I have been busy buzzing around some of my recovery sites and online mags I enjoy reading, including the ones I receive news by email. TWO interesting articles I read this past week were “Note Worthy” of re-shares by SoberRecovery as the articles are not only interesting but very informative about two topics that many of my recovery friends and parents who visit me want to know more about.
FIRST: Why do some people become an addict and others don’t?
SECOND: Do we ever give up on helping an addict?
So, here are two articles I found that share some insights and answers to these questions with some amazing advice. Even those of us maintaining recovery always need to learn more and read all that we can to be able to be aware and gain knowledge about all addictions. Learning can powerful and helpful tools for maintaining recovery …
Why Do Some People Become Addicts and Others Don’t?
Courtesy of SoberRecovery Mag, Staff
There are many factors that can point towards a future addiction problem, but all in all, the nature of addiction is a mystery. Science may have a set of markers indicating future addictive patterns, but there is really no formula. Nor is there a set way to avoid addiction if these markers appear in a person.
Some people are born into families with long histories of addiction, but they will not use drugs or alcohol until much later in life. However, the behavior patterns of an addict may be present and noticeable from an early age.
Even more, not all addicts will drink alcohol or use drugs, further adding to the mystery of addiction.
Spotting Addictive Traits
Genetic traits may point to addictive behaviors in the future, but not everyone in an “addictive” gene pool will become an addict, and some addicts may have no family history of the disease. Those predisposed may work to control addiction by not participating in drinking or drug behaviors. They may show other personality traits similar to an addict’s, just not the use of addictive substances. They are also likely to become emotionally attached to the personality traits of an addict.
Some science focuses on early childhood patterns of behavior that may indicate addictive traits. These are most often characterized as risk-taking behaviors, a need for attention that goes beyond a normal level and sometimes early childhood trauma.
- Risk-taking behaviors: These traits may be recognized in young children who are more active than their peers. They tend to repeatedly do things that place them in danger of being harmed. Very seldom do they know why they take these risks or why they are punished for behaviors that are not the norm.
- Need for attention: This pattern may combine with risky behaviors. Some children will do things primarily because their need for attention is so great that they look at negative attention (punishment) as better than no attention. Many of them may develop this chronic need as a result of early childhood abandonment or abuse.
- Early childhood trauma: A pattern of seeking safety can be developed around trauma. When children are exposed to a traumatic event(s), they may begin to seek a safe place. If none is available, they will learn to protect themselves in inappropriate ways. This can become addictive if food, gambling, drugs or sex become their tools for feeling safe. They can use these tools to dull their emotional pain. Since these tools offer only short-term relief and no resolution to the situation, addiction may ensue.
Some of these tendencies may be learned when children are raised in an environment that focuses on escape from all emotional development. This means that the family is not emotionally present for one another. There is no process for feelings that come up in the course of day-to-day living. No one is speaking about their feelings of pain, anger, sadness or grief.
This is a socially-imposed condition that has existed for many years. When parents do not teach children to talk about their feelings, there is no structure for healthy emotional venting. As we learn more about the importance of expressing feelings, this can change.
In a home where mom and dad are not emotionally connected to feelings, children learn to avoid those feelings that are termed “negative”. These feelings become problems as they go unexpressed. As time goes on, pain becomes trauma, anger becomes rage and sadness or grief becomes depression.
Finding relief for these emotions can become addictive. If alcohol or drugs bring a feeling of relief, the addict will return again and again to this solution, which then becomes a problem.
Trauma and Addiction
Traumatic events in later life can also bring a person into addictive patterns. A person may have genetic traits that are channeled in positive ways, such as careers, education and attaining financial success, but a single event or crisis may tip the scales and patterns that were controlled in the past can start to become a problem.
- Example 1: This may look like a young man who comes from a high-risk environment, but gets an education, develops a successful career, has a family and looks like a normal, healthy citizen. During this period, he may drink socially, even heavily at times, but is able to function and maintain a relatively good picture of success. Relationships are strained, but the family keeps up a good face, despite functional breaks such as poor health and other symptoms of addiction. At a later age in life, the children may leave home or another big change occurs; or the man may retire and find that what kept him going is removed. The fabric of the structure is under stress. One or more of the family may begin to practice addiction.
