Dear New Shrink,
My husband is an addict. He’s been to rehab but is back on drugs again. We have two small children. I feel helpless, hurt, angry, and I am confused. I love him; I hate him. I want to leave but I don’t. I cannot believe he is doing this to us. Please help.
Signed, Helpless and Hopeless
Dear Helpless and Hopeless,
Living with an addict is a very hard thing to do. If you are anything like the other men or women who live with this, you are scared, you are disgusted and feeling increasingly depressed. You do not know what to tell your children, parents or friends. You think it is your fault but you are pretty sure that it is not. You think you can change it, if you can just find a way to make him happier.
You try everything you can think of to “make things better.” You take it very personally. If he loved me, he would not do this to me/us. There are so many broken promises. Strange behaviors and terrible mood swings have turned your loved one into an unpredictable and frightening stranger. Unfortunately, many addicts have to do rehab more than once before it takes.
Perhaps you have read or heard the media say it is a “disease,” an illness. It can be hard to believe and understandably so because, there is that element of volition. Obviously, if he would just not take a drink or use that drug, there would be no problem.
Unfortunately, choice, volition, is not in charge! It is at best, a small piece of the picture.
This is because the brain is involved and becomes impaired. With receptor sites wide open and on fire, neurological pathways coding both tolerance and euphoria, the central nervous system rebounding like a jack in the box each and every time the addict uses, addiction is just like a dog chasing its own tail!
“First the person takes the drug, then the drug takes the drug, then the drug takes the person.” This modern version of a very old Japanese proverb, could not be truer. There are many reasons why someone may start drinking or taking other drugs: social or peer influences, medical reasons, or self-medicating emotional pain. However, it no longer matters what started it. Once the “drug starts taking the drug,” your addict has crossed a fine line and the brain has now taken over. Addiction takes on a life of its own and stopping is not so easy. In fact, it is nearly impossible, on one’s own.
Denial, the hallmark of addiction, makes the problem almost surreal. When you tell yourself that the problem is just temporary, due to stress or that you alone can turn things around, this is denial. Your countless failed attempts to control things have all been forms of denial.
Addicts deny the seriousness of their addiction, they blame others and they lie to themselves about their impact on others. When they do glimpse reality, they tell themselves they will quit tomorrow. They mean it, they believe it. It is all denial. In the same way that you think you might find a way to turn things around, addicts think they will “get a hold of” themselves.
As addiction progresses, nothing makes sense. More importantly, it has little or nothing to do with you and actually, at this point, it has very little to do with him either. It is all much bigger than either one of you and you are both in its grip!
What can you do? What should you do?
• Learn the three Cs: You did not cause this, you cannot control it and you surely cannot cure it!
• Know your addict needs help, not from you, from professionals and other addicts and alcoholics.
• Stop taking it personally!
• Learn compassion without guilt.
• Start focusing on taking care of yourself.
• Contact Al-Anon family groups, help for the family and friends of alcoholics and addicts. Their Web site is www.al-anon.alateen.org
• Consider an intervention.
• Look for a psychotherapist who specializes in family problems and knows addiction treatment. Do not take their word for it, get some proof. Addiction is tricky and many well meaning therapists have done more harm than good because they simply did not grasp what they thought they understood.
• Finally, stay positive, there are thousands of recovering addicts and alcoholics.
Dr. Barge is a licensed psychologist and APA certified in the treatment of alcoholism and other psychoactive substance use disorders. Her offices are in Brentwood. Please send your questions and comments to NewShrink@gmail.com or visit us at NewShrink.com. All questions will remain anonymous. Please let us help you with your life matters.