Understanding Addiction and the Addicted Brain
When a loved one suffers with addiction, friends and family members feel betrayed and hurt. They see their loved one’s actions and dependence on drugs, and they lose trust in the person and feel betrayed. It’s hard for them to see the disease behind the behavior and to understand how changes in the person’s brain chemistry bring on such strong compulsions.
Research shows people with addictions don’t see the ways their lives are damaged. Addiction changes the brain in many ways. As substances change the way the brain recognizes the need for drugs, they also change a person’s ability to show self-awareness and make good decisions. A person becomes impulsive, lacks the ability to see long-term consequences to actions and has trouble focusing on difficult tasks. Drugs not only destroy a person’s ability to enjoy life, they ruin his ability to see the extent of the damage in his life.
Deciding how to handle a relationship with an addict is tricky. It often feels like the pressure to fix the situation rests with everyone but the person with the addiction. Unfortunately, the shifting blame game means everyone is in pain. When no one seeks help, the relationship with an addicted person is a never-ending cycle of abusive behavior; with the addict abusing herself and her loved ones.
Everyone who has a relationship with an addict suffers from the instability and unpredictable behavior the person brings to day-to-day contact. The situation is even more serious for family members. When a parent or child is an addict, the entire family deals with financial uncertainty, explosive moods or an unstable living situation. There are behavioral problems that cause trouble as well – lies about drug use and whereabouts, stealing to pay for drugs, abusive behavior when high or sick.
After the bad behavior, addicts may feel shame and follow up with apologies and promises that everything will get better. Promises can’t solve the problem. Fighting an addiction requires a person get sober and reach out for help, hopefully through evidence-based treatments proven to improve a person’s outcomes. Such therapies teach people how to build new habits and manage stress, which also builds new neural networks in the brain that make it easier to fight drug cravings.
When an addict doesn’t get help, family and friends are at risk of indirectly supporting the addiction as a way to keep things normal. This puts everyone at risk of an unhealthy codependent cycle. Codependent relationships occur when someone in a relationship with a substance user enables their behavior in some way, by lying for her when she misses work or buying her food when she runs out of money. In a codependent relationship, the sober person makes excuses for the addict’s behavior and takes care of her even though she can-and should-do it for herself.Helping an addict with daily responsibilities may seem like a compassionate thing to do, but this behavior ultimately enables her addiction and depletes family resources.
Some people choose to address addiction by holding an intervention. The Canyon helps families conduct interventions by offering a professionally trained interventionist, who can navigate the meeting, keep people on topic and manage strong emotions like anger and judgment.
Other people may have an honest conversation with a loved one and successfully get him or her into treatment. It’s important to remember an addict must choose to make changes on her own. The Canyon staff works with patients to let them make their own decisions about sobriety by getting them involved in the treatment process. Research shows when patients participate in their treatment, they have an easier time finding the techniques that work best for them. Of course, patients don’t have to enter treatment with a goal to change for it to work – the act of being in a supportive environment works, too.2
At The Canyon, our expert staff offers advice on how best to help the alcoholic or drug addict in your life. We have professional interventionists who assist in staging an intervention and Master’s level therapists who treat patients for both addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. If you have questions about helping your loved one deal with drug addiction, call The Canyon today.
 Verdejo-García, Antonio & Pérez-García, Miguel (2008). Substance abusers’ self-awareness of the neurobehavioral consequences of addiction. Psychiatry Research. Retrieved Feb. 21, 2017 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178106002174
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
 Burn, Shawn M. (2013). Are You In a Codependent Relationship? Psychology Today. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/presence-mind/201307/are-you-in-codependent-relationship
 DiClemente, Carlo C.; Schlundt, Debra & Gemmell, Leigh. (2004). Readiness and Stages of Change in Addiction Treatment. American Journal on Addictions. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017 from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10550490490435777?scroll=top&needAccess=true