For centuries, our loved ones struggling with the disease of addiction have been marginalized, stigmatized, shamed, and cast into the shadows of isolation. “Addict,” “junkie,” and “druggie” are terms often used in our society to paint a grim picture of those suffering from substance abuse. Chances are, if you are reading this, your life has been touched by addiction in one way or another.
Disconnecting from an Epidemic
According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 21.5 million American adults were found to suffer from a substance use disorder. We have encountered it, yet we disconnect from it due to stigma. Or perhaps we distance ourselves from addicts because showing compassion towards them strikes an all-too-familiar chord within ourselves, causing us to remember someone or something painful in our past. Granted, this is a natural human response to pain: to disconnect and push away. But as an addict knows, numbing out our pain ultimately leads us to a dark and lonely place.
Sticking with the Winners
When I first began working in the field of addiction, I was daunted by the task in front of me. It’s widely known that the prognosis for addiction is a poor one, with a 50%-90% relapse rate in the United States. I thought to myself, “how am I supposed to help someone with a 10%-50% chance of success? What is going to help? Where do I begin?” The more I researched this topic, the more questions I had.
During my research, I discovered Debra Jay’s book It Takes a Family and decided to adopt her approach of “sticking with the winners.” Here is what I mean by that. Outcome studies have found that your chances of recovery from addiction increase when the family is involved and supportive in the treatment process. So the answer became simple, if we are biologically wired for connection, it makes sense that, in order to succeed, we will undoubtedly need each other.
A Message of Love
Our roles as loved ones and support systems become more than showing up. Healing requires work and active engagement. There is no doubt we are stronger in numbers. If there is one message society needs to share with addicts and their loved ones, it should mirror the wise words of Dr. Brené Brown, “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
Dr. Laura Susana Olivos, PSY.D. is the Director of Family-Based Recovery here at The Shores Treatment and Recovery. She provides family based psycho-education on trauma and addiction, while guiding clients and their families into healing through a systemic approach.