Loving a person with an addiction can be unbelievably frustrating.
If you have never struggled with substance abuse, it may seem impossible to understand why your loved one continues to engage in behavior that hurts you, your family, and themselves.
Remember that addiction is a disease, and as much as this illness can cause a person to lie to those who love them, it also forces them to lie to themselves. Understanding the fallacies and lies that enable addiction can make it easier to communicate with someone who is struggling with substance abuse.
Here are the five biggest lies people with substance use disorder tell themselves:
- I can quit anytime I want to: This lie often manifests in the phrase “as soon as:” I’ll cut back as soon as I’m less stressed at work, as soon as I fix my relationship, as soon as I find a new job. Everyone can relate to this kind of justification; we regularly promise ourselves to start being healthier as soon as the holidays are over or as soon as bikini season begins. We also know how hard it is to keep those resolutions; imagine what it’s like to try to fight a disease like addiction on your own. People with addiction must accept that they need help. Only then can recovery begin.
- I only drink on weekends, so I can’t be addicted: Substance use might not seem like a big deal if it’s limited to two or three nights in a long work week. But limiting binging to a short period of time does not eliminate the health risks associated with it. Friends and families can often attest that the emotional consequences of weekend benders extend well into the following week. The truth is that addiction is an illness, and although people control it with varying success, no one can manage their disease forever. People with a substance use disorder need to realize how thoroughly their disease permeates your lives.
- As long as my addiction doesn’t affect anyone else, it’s okay: Friends and family members of someone who struggles with substance abuse know the truth: addiction always affects other people. Your loved one may believe that they are shielding you from the negative consequences of their behavior. It’s important to recognize that their deceitful behavior can come from a place of love; when you show them how exactly their addiction DOES affect you and your family can be an influential part of helping them recognize the need for seeking treatment.
- I’m not as bad as [that person], so I’m okay: Again, this is an easy justification to understand. From our job performance to our health habits to our relationships, we often compare our actions to other people’s failings as a means of justification. But this unhealthy practice is especially fatal for people with substance use disorder. The truth is that with addiction, as in life, there will always be people who are better or worse off. Be prepared for this kind of self-justification, and firmly remind your loved one that other people’s behavior is no excuse.
- I don’t care if my addiction kills me: For a person who loves someone with an addiction, this is one of the most hurtful lies that they can hear. Just remember that addiction comes with a plethora of physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Addiction can cause failing health, neck-break mood swings, and warped perception. Substance abuse can often wreak havoc on professional and personal lives as well, which further contributes to depression. It’s no wonder that many people with an addiction feel hopeless. Fortunately, the detox and recovery process can change your loved one’s perception. As they regain their physical health and well-being and begin to address the emotional issues related to their addiction, they will see the world differently. As someone reaching out to a loved one who has given up hope, remember all of the factors that contribute to this attitude. Express how much the person means to you, and do not be discouraged by defeatism. Their mood at their lowest point does not indicate their potential for the future.
Whatever your relationship with a person who is addicted, it’s important to understand that this problem is a disease, both physical and mental. Remember that your perception and that of your loved one are fundamentally different. Arming yourself with an understanding of the self-deceptions that enable addiction can make it easier to relate to your loved one, and begin to help them recognize the seriousness of the problem.