Addiction in the Family

January 14th, 2015 | By Lorelie Rozzano | Posted in Blog

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re contemplating treatment for you, or a loved one.
You’ve probably tried everything in your power not to be, where you’re at right now.
Those of us who struggle with substance abuse are bright people. That’s where the problems start.
We tend to trust our own thinking. We can be somewhat smug, in a sneaky – I got this – kind of way.
It seems impossible that we can’t will our way back – to how it was before.

The days when drinking and using, were fun.

If you’ve never struggled with addiction and wonder what it’s like, picture this.

You’re born with an illness that people can’t see. It only becomes apparent as you age. You may have had difficulties focusing in school. You have poor impulse control. You’d rather spend your time day dreaming or gaming, than working or sitting at a desk. You might feel awkward and uncomfortable around others. Eventually your psychological and emotional symptoms become physical. Weird things start to happen. Your breathing gets wheezy. Your throat constricts. You go to the Doctor for extensive testing. Results indicate you have sensitive lungs. The Doctor sends you home with a bronchial inhaler and warns, ‘Use this medication sparingly.’ That night you take your first puff.  The medication works fast. In just minutes you begin to feel better. Your throat relaxes. Your mind stops racing. Your breathing is steady and stable. WOW! You can run, you can jump and for the first time, you can keep up to your friends. The medication is a success! You stash the inhaler in your backpack. You want it close by – just in case. Your back pack is never out of sight. Several times a day you unzip the bag to assure yourself it’s still safe within its pouch. Just seeing it makes you feel better. You wait, on high alert, for the smallest sign. A tickle in your throat has you reaching into the back pack. You inhale the medication greedily, knowing how sweet the pay off will be. Only this time it doesn’t work quite as well. Confused you shake the inhaler and try again. Nope. Your jaw drops open in disbelief. Your throat closes and panic settles in. What If I can’t breathe? A cold sweat breaks out as you eye the inhaler. You read the instructions and then dismiss them. You’ve tried it their way, now you’ll do it yours. Instead of one spray, you take three. Aww, that’s better! Sweet, sweet bliss. You can breathe again. You might even feel a little sleepy.  You’re light as a feather. Without a care in the world, you float away – only to come crashing down. So what’s the cure? More sprays. And so the cycle begins. Eventually you just can’t get enough into you. Doubling and tripling the dosage, isn’t working. You go back to your Doctor and tell him the inhalers aren’t doing the job. This time you come home with an oxygen tank. You hook up the hose and look for other things to inhale. Life revolves around one thing only – getting MORE! By now people are talking to you about their concerns. Do you really need to be carting that oxygen tank around with you? Shouldn’t you slow down on those inhalers? You tune them out. What do they know?

Your old friends drop away. You make new ones. These ones carry oxygen tanks too. You swap inhalers and tanks and learn where to get new ones. Your new ‘friends’ don’t judge you. They know what it’s like to have sensitive lungs. However you have to be careful around them. For if their tanks run out, they’ll steal yours. The air tanks take up so much time you can no longer work, or go to school. Just maintaining them is a full time job. But there’s a bigger problem. Your oxygen keeps running out. You need help to keep up your supply. You enlist your family. You ask them for money. After a lengthy lecture they say no. You grab your throat and make strangling noises. You turn blue. Real or not, the drama is working. Panicked, your family reaches into their wallet and gives you money. Go buy more! Feel better! Then maybe we can too.

By now everyone is being controlled by the oxygen tank and the one person attached to it. Family members point fingers at each other and blame. Whose fault is it, that this person needs so much oxygen?

Meanwhile you’re oblivious. You wish your family would get off your back and have a little more empathy. You come up with brilliant ways to find oxygen. It’s all you ever think about anymore. Once in a blue moon you wonder – do I have a problem? But the thought is fleeting. In spite of the mounting evidence to indicate otherwise, you deny there’s anything wrong.

Your body is deteriorating. Your organs are shutting down. Your relationships are failing. You’re broke. And still – you’re gonna figure this one out on your own.
Your family stands helplessly by, watching. They want to help you, but they don’t want to upset you. They feel uncomfortable when you’re mad and may find it easier to give you what you want – even if, it’s killing you.

It seems your illness has affected everyone in the family.

No one is thinking in logical, rational terms. Your family learns to adjust their needs, around the needs of you – the addicted one. Eventually they will readjust and finally, maladjust.

Living in sickness, becomes normal.

Addiction is a progressive illness. It gets worse, not better, over time. Someone has to make the hard choices. Don’t wait for the impaired thinker, to do it.  If your loved one struggles with addiction, learn what role you play. Reach outside your family circle for help. Chances of recovery are better for the addict when you to learn how to love them, without enabling their illness. Be prepared to do the things you wish they would. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. While you may not be able to change the addict, you can influence the outcome. If you can’t start with them, be willing to start with you. The only thing worse than one person struggling with addiction, is two.

Best wishes, Lorelie Rozzano.

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