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When a Loved One Is in Denial About Their Addiction - Ascendant New York
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When a Loved One Is in Denial About Their Addiction

January 28, 2019

Drug addiction does not only affect the user. Friends and family are often dragged into the abyss of abuse, as well. Members of the addict’s support group can find themselves playing roles that they did not sign up for, and the repercussions of addiction can last for generations. It is a natural, loving, reaction to want to alleviate this type of suffering. Due to the nature of addiction, however, confronting the problem can be difficult. Educating oneself on the nature of addiction and on viable approaches toward a solution is key to providing genuine support for a loved one.

How Do I Know It Is a Problem?

There are no end to the scenarios in which an addict denies that there is a problem. Phrases such as, “I can stop any time I want,” and “I’m just using it to relax,” are cliché. Sometimes, family members are being hypersensitive to their loved ones’ personal decisions surrounding their autonomy. More often, however, the issue is brought up due to persistent strife surrounding the use of the substances.

While there is a difference between substance abuse and substance addiction, the common hallmark of a problem is that it causes impairment in social relationships. Both work and family life tend to be negatively affected by the introduction of the substance. If your loved one is showing symptoms of a decline in quality of life – or is causing strife within the family due to being under the influence – there is likely a problem.

My Loved One Gets Angry When I Bring It Up

Anger and denial are common reactions to negative input from others. In the case of the addict, there are multiple factors that may be contributing to this reaction. Chances are, addicts are keenly aware that the situation is bigger than originally anticipated, and they are experiencing their own anxiety over the addiction. Shining a light on the problem is like ripping a bandage off of a wound, and the addict can feel a need to cover the exposed injury back up as quickly as possible.

With the alternative to bearing the brunt of the addict’s anger being to remain silent about the issue, it can make knowing how to communicate your concerns difficult. It can help to utilize some common techniques for not allowing the emotional reactions of the addict to knock you off balance. Take a moment to relax before speaking on the matter, and to prepare yourself, ahead of time, with the knowledge that your loved one is likely to respond in anger. Refute the emotional reactions with sound facts, and be aware that genuine change has to come from the inside of the addicts, themselves.

What About Safety Concerns?

In order to beat addiction, your loved one needs to stay alive. This fact makes physical safety a priority. Being under the influence of substances has a way of compromising good decision making, and your loved ones may need you to set firm boundaries when it comes to your role in their safety. It is completely reasonable – and prudent – to not allow a person who is under the influence to have access to vehicles or other personal property.  Their drug addiction is about them, but the decisions of those around them are equally important. Learn to be assertive in setting reasonable boundaries surrounding your participation in enabling dangerous behaviors.

What Do I Do About Relapse?

There are many stories of rejoicing over the resolution of an addicted loved one, agreeing to get help, only for the family to suffer disappointment when the addict returns to the former behaviors. Drug addiction is not an easy problem to fix, as both physical and psychological factors for the addiction are often in play. The high instance of relapse illustrates this fact. Instead of focusing on the relapse, try focusing on the success of your loved one’s previous attempts. Small steps forward are better than none.

Feelings of shame and fear often accompany drug addiction. When family members focus on the relapse as being a failure of character, the addict can find even more reasons to give up. The disease-model of addiction suggests that instances of drug addiction relapse are similar to recurrences of any other health condition, and can resurface after going into remission. Taking this perspective of your loved one’s situation can help to alleviate the feelings of resentment that can arise as a result of hopes being disappointed. The addict can benefit from your rational, positive, regard toward the situation.

I’m Thinking About Holding an Intervention

Think twice before initiating one of those confrontational sessions that are popularized on television. Anyone who has viewed the follow-up information from these shows knows that the  long-term success rate is dubious, at best. Addicted family members who walk into such scenarios are likely to feel shocked, hurt, and defensive, and these negative emotions are often what the drug abuser is seeking to avoid in the first place. Those addicted to substances may be pressured by such interventions to seek help, initially, but the underlying factors for the addiction are unlikely to disappear without the user already being in a state of readiness for change.

What Else Can I Do?

All of this isn’t to say that doing some research into treatment for your loved one isn’t a good idea. Providing resources, such as numbers and locations for local treatment facilities, may not be appreciated, at the time, but it can plant a seed of hope in the mind of the addict. When loved ones do reach a state of being ready to quit, it can help for them to know where to go.

Support for the family members is just as important as treatment for the addict. While enduring the stress of a loved one’s addiction, know that there are resources available for you, as well.  Organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer support for family and friends who are impacted by addiction.

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