Addiction is the emotional and physical dependance to a substance. But why is addiction so hard to overcome? I get asked this a lot, by addicts and family members alike. Why can't I just stop using? If they loved me enough they would stop. Right?
Addiction doesn't work that way. In fact, by definition, someone who is addicted to a substance literally can not function without it. I don't mean just physically, but emotionally as well. Emotional scars, while invisible to the human eye, can hurt just as much as physical wounds. These wounds cause pain and suffering, and pain requires relief. For those suffering from emotional wounds, drugs are often the only relief that they know.
Without diving into too much depth about addiction, there is one place I always like to start. I start with the addicts guilt and shame.
When we look at addiction as a cycle it looks something like this:
The fastest and easiest part of this cycle to change is the guilt and shame. Its not as easy to choose to change the other factors in play and even if the addict wanted to change them it could take years to do so, if at all.
So lets start with guilt and shame. If the addict can use without feeling remorseful about their need to use, then the cycle will start to stop. No longer will they continue into a downward spiral that worsens with each pass around the cycle.
This is why alcoholics anonymous does so well by educating their members that “I am powerless over my addiction”. When the addict lets go and starts to realize that this is something that happens TO them and not just BY them, then they let go of the guilt and the shame. Now, healing can begin.
For those who are the loved ones of an addict, this means loving them without the guilt and shame. Trust me, if they knew a way to live life without drugs or alcohol they would – but they don't. Use healthy boundaries with your loved one, keep them from hurting you, don't enable them, but don't stop loving them.
For the addicts out there, seek help. Acknowledge that you are powerless over your addiction. Stop beating yourself up for something that you have lost control of. Admit you need support and assistance, let go of the guilt and shame associated with your use.
Written by Brad Messenger, LMSW.