As an adult, in a family with a member who has an active addiction, it is likely you are having feelings and thoughts reported by many other family members who deal with addiction in their midst. You feel hurt, anger, frustration, self-doubt, confusion, anxiety, fear, sadness, and hopelessness. You might also believe you have tried everything you know, and still this exasperating and devastating situation continues with someone you love!
The question is, do you know how active addiction feels?
Before we get into that discussion, it is important to understand significant facts about substance use disorders (SUD) that make this particular disease “cunning, baffling and powerful”. Addiction is a disease that promotes loss of function and structure of the chemical interactions of the brain. So, the disease is not recognizable to the person who has it.
The addictive process takes over the “reward center” of the brain and the person with the disease becomes bound to serve their new master – the addiction itself. There is a difference between the person you love and the addictive disease that is consuming their life and the lives of those around them. The struggle is to fight the disease, not the person with the disease!
This is how active addiction feels …
So, here is how people with SUDs feel as they are moved through the process of addiction. Changes are subtle at first. No one with addictive disease started to use their substance of choice believing they would become addicted. Like anyone else, they just wanted to experience what they had heard so much about.
The first signs of developing an SUD are usually an increase in the amount of substance required to obtain a satisfactory sensation. Using events become more frequent, as does using the substance to manage moods or stress. When the person developing the SUD notices this trend, they are somewhat surprised and may start to feel self-conscious about their use.
And when challenged, the person becomes defensive about their using patterns. This is just the beginning of a vicious cycle of emotional turmoil, physical devastation, and despair. As the disease process progresses, the person uses more and becomes dependent on the substance. And because they are feeling guilty and ashamed, they escalate use as a mood management tool!
How it Feels to Identify with Drugs/Alcohol
The person is feeling more attached and identified with their substance of use. They feel negative and afraid or self-conscious to talk about their problem. At this point, they fear the consequences of telling their secret, because they may be told to stop using. So, the person with addictive disease remains silent about their thoughts and feelings.
The addictive process takes a firmer hold. As this happens, there is further focus on substance use and continuous plans to use and stockpile the substance.
The physical body becomes more dependent on the substance of choice. There are changes in brain chemistry and brain function and less contact with the brain’s cerebral cortex. And with that comes thoughts and behaviors that are more focused on use than the consequences. Previous values do not seem to matter anymore. The person is now fully involved in the addiction process and addiction has taken over their life. When challenged about behavior changes and consequences, the person with an SUD responds with anger and defensiveness.
This person is no longer able to take hold of their role in the family …
They also have frequent mood changes based on their cycles of using. In an attempt to show control over the substance, they try to reduce their use pattern or cease altogether. The attempts fail and chronic using dominates their life. There are passive thoughts about what has happened to their once manageable life, but the only way to feel normal is to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Feelings of resentment and blame bubble up toward others for their situation in life. The person with addictive disease begins to feel their losses and the impact of the consequences of their use. They are angry, frustrated, and stuck in the cycle of using or recovering from use. The addiction has taken full control of their being.
Stuck between a Rock and a Hard Place
The person with an SUD is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place – feeling compelled to use and fearful of living without using. They also feel despondent, confused, and scared of being discovered. They feel hopeless. The person with addictive disease has tried everything they know to feel better. But they can’t live with it and can’t live without it …
Why did I write this sad tale of woe?
To remind readers that having a substance use disorder is a condition with physical and mental dynamics. And it’s a heartbreaking, lonely and isolating experience for a person. If we want to influence our loved ones to seek treatment, we must understand their condition and respond with methods of intervention that demonstrate compassion and caring. It’s time to learn something new, no matter which side of the issue is yours!
In our next articles, we will review the dynamics and defenses that people with addictive disease demonstrate and how to effectively respond in ways that are more likely to lead to treatment. And for more articles on Family Recovery (we define “family” as loved ones, friends, room/work mates, etc.) click the photo link above.