Maybe it’s on your mind but you’re too nervous to say it: You’ve been worried about someone close to you for a while now. It might seem silly—or too much—to bring up. After all, the person is still functioning, right?
“I thought it’d pass. I hoped it’d get better.” But what if it doesn’t?
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, what if you’re thinking about someone who’s been struggling for so long that it seems like there’s nothing left to say? That, maybe, there’s really no hope unless something terrible happens?
Perhaps you keep a smile on your face and carry on. Secretly, though, you might struggle in solitude. Many people carry around fear, catastrophizing and worrying about the safety of loved ones who are experiencing addiction. Living like this is awful, and it’s why family and friends of those struggling with addiction also suffer from high rates of depression, anxiety, and physical illness.
The good news is that healing really is possible for both you and that very important person you’re concerned about.
The good news is that healing really is possible for both you and that very important person you’re concerned about—even when you don’t know where to start, or it seems you’ve tried everything to no avail. It’s important to stay optimistic even in the toughest times. Here are five reasons you can be optimistic about your loved one’s recovery.
1. Addiction is an adaptive human response.
Addiction is not a moral failure or lifelong sentence, but rather a substance use disorder that can be changed and healed over time. Both you and the person you care about should understand that addiction is not a terminal character flaw, but actually an adaptive human response to traumatic situations or experiences. They serve a purpose at the start but what makes it so hard to stop is that substances hijack our reward and reasoning systems.
The truth is that 1 in 7 people in America will struggle with substance addiction in their lifetime. So, the more we can lift the stigma and address the causes as allies, the more people we can help.
Addiction is not a moral failure or lifelong sentence, but rather a substance use disorder that can be changed and healed over time.
I learned this when my best friend and colleague began struggling with substances. He wasn’t the untrue and stereotypical picture of an “addict” that I expected; rather, he was someone I admired and adored. Someone in who I saw unbound potential (and who later would become my husband). When we faced addiction, and really explored the science behind it, it became something to work at over time—and not such an immovable, determinant label.
2. Change is hard, but it’s possible.
Just as the brain can change to become addicted to substances, it can also change to not need those substances. You can, in a way, think of addiction to substances like a broken arm: Given time and support, the brain can heal, just like a bone. And habits can change, too.
Changing habits is hard. Whether someone is looking to cut out sugar, move their body more, or call their mother once a week, creating new habits takes daily work. Changing substance use habits can be particularly tough—after all, there is a biological basis to addiction. Substances flood our rewards system more than other day-to-day pleasures we’re used to, like talking with a friend, listening to music, getting a hug, dancing, and even sex. It takes a lot more than 30 days in rehab for the brain to heal; many people need multiple attempts to change before new habits stick.
Understanding that recovery isn’t always linear is important—but also knowing that it’s possible can keep us going on the days when it feels like an uphill battle.
The good news is, though it takes time, change is possible. Understanding that recovery isn’t always linear is important—but also knowing that it’s possible can keep us going on the days when it feels like an uphill battle.
In my husband’s case he is over the three-year hump into his recovery and though it was slow at first, I see the benefits of his ongoing healing, and mine, every month.
3. Lots of proven options for treating addiction exist.
This is a big one. Your loved one has many options to seek effective treatment. Though the addiction field is riddled with gray areas, there are evidence-based methods and medication that are clinically proven to improve outcomes.
For example: there are behavioral therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which work on changing patterns, and Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET) or Motivational Interviewing (MI) to tap into internal motivations to change, medically managed intensive inpatient care for medically supervised detox, and support services like recovery meetings and Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA) are proven to help, there are inpatient and outpatient treatment, too.
Just because your loved one has tried one method doesn’t mean that both you and they should lose hope, digging into what has or hasn’t worked in the past can be a great start to unpacking what the next best thing to try will be.
A way to think about options can be the setting (inpatient, residential, or outpatient), the intensity (how often: eg. once a week vs daily) and the approach (behavioral therapy and motivational perspectives vs 12 step vs pharmacotherapies or medically assisted treatment). Depending on where your loved one is today, a different option might suit better.
The bottom line is that different people need different approaches to recovery—but, luckily, they’re out there. The healing road is not a one-path-fits-all journey. Just because your loved one has tried one method doesn’t mean that both you and they should lose hope, digging into what has or hasn’t worked in the past can be a great start to unpacking what the next best thing to try will be.
4. You are not alone in this.
Though you might have been carrying the weight of this worry on your own so far, remember; if 1 in 7 Americans will struggle with addiction in their lifetime, it’s likely we will all be affected at some point. There is nothing wrong with you or your loved one. This is a human experience and we are 100% in this together.
I carried the worry of my husband’s addiction alone for years before I realized that our experience really wasn’t unique— this story is one that millions of Americans know intimately. Trying to get through this on my own made me feel isolated and ashamed. Learning to open up to support groups, family and close friends, and now you, has helped my husband and me realize that addiction is by no means uncommon and it doesn’t have to be quite so scary, we can process and get through it together.
Even with the evidence for optimism, it’s entirely normal to have a bad day or feel stuck in trying to get through to someone we love about concerning substance use. That’s why I founded, We The Village, an online community for friends and families concerned about a loved one.
It fills a gap I fell into throughout my own experience with my husband. When looking for support in Manhattan, I only found one family meeting a week for those concerned about a loved one’s drug use—more for alcohol use—but ONE for drug use. IN MANHATTAN! That is by no way representative of the need for it.
We leverage the power of personal experience, peer support, and professional guidance to give you real answers when someone you care about is struggling with addiction. We tackle worries with evidence-based approaches, skill-building, optimism and connection over fear and detachment. There is no need to suffer alone or feel like no one understands what you’re going through— you don’t, and we do.
So, keep your head up. There are lots of reasons to be hopeful—and lots of support for you when you need it, too.