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My Friend Needs Help (Part 1): Understanding the Addict

When a loved one becomes a lost one, and you feel as if you've been replaced by a powdery substance, a pill, or a bottle—what do you do? …what can you do to help??

Before we get into the details of understanding an addict, think about how people develop the ability to help.

How does a teacher help a student, or a doctor help a patient? How does a parent help a child, or a counselor help an addict?

These people are able to help because they understand who and what they're helping!

Doctors wouldn't be able to proscribe medicine, teachers couldn't instruct children, parents wouldn’t be able to help their children, and counselors could never treat addicts—unless they understood who and what they were helping.

So if you really want to help your addicted friend(s) or loved one(s), you need to begin by understanding the harsh facts of their addiction.

Understanding the Addiction | The Basics

Has someone you love replaced you with an addictive substance? Have you cried and plead and tried to understand how it's possible to lose a loved one to a simple substance? Being replaced is no fun. But addiction isn't any fun either.

Here are two things you should understand about addiction upfront:

  1. The power of addiction.
  2. Addiction is a disease that never goes away.

When the drug or alcohol dissolves a loved one into a quivering figure that wants nothing but another drink, shot or sniff—addiction has demonstrated its power.

Many times addicts become dependent on their substance of choice; this can happen in two ways:

  • Physical dependence: When addicts have to have drugs or alcohol in their system in order for their body to function normally.
  • Psychological dependence: When addicts have to have drugs or alcohol in their system in order to be satisfied.

As someone trying to help, you need to try and understand the controlling power of addiction your friend's life. You also must understand that addiction is a disease that will never go away.

This is hard. Addiction is a "brained based" incurable chronic illness that progressively eats away at an addict for the rest of his life. These are the harsh facts I'm talking about—and this is what your loved one is going through [ref]Questions and Answers on Addiction by Howard Wetsman MD[/ref].

You're not going to cure your loved one's addiction problem—that's impossible. Addiction is a chronic illness that lingers with an addict for the rest of his life. There isn't a quick-fix to addiction, rather the addict must learn to control it and live with it.

You can help him learn to live with addiction by understanding the nature of the disease.

Understanding the Addict | The Basics

Once you understand the addiction, it's important that you understand the addict—his emotions, attitude, thoughts and feelings. It's easy to think of addicts as somehow inferior to you and get frustrated with them—but when we think this way, we forget who we're dealing with.

Addicts are people just like you and me—people that want to discover satisfaction in life. The difference is, they seek pleasure in places that will never satisfy. And the pleasure they seek turns on them—destroying their life.

  • Addicts feel alone in their addiction. They refuse to believe that anyone can understand what they're going through. This mindset is dangerous, and often leads to depression and other psychological disorders.
  • Addicts hate themselves. Well, to be honest, addicts love themselves. But because that love resulted in an addiction, they hate the effects of what they love most—drugs and alcohol. Think of it as hating the thing that brings you the most satisfaction in life.
  • Addicts want satisfaction. The goal of every addiction is the same—satisfaction. But because a disease like addiction never satisfies and never goes away, it gets progressively worse and substances eventually lose their initial appeal, doses increase, and a vicious cycle spiraling towards death begins.
  • Addicts are often at the point of giving up. Addicts at this breaking point typically do one of two things: they surrender to their addiction, accepting that it will continue to control their life and begin looking desperately for help. Or they give up on life entirely, and sacrifice all responsibility to drugs and alcohol.

As a loved one of an addict you have a responsibility to understand the addiction and the addicted—you have a responsibility to help.

Continue learning how to help your friend or loved one by reading the second post in our series—Loving the Addict.