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Understanding Addiction & Family Support

Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease, not a lack of willpower, not a moral weakness, not a sign of a weak character, not a result of life’s pressures, and not a symptom of another disease or disorder. Alcoholics and addicts drink/use because they have a disease. The bio-chemical changes in their brains create a physical craving for the chemical. This makes it very difficult for them to abstain from (to choose not to use) alcohol or drugs, especially if they don’t realize that they are addicted. You may have noticed the alcoholic or addict in your life trying to “control” their alcohol/drug use in a number of ways, not realizing that the disease is deciding for them, and indirectly, you. You cannot control the alcoholic/addict, their alcohol/drug use, or their disease.

Alcoholism/drug addiction is primary; it is not a symptom or a result of another condition or disease. For example, depression does not cause addiction but addiction often causes depressive symptoms. The addictive process can be arrested and managed, though never cured, just like many other chronic diseases such as diabetes. The alcoholic/addict, family and friends may not readily notice the changes caused by the disease until they reach crisis proportions and the problems become “unmanageable.” It is also a progressive disease that goes through stages, and if unchecked only gets worse, and is eventually fatal. The causes of fatalities because of addiction include organ damage/failure, overdose, suicide, and addictions.

What can I do as a concerned friend or family member? Learn about the disease, including the effects it has on you. Take the responsibility for your choices and learn to develop and set healthy boundaries. Allow and respect the addictive persons need to take responsibility for his or her choices and behaviors. Except your situation honestly, realistically, and lovingly. Reach out for help and learn from others’ experiences through community support networks. Give yourself credit for slow steady progress. There are no quick fixes.