Chances are you either know someone with a substance abuse problem, or have a problem yourself. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 21.5 million Americans (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2014. There are more than 23 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
Addiction, by definition, involves negative consequences to the person’s life. It is often devastating to families and friends. It’s often said that addiction is a family disease. That means that everyone in the family is affected by one member’s addiction. Addiction affects the stability of the home, the unity of the family, mental and physical health, and the overall family dynamic.
They desperately want the addiction to stop. Once a person who misuses alcohol or drugs starts a recovery process, the family is greatly relieved.
A person who becomes dependent upon an Opioid, such as heroin or prescription pain killers, has special challenges in recovery. By mid to late stage Opioid addiction their fear of withdrawal has caused them to act in ways they would never have otherwise behaved. In recovery, they may suffer intense guilt over their behavior. They want the support and trust of their family but can’t be fully open about their recovery because the family may have certain assumptions about recovery.
I talked with a group of Opioid dependent people in recovery who discussed their families’ assumptions. Here’s what their family members and loved ones want to believe about the recovering person:
1. Recovery is a decision, not a process.
2. The addiction is in the past and they are “all better now.”
3. They will never slip.
4. All of their days are sunny. They should be grateful and have a positive attitude.
5. If they were really motivated, they wouldn’t need medication for Opioid addiction.
The recovering addict wants to reestablish relationships with their family and don’t want to disappoint them. They may hide their true feelings from family. But if they could be really honest about their recovery they would say the following:
1. I’m not always happy. My life is infinitely improved in recovery and I have every reason to be happy. But I struggle with depression, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness. The underlying issues that contributed to my addiction are not gone simply because I stopped using substances.
2. I miss the drug’s warm blanket that numbed my pain, gave me energy and euphoria, and provided a distraction from life’s stress.
3. I still have cravings from time to time. I am perpetually on guard against relapsing.
4. I feel judged by my past. I am often misunderstood. For example, when I excuse myself from your presence, am tired, or behave badly, it is not evidence that I am getting high.
5. I may never have used a needle or heroin. Your assumptions, based on media sensationalism, may be wrong.
6. MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) such as Methadone or Suboxone is the gold standard of treatment for Opioid dependency.
7. I’m tired of having to explain that MAT is not substituting one drug for another.
8. I’m not interested in tapering off my medication. I may choose to stay on MAT indefinitely. I have a chronic lifelong disease and will never be cured.
9. It’s not over. Although I’m drug free, the damage done can take years to repair.
Recovery support groups are a safe place for members to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. They are understood by others who have walked a similar path. But sharing their recovery journey with family members can be healing to the entire unit.
Can you ever again return to normal? With treatment, both the addict and family members can go on to live full, happy, and productive lives.