Over the past several years a great deal has been reported about the opioid crisis in America. It seems everyday there is a story about a young person who possesses boundless potential succumbing to an overdose. Far too many people have fallen victim to this epidemic and many are searching for the best way to approach this deadly problem. Certainly the efforts to bolster prevention, improve treatment, and harm reduction methodology are worthwhile. Addiction impacts individuals, families, and society as a whole. In order to effectively tackle the crisis all areas must be addressed. However, one approach does not work for all facets. Some factors to consider:
Adults are different than adolescents
The role of a spouse of an addict is not the same as the role of the parent
Social change is not created by good treatment
Regarding young people, opioid abuse usually begins with alcohol and/or marijuana experimentation
Placing all addiction issues under the “opioid crisis” umbrella doesn’t repair anything. Understanding the addict, creating environmental change, and helping people find better coping mechanisms lays a foundation for transformation.
Why Do They Get High?
It is vital to remember that young people get high because they love how it feels. By the time a young person’s use progresses to the point of abusing heroin or other opioids drug education is irrelevant. Although education is a useful prevention tool and can be beneficial through treatment, an addict who is using does not care to hear about the potential destruction that can happen as the result of prolonged substance abuse.
Drug addiction and alcoholism destroy innumerable areas of an abuser’s life. An addict will suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Despondency, anxiety, anger, and guilt are emotions regularly experienced by a drug abuser. Many substance abusers feel alone and that no one else understands what he or she is going through. Most connections with other people, especially family and friends, have been severely damaged. The idea of “sharing” with someone else or asking for help is rarely considered. However, in order to achieve recovery the suffering addict must form real and meaningful relationships with those who can help.
One of the main effects of drug and alcohol abuse is disconnection from empathy and concern for others. A person with a substance abuse problem is primarily concerned with figuring out how to feel good right now. It can be discouraging to watch an addict or alcoholic lose the motivation to participate in normal life activities. A tool that can be useful for parents and the recovering addict is effective communication. In Enthusiastic Sobriety, the term used to explain this vital skill is C.R.A.P., communication resolves all problems. Beyond The Yellow Brick Road provides an entire section on this idea.
C.R.A.P. Provides Relief
If a family is unable to talk effectively to each other it will remain fractured and wounded. Sometimes the solution is as simple as learning how and when to talk. For example, trying to work out a disagreement in the heat of the moment is generally a bad idea. When two parties are able to separate for a period of time in order to cool off, they can usually come together later and find a solution to whatever the disagreement is. The need “to be right” is one of the greatest destroyers of relationships. An addict has to learn the value of restraint, especially with words, but so do parents. When people learn to pause, seek counsel from an objective party, and let go of the need to be right the situation usually gets C.R.A.P.ed out.
When there is an addict or alcoholic in the home all sense of peace is lost. Drugs, alcohol, and the emotional turmoil that comes with substance abuse take center stage. Family members either act as if nothing is happening or fly into irrational rages while desperately searching for something to control. By the time the drug abuser is discovered, in some ways it is already too late. Without intervention the problem will probably get worse. It is rare that an addict or alcoholic wakes up one day and suddenly decides to mend his ways. He may make promises along these lines but that is usually to avoid potential consequences, not because of a sudden change in heart. Loved ones are left confused and scared, having little awareness of where to turn. Parents of addicts need tools after their son or daughter enters recovery. Abstinence does not solve all the problems created by drug abuse. With the right help parents are able to become a part of the solution while healing emotionally.
By the time a young person enters treatment his or her parents have tried everything they can think of to stop the problem. It is not unusual for a family to start the recovery process armed with behavioral contracts so complicated that the most educated lawyer would have a difficult time interpreting its details. The failed attempts of behavioral control accomplish nothing more than contempt and alienation. It makes the parent crazy and has zero effect on a young drug abuser. Parents can make their lives much more manageable by taking the time to re-evaluate whatever rules are in place and let go of those that do not support recovery for the family. InBeyond the Yellow Brick Road, Bob Meehan illustrates this idea with the analogy of Six Shots In Your Gun.
Triage Ain’t Forever
A family affected by drug abuse is lost, scared, and desperate. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed. This takes time. Early on, sobriety is priority number one. Healing from the emotional pain and resentment comes next. At some point a “life direction” takes center stage. There has to be a process; no family is healed in 30, 45, 60, or 90 days. Everyone involved needs patience and understanding. Those who are willing to step back and take a longer view are usually rewarded with lasting recovery. People who struggle to let go of the idea that everything must be fixed and back on track within a set time frame will probably stay stuck. There has to be a plan of action. However, if the plan doesn’t involve poise and flexibility it will probably fail. Remember, it took time for the problem to worsen and it will take even more time for it to be repaired.