug or alcohol substance abuse can be detrimental to all aspects of a person’s life. Therefore, addiction counseling and treatment methods must go beyond the addictive behavior and address any co-occurring medical, psychiatric and underlying social problems. Only until the underlying problems are addressed will an individual regain the ability to make sound decisions and employ self-control over the intense impulses to continue to abuse drugs, drink alcohol or resume their addictive behaviors.

With substance abuse therapy specifically, a holistic and continuous treatment program that address both medical and mental health is crucial to a person’s success in achieving and maintaining a drug-free lifestyle. In addition, a patient must remain in treatment for an adequate period of time. For many a complete recovery may require long-term or repeated episodes of addiction counseling to achieve their goal.

Addiction and Your Family: How You Can Help

Isolation from Addiction or Substance Abuse
“If someone in your family suffers from addiction, then it’s important to take action before the addiction cripples the entire family.”

If someone in your family suffers from addiction, it’s important to take action before the addiction cripples the entire family. Whether it’s drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or an addiction to such things as prescription medications, there are supportive and nurturing ways to help your family member overcome the addiction before it worsens. In order to help you and your loved ones through the difficulties that come about due to an addicted family member, here are a few ways to deal with the sensitive situation.

1. Confirm the Signs

The first step in helping family members with addiction is confirming the signs. Confirmation is just as important as identifying the signs themselves because you never want to jump to conclusions with something as serious as drug and alcohol addiction. However, if your family member is suffering from addiction, the signs will more than likely present themselves clearly.

Some common signs to look for in an addicted individual are the neglecting of daily responsibilities, abrupt mood swings, risky behavior, and financial problems. As for physical warning signs, things like a decrease in personal grooming, slurred speech, unusual sleep patterns, and bloodshot eyes are all possible signs of addiction. If all signs point to drug or alcohol addiction, then it’s time to take action.

2. Educate Yourself on the Addiction

Before you attempt an intervention, it’s important to first know the ins and outs of the addiction itself. If you have reason to believe your family member’s addiction relates to alcohol abuse, there are plenty of online resources that can help you become more educated on the subject. Likewise, obtaining information through open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is also an effective approach to take.

If physical and behavioral warning signs point to drug addiction, then it will likely be more difficult to pinpoint the exact substance that’s being abused. With that said, attending a local, open Narcotics Anonymous meeting is a good way to learn about the different types of substance abuse and how to deal with an addicted individual.

3. Be There Emotionally, Not Financially

When you first have an intervention with your addicted family member, it’s crucial that you’re open and honest on an emotional level. Express your feelings toward the addiction and let the addicted member of your family express their feelings back. Don’t let your judgment or another family member’s judgment take the place of an open, honest, emotional exchange.

Once everything is out on the table and your addicted family member knows exactly how their addiction is affecting the rest of the family, it’s important not to support the addicted individual financially. Paying for things like rent and groceries or loaning your loved one money while they recover are all behaviors that enable their addiction, not their recovery.

4. Try Family and Individual Therapy

If the intervention doesn’t go as planned, your addicted family member isn’t receptive to the help, or you can’t bring yourself to intervene in the first place, then family and individual therapy are always viable options. Professional therapists trained in substance abuse know the right approach to take when handling addicted individuals.

Family therapy sessions also are a great way to make your addicted family member’s recovery a team effort. Likewise, involving the entire family often will make the addicted person more receptive to help. With that said, individual therapy sessions are usually just as effective. In addition, remember, therapy for each member of the family is just as important as therapy for the addicted individual.

5. Know the Difference Between Tough Love and Understanding

When it comes to handling a family member with an addiction, there’s a fine line between using a tough love approach and an understanding approach. Too much of one or the other could lead to your addicted family member either pushing others away emotionally or taking advantage of the situation.

Instead of trying to make a line in the sand between tough love and understanding, try to combine the two approaches. You can connect on an emotional level with your addicted family member while also showing them a no-nonsense attitude toward their addiction. Things like not supporting them financially and not pitying them are forms of tough love, but they still leave plenty of room for emotional understanding. If you’re having issues with identifying the difference, you may find it helpful to attend a Nar-Anon meeting in your area, where you can meet with others who have been through a loved one’s addiction.

6. Don’t Over-analyze the Situation

Everything mentioned above takes a certain level of analysis, but it’s imperative that you don’t over-analyze the situation. It’s not particularly important why your family member has an addiction, but what is important is how to overcome that addiction by finding the most effective path to recovery.

Along with over-analyzing comes blaming yourself for your family member’s addiction. However, whether it’s a child, sibling, or spouse, it’s important not to focus on the past. Blaming yourself will detract from what should be the primary focus of the conversation. Your family member’s addiction isn’t about you; rather, it’s about their addiction and eventual recovery.

7. Get Back to Normal

After the dust settles and your family member is in the process of recovering, it’s important for you and the rest of your family to get back to your normal, everyday lives. Normalizing the recovery process will help the addicted individual get back to normal as well.

As long as everything is on the right track, it’s perfectly fine to go days without mentioning anything about the recovery process. There’s nothing wrong with giving your addicted family member a pat on the back for staying sober. But if you make everything about their recovery process, it will eventually make them feel like an outcast, which is never a good thing.

8. Don’t Forget About Yourself

Putting your addicted family member’s feelings and concerns first might result in you forgetting to take care of yourself. During the recovery process, it’s also important to acknowledge your own feelings on the subject. Ignoring your feelings could lead to stress and emotional despondency, which isn’t helpful for anyone in your family. So, while helping your addicted family member recover, don’t forget about your own needs.

Addiction is a traumatic experience both for the addict and for their loved ones. However, with a little tough love, no small amount of understanding, and a lot of effort, your loved one can come back from the edge of the precipice.

Finding an Effective Recovery Program or Addiction Counselor

Remember, addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior. Addiction and substance abuse can be successfully treated – with medication and addiction counseling – leading to a healthy, productive life. When evaluating addiction treatment or substance abuse therapy programs look for the following key principals:

  • Does the addiction counselor address multiple facets of life – mental, physical, psychological and social?
  • Does the addiction treatment program utilize addiction medication, addiction counseling as well as other behavioral therapies?
  • Can the addiction treatment process be custom tailored to meet your specific needs and addiction(s)?
  • Are all aspects of the recovery program and follow-up addiction counseling convenient?
  • Will the addiction or substance abuse counselor evolve as needed to meet your changing needs?

Addiction is a chronic disease, involving cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery counseling, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or even premature death. Do you or a loved one need help with alcohol dependence, drug abuse or other addictions such as gambling, food or sex? Search the TherapyTribe therapist directory and find an addiction or substance abuse counselor and begin the road to recovery today.