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Addiction: Willingness and Family Support

What does it mean to be willing? Only the suffering addict can decide to be willing. Why is it that the addict cannot stop using drugs/alcohol without willingness? The answer is quite simple. Just like virtually any other disease, it will get worse unless the addict is willing to seek help. For example, a person with cancer has little chance unless he or she is willing to go to the doctor and take the prescribed medications and treatments. Even very lethal forms of cancer can be eradicated today but not without the willingness of the patient to seek professional advice and then follow the prescribed treatment regimen.

It is no different with drug/alcohol addiction. Once the person is willing to seek out treatment and then follows the prescribed treatment regimen, they almost invariably get well. And like the person afflicted with cancer, if the treatment is stopped, the disease comes back, ever growing and getting worse.

By Kari Mackneer

Addicts think they don’t have a problem

What is somewhat different with people suffering from addiction is that they essentially have a condition that tells them they do not have it. One can be in denial that they have cancer, but the cancer does not tell the person that he or she does not have it. This is why willingness is perhaps the most important reason to begin treatment for addiction.

The default thinking of the suffering addict is that they do not have the condition – using is not the problem, everything wrong is someone else’s fault – and the obsession to use continuously grows. Suffering addicts in the depths of their disease cannot differentiate the truth from the false. The area of the brain where judgment takes place is not accessed in the thought development process. The resulting behavior is that of someone who appears quite often insane.

Avoid attacking the addict or leveling criticism after criticism

How does the suffering addict become willing? Love and support of friends and family are essential. Feedback geared towards what is right, not wrong, with the addict is key. Remember, an addict in the depths of their disease feels a level of guilt, shame and remorse that is indescribable. Attacks by family members, spouses and children may only serve to make the addict worse and even more unwilling.

I understand that it may be very difficult for family members and friends to accept this. The addict’s untreated disease has not only destroyed his or her life, but it often has had tremendously negative and devastating impact on those he or she loves the most. It is easy for family and friends to attack and blame because of this. When one has cancer, rarely are the loved ones hurt in this manner. This is because addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and the side effects of use are often extremely negative and dangerous behaviors. I can assure you, attacking the suffering addict will only make things worse.

A “Why Me?” attitude is also counterproductive

Family and friends of the addict often feel jilted by life – why do they have to be the ones with a father, mother, sister, brother, spouse or friend who suffers from addiction? They ask, “Why me? I want no part of this!” My response is usually, “Why not you?” What is so special and unique about your life that this should never happen to you? What would you do if this person lost his or her arms or legs in an accident? Would you leave them out in the cold or treat them poorly? Would you turn your back on them, blame them or call them names? What if you had a child with a severe mental handicap or a parent who developed Alzheimer’s? How would you react to a loved one suffering in these cases?

It is possible that family and friends also need help

Family and friends are often not well themselves. Being part of the suffering addict’s negative consequences can be devastating. I strongly encourage these people to have the willingness to get help themselves. And there is much help available if they are willing to seek it. I have seen many people refuse to seek help for their own problems as they continue to blame the addict for everything. The result of this unwillingness normally results in the person themselves becoming more maladaptive to life, and the suffering addict gets worse. In short, taking such an unwilling approach makes absolutely no sense although many pursue it anyway.

I am not suggesting that family and friends of the addict have no cause for being hurt, upset or vengeful. What I am suggesting is that not addressing these feelings can only do the person feeling this way as well as the suffering addict more harm. I am also not suggesting that you enable the addict. It could very well be that you need to separate yourself and other loved ones from the addict for a time. This happens quite often. The family member, friend or spouse may have to tell the suffering addict that they love them so much that they can’t watch this happen any longer, and if they want to seek help, they will be there to support them. But at no time should they verbally or physically abuse the suffering addict unless their true intention is to make them worse.

Lack of empathy can be a “killer”

If there is one thing that can destroy a suffering addict’s willingness, I would have to say it is a lack of empathy from spouses, children, family and friends. Name calling, blaming, looking down on the addict, hurtful and snide comments, can be enough to take an addict over the edge resulting in even more horrible consequences for the addict and those around them, up to and including suicide.

The suffering addict’s best chance at recovery is when the those supporting him continuously express hope, optimism and positivity. This is critical since most effective recovery is self-directed, strengths based, and empowerment based. Recovery is not possible without meaning, purpose, goals, housing, work and personal development.

Willingness is key

In summary, willingness is key for the suffering addict. Their support system can negatively or positively impact this. The best outcomes occur when the addict’s support system has a willingness to change, be open-minded and realize that this is an actual disease. They understand that the addict needs help and support to overcome it. There are cases where this support is not in place to this degree, and the person still recovers. But my experience has shown that in these cases, which are rare, much more needless suffering takes place.

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