To understand the disease of addiction it is important to understand the underlying causes of it, how it develops, what are the symptoms & the behaviors that accompany it.
Many of us feel confused when dealing with substance abuse issues. There are usually more questions than answers, and no matter how long we think about it, it’s hard to make sense of it all. Why would a person continue doing something that is obviously harming them and affecting every aspect of their life in a negative way?
There are no simple answers as to why and how a person develops an addiction. There are theories about origins of addiction, but more and more professionals seem to agree that the reasons are complex, and a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. How does an addiction develop? Well, it takes time. No one plans for it, but it does happen to at-risk individuals, if they continue to use over an extended period of time, and in spite of negative consequences.
Also, an addiction is accompanied by a set of symptoms that are not easily recognized by friends and family as a part of the illness. They are: denial, anger, blame, manipulation, justification, minimization, self-pity, just to name a few.
Quite often, when family members attempt to confront the addict, it is very easy for him to divert their attention. The attention is diverted from the real issues: substance use to other issues, that are quite often directed at the family, parents, spouse, or the addict’s current situation. The interactions follow this rule: “the best defense is an offense”.
Addicts know how to “manipulate” the situation, so that instead of the real issue being confronted (addiction), suddenly the family is in a hot spot, answering questions about the past, owning up to wrong decisions, wrong-doings, and feeling responsible for contributing to the problem, and most of all feeling like it needs to be doing something to fix or improve the current situation.
The reason for this is not that the addict is a bad person, but that to support their addiction, they had to become quite creative, resourceful and manipulative. An enormous amount of work goes into maintaining an addiction: planning, purchasing, using, and covering it up. Some users anticipate drug use way before it actually happens; there is obvious preoccupation with planning and using; Overtime, this preoccupation turns into obsession. As the drug use progresses, and begins to affect a person’s life, supporting the addiction becomes harder and harder. They need to become more skilled and resourceful in financing it, facilitating it & covering it up. They may constantly borrow money, sell possessions, pawn things, and even steal. They become master manipulators; they have no other choice, the addiction demands it.
Manipulation is one of the major issues that need to be recognized and addressed if changes are to be made. On the scale of importance, it is right up there with the denial and anger. Addicts use it because it works.
For the family, manipulation is often hard to recognize. We desperately want to believe in what the addict tells us. There are days when we “hang by a thread” and our sanity depends on the belief that they are ready to make a change. Addicts know about this desperation, and they will use it to their advantage, along with any other weakness that flaws our existence. They give us a bit, and know that they will get a whole lot in return. It may be as little as just acknowledging that their substance use must be hard on us or showing sympathy when we act distraught/upset; Or, agreeing with us when we make a statement about much needed change.
When they give us this little bit, there is a sudden sense of relief that overcomes us; “This is the moment we were waiting for”. . We experience an overwhelming surge of emotions, and a new sense of hope. They throw us a bait and almost every time, we fall for it, out of the desperation. And then we attend to find a cure, or a fix, design a plan for recovery, and negotiate: ” I do this, you do that”…..
After some time, when the family recognizes that an addict, did not hold up their end of the deal, they begin to despair. Will anything ever change? Is change possible? Is the situation hopeless? Quite often, parents say: “I don’t understand why he did this, we had such a good talk the night before?” or “but he promised me he wouldn’t drink this week” or “I thought, if I pay off her debt, it would give her a new start, and she wouldn’t gamble again”
The desperation comes after seeing the addict make one promise after another, with no follow-through.
As we stand by and watch them deteriorate, and their life fall apart, we cannot understand who in their right mind would willfully do this to themselves. We forget that an addict is not in their “right mind”, that their brain had been “re-wired”and “hi-jacked” by the addiction. They are not thinking rationally, and they are just doing what needs to be done to get their next fix.
This is precisely, why coercion, bribing and threatening do not work. A person in active addiction, who is not ready or not willing to change, will not follow through with a plan they agreed on while they drug seeking.