To My Family & Friends: What I Want You to Know About Addiction

9 Things That People In Recovery Wish You Knew

With the best will in the world, those nearest and dearest to a recovering person sometimes display attitudes that are unhelpful in pursuing long term sobriety. This is often due to ignorance and poor communication. A change in family perspectives can help a successful outcome from addiction, which is a ‘family disease’.

Here are the main things that people in recovery wish their loved ones knew:

I Didn’t Choose to Become Addicted – Addiction is a Disease

Addicts don’t decide or want to become addicted. They discovered alcohol and drugs and used them gladly for a short time, until they found that they couldn’t control them. By then it was too late and addiction had taken hold.

Addiction is an obsession with your drug of choice, it becomes your abuser and your lover, it is your personal Stockholm syndrome and nothing else matters as much. That is what addiction is like and it doesn’t make sense to ‘normal’ people. Addiction is a disease and you don’t choose it any more than you choose cancer.

You Are Not Responsible for My Addiction

Multiple factors can contribute to addiction and no two cases are identical, but the responsibility always lies with the addict and no-one else. Family members and loved ones often feel guilty and involved and think that only they can somehow, solve the problem.

Here is part of a letter written by a husband in rehab, to his wife:

‘With all love and respect for your caring, my addiction has nothing to do with you. You did not cause my addiction, so please stop acting guilty and ashamed. It is no one’s fault — not mine, and not yours.
You cannot control my addiction, so please stop judging, manipulating, watching, and trying to manage my life. None of that helps, and only drives a wedge between us.
Finally, you cannot cure my addiction — please stop taking on the impossible responsibility of somehow needing to fix me. Ultimately, my disease is exactly that –mine, and If I don’t take full responsibility for my recovery, it will not happen….’

Addiction Can Happen to Anybody and Can Strike in Any Demographic

There is evidence of a genetic pre-disposition to addiction in some people; environment too can have a bearing on the way it happens; but addiction can strike anybody, regardless of race, religion, education, gender, income, or social class.

Men and women, professionals, parents and priests, can suffer from addiction in a manner just as horrific as any homeless person on the street.

As footballer Tony Adams said in a recent interview about his alcoholism: “There is one common denominator among all alcoholics and that is that we have all been to hell. By identifying together we get out of that hell. That is the common thing… Illness doesn’t care how much money you have got.

Addiction is Not an Indicator of Poor Character – Willpower Alone Isn’t Enough for Recovery

Addicts are not weak-minded, simple or bad people. They are people whose brains produce an abnormal biochemical reaction to drugs of any kind; it makes them crave more, to the point of compulsion. High achievers and people who lead blameless lives can be, and often are, afflicted.

Willpower alone may assist people to stop but to stay stopped successfully requires change of attitude and peace of mind.

Bringing Up the Past Does Not Help

The past is addressed in the Twelve Step recovery programme and through individual and group therapy. In fact, coming to terms with the past and trying to make amends for any harm caused, is an essential part of successful recovery.

But constantly bringing up the past as if nothing has changed only causes resentment.

People in recovery have worked very hard to get where they are now, and many fears and criticisms no longer apply to the person they are. Family members may still be feeling raw and angry and can help themselves through working their own form of recovery, but opening up old wounds is counter-productive.

If you still have unresolved feelings of anger towards your loved one, try attending an Al-anon Family Group where you will find that you are not alone.

Addiction is Treatable

Unlike some diseases, addiction is very treatable through a recovery programme with a proven record of success. Expensive medication or other procedures (apart from a stay in rehab) are not normally required, just the three necessities of honesty, openness and willingness to change.

Relapse Can Happen, But Recovery is Attainable

Addiction is a disease and one of its characteristics is relapse, as with many other diseases.

After leaving rehab some people relapse because they may feel compelled to ‘test’ themselves and, inevitably, fail; others might have had unresolved issues that hadn’t been addressed properly in therapy; others hadn’t been honest with themselves or their therapist; others didn’t attend aftercare groups or local 12 Step groups when advised to.

Relapse can happen, but recovery is still very possible. If relapse is dealt with honestly and openly, it can become a really helpful tool in identifying precisely what went wrong and taking appropriate steps so that it is never repeated.

Relapse should never be treated as a disaster from which there is no return.

I Still Need Your Love and Support

The thing that most people in early recovery really value from family and loved ones is simply that they are there, offering love, support, understanding and encouragement.

I Will Always Be in Recovery

Recovery never ends and nobody says they are finally cured. Recovery is a way of life a day at a time and one small lapse from sobriety could be disastrous. On the other hand, complete sobriety is the only requirement and life in recovery is enjoyable ‘beyond our wildest dreams’.

Addiction is a disease that is physical, mental and spiritual. It makes sensible people do crazy things and good people do bad things. The founders of AA call it ‘cunning, baffling and powerful’ and rightly so. It is therefore not surprising that some family and loved ones of the addict may have some distorted views of the situation.

By Castle Craig Therapist, Chris Burn