Addiction is a disease that’s still poorly understood by the majority of people, surrounded by myths that might have their origins in genuine attempts to spread awareness of the problem, but end up doing the exact opposite. Perhaps the most pernicious of these is that it is nothing more than a moral failing – the addict’s own fault. This may be true in some cases, but only a fool or a bigot will claim to know the lives of others well enough to make such a judgment. Another is that you can’t successfully try to help someone until they’ve completely destroyed their life. Or, that only hard drugs are addictive and destructive; nicotine is roughly as addictive as heroin, while people can also become the slaves of anything from gambling to social media.
When it comes to how addiction should be treated, the most harm is done by the fable that addiction is a simple disease which should have a simple cure. Even those who understand that it is a disease and not a choice rarely have the medical or psychological knowledge to realize just how many facets there are to addiction, and the commercial bias of the medical industry plays some part in this. Your stomach hurts? Are you feeling depressed? Do you want to lose weight? There is a pill for each of these conditions, so why shouldn’t treating addiction be equally simple?
The desire for a simple fix to every problem may be part of our culture, but it is rarely rooted in reality. There are many interlocking aspects to addiction: the addict may be trying to escape some psychological issue which led to becoming dependent in the first place, while the effects of a harmful habit can lead to further problems such as depression and chronic anxiety. The physical level of addiction can be just as bad: both the brain and the rest of the body undergo real changes as the result of long-term drug abuse, and simply ceasing to take an addictive substance can lead to serious, even lethal, withdrawal symptoms. What’s less commonly known is that these can take the form of acute, very uncomfortable physical effects immediately after quitting, but the brain may take much longer to adjust back to normal. This can lead to very deep depression and other psychological challenges, which is why many addicts are “cured” only to relapse weeks or months later.
If you rely only on the lack of experience of those around you, you will hear some of the most dumbass and utterly useless comments imaginable. No, beating addiction is neither easy nor simple. If you have someone you love who is suffering – if you’re reading this, chances are that you do – having someone who cares about him or she already places them in a much better position than many addicts. However, you have probably already realized that the burden you’re taking on is by no means light. You’re not the first person to make such a commitment, though. Others have gone before you: whether they and their partners succeeded or failed, you can learn from their experiences. Some of these lessons may be less than obvious or even counterintuitive.
Don’t Get Dragged Into Their World
Just because you are there for your partner doesn’t mean you always have to occupy the same physical and mental spaces. Supporting them is sometimes best done from a distance. I recently heard a mother talk on the radio about how her daughter wanted to better understand what her addict boyfriend was going through: she began with cannabis and ended with a lethal heroin overdose. The entire story was heartbreaking: she started off with the intention of helping someone and ended up destroying herself.
While you are trying to help a loved one back to health, you will almost certainly be under a great deal of stress yourself. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll realize that there is a world of difference between professional help and the well-meaning but clueless kind. Treating the psychological effects of addiction and withdrawal, as well as the complex issues that come with it, is ideally a job for a specialist. If this is out of your reach for financial or other reasons, effective online alternatives are also available. If you do not spend some effort into taking care of yourself, you will also soon be in no position to help anyone else.
So many people are misinformed about addiction and the way out of it that it’s likely you’re one of them. Talking to someone who has actually helped addicts overcome this affliction, or following other credible avenues to educate yourself, will almost certain to improve your chances of permanent success.
Don’t Accept Excuses
Almost by definition, we want to think the best of those we love and admire, as well as their actions. Beyond a certain point, unfortunately, this is only self-delusion.
There are always reasons for addiction, and these are rarely trivial, but don’t let your view of the situation be clouded by someone else’s self-justification. Certain behaviors, especially those that violate your boundaries, are just not acceptable. Addiction can change a person’s personality, including making them selfish, but allowing this to go too far will help neither of you.
Don’t be Superficial
Above all, remember that understanding a problem, whether it’s your own or somebody else’s, is usually the first step towards dealing with it effectively. Actually listen to what they’re saying, find out as much about their circumstances and condition as you can – it will not make the journey ahead easy, but it will limit the pain both of you have to go through.