- Example 2: A young man or woman may have relatively normal upbringing and behaviors when young. They may be involved in a traumatic event, such as a terrible accident or military combat. This can then leave them without coping skills to overcome the emotional impact of the event. They may turn for relief to drugs and alcohol. If this becomes a pattern, an addiction may become manifest for this person. Tendencies may have been present for many years that suddenly expose themselves to the person and those around them.
Seeing the Signs
Recognizing traits and patterns of behavior is the first step out of denial. Getting help at this point can look like this:
- Learning new coping skills for stress, anger, and emotional regulation
- Learning healthy relationship tools
- Beginning a conversation with loved ones who are showing signs of addictive personality traits
- Opening your mind to new options for dealing with life
- Becoming willing to change what isn’t working for you
There are therapies and treatment available for everyone involved in addiction. When a family system has been impacted by addiction and behaviors leading to addiction, everyone needs to learn how to be supportive of changes needed to break the patterns. Everyone may need to learn new skills and how to communicate and support each other in healthier ways.
Opening the door to recognizing a problem is only the first step. Change must occur to break the patterns of behavior and poor thinking that create and support an addiction.
When to Stop Trying to Save an Addict
If you have a loved one suffering from gambling, drug or alcohol addiction, you’ve likely experienced one or more of the following heartbreaking scenarios:
- Staying up late worrying about whether or not they’ll get home safely tonight
- Waiting anxiously in the hospital waiting room for the doctor to break the good news that they’re going to pull through an overdose
- Hearing the guilt-inducing demands for more money or variations of the “if you love me, you’ll let me be” comment?
There are countless other painful day-to-day experiences one encounters when living with or loving a drug addict. Most of the time, you’re scared for them, you want to help them and you want them to change their ways but you don’t know how to get them to do so. And because you love them, you don’t want to increase the already-growing distance between the two of you—so you end up covering their tracks. Time and time again.
You give them the five more dollars that they’re begging for; you clean up the vomit in the bathroom from the night before; you tuck them into bed to sleep off an episode; you sign them out of the hospital early because they’re miserable and begging you to let them out. When does it ever stop?
First of all, it is important to know that nobody is blaming you. Addiction is complicated and painful and we often believe that we can love those around us into sobriety. However, sadly, that is never the case. As difficult as it is to hear, behaviors, like giving your friend that measly five dollars or signing your son out of the hospital for early release, are actually enabling your loved one to continue down his or her self-destructive path. The addicted part of their brain remembers that they can always get money from Mom with guilt-tripping tactics or that they can always rely on their best friend to pick them up no matter what hour of the night.
As part of the disease, an addict will go to any means to get what they crave—even at the emotional expense of those they love. Although they often will exhibit guilt and sorrow for their behaviors the next morning, once the cravings kick in, they’ll be doing everything all over again. Addiction is a vicious cycle and drugs will continue to fuel that one-track thinking pattern of doing whatever is necessary to get that next high.
It may be one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do, but friends and families of addicts need to let go of the notion that they can save their loved one in order for there to be any chance at real change. By doing so, you can begin to explore your personal limits and define your boundaries.
Time to Pull Away
As much as it hurts, sometimes pulling away from the addict’s vicious cycle may call for ultimatums. This can include ending a romantic relationship, cutting off the addict financially, forcing him or her to move out of the house, or taking away their child custody rights, just to name a few.
By simply telling the individual to “stop doing drugs” or that “things need to change soon,” you’re just giving the addict either too broad an obstacle to conquer or too much wiggle room in which they can find ways to manipulate the situation (which they’re very good at doing). Therefore, the key is to be specific and unclenching with your boundaries. By implementing exact, time-sensitive consequences for their repeated bad behavior, the addict will then be forced to make a choice.
It is also important to keep in made that this choice is for your loved one to make alone and, as frustrating as it to watch, they may not want to choose recovery—even with all your inflicted consequences. He or she may need more time for the reality of the consequences to sink in before they take any action towards sobriety and, ultimately, it is only he or she who can decide to get out of the dark pit that has swallowed him or her up.
Finally, in the midst of caring for your loved one, remember that you are also responsible for taking care of yourself. You can’t allow your loved one to fuel their addiction at the expense of depriving you of all your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Your health is of equal importance and by doing what is best for you—even if that includes walking away from the toxic situation—you are coincidentally also doing the best thing you can do for your addicted loved one.