It has been two years since our family started walking in the world of drug addiction, but longer than that for someone I love. You see, this person had experimented with drugs for a number of years. I even knew about some of it. Foolishly, I thought it was no longer a problem.
But drugs are a cruel demon that has no intention of letting go.
The numbers from the CDC are shocking. In the U.S., over ¾ of a million people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose – the most recent data says about 69,000 died between Feb. 2018 and Feb. 2019. Please understand that these deaths are only from overdoses and do not include deaths from health issues related to drug use or even suicide due to mental health issues commonly associated with drug addiction.
Often people associate the opioid epidemic with prescription opioid abuse. I’m here to tell you this is not always the problem. My loved one went from smoking pot to using cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy, Xanax, and opioids. These were not prescription opioids; they were bought off the street.
And for the military and its veterans, prescription opioid use is a big problem. Opioids are prescribed for pain and were used as far back as the civil war to treat soldiers. In 1914 an act was passed to regulate them. In the 1980s, opioids began to be used more liberally to treat chronic pain. Fentanyl and oxycodone prescriptions doubled and quadrupled in the late 1990s.
The day I realized my loved one was in withdrawals from drug addiction was the day my reality changed. First was detox and then rehab; followed by a relapse; now (thank God) active recovery. It has been quite a journey for our family, with a steep learning curve and several lessons learned.
I didn’t cause it
For any addict, they have to find their way to recovery. You might hear, “They have to find their bottom.” And that can be true. Our addict did not have a choice as they were sent to detox and rehab. But all addicts have to find their way to get healthy, and that may look different for each one.
I found out from the rehab that in order to go for a visitation day, I had to attend a 12-step meeting that is specifically for family and friends of addicts. I went for the signature to prove I had been there, but I still go because I found out some amazing truths. And I met a wonderful tribe of people just like me who never imagined they would be in this situation. This is where I found my hope.
One huge truth I found and that I’ve taken to heart is this – I didn’t cause it. You didn’t cause it. We didn’t cause it. No addict thinks, “Hey, I am going to become an addict because of my parents, friends, or family.”
I can’t control it
We may think we have a lot of control, but as far as addiction goes, we have zero power. I cannot make decisions for my addict; only the addict can decide what he or she will do.
Drug addicts don’t think like “normal” people. The drug brain is real, and it distorts the addict’s view of life and the world around them. One of the resources I have says this: “I wondered how the addict could not make better choices because they surely could see the consequences.”
But my loved one had a heart attack during an overdose and still continued to use. Two subsequent, non-fatal overdoses did not stop the drug use either.
So, no, they cannot see the consequences. Not when they are actively addicted. At that point, no one is in control except the drugs. There is no logic in the illogical circumstances of addiction.
I can’t cure it
The hardest thing to do when someone you love is using drugs is to admit you cannot fix them. You can’t. I can’t cure my addict, and you can’t cure yours.
Think back to those statistics. If our love could cure our addicts, those statistics would be extremely low. Even love can’t cure addiction.
But there is hope
Have you heard the serenity prayer? It says this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
When you have a loved one who is an addict, serenity, courage, and wisdom become vital sources of strength and hope. Learning to accept the truth of what you cannot change, finding ways to change the only thing you can (which is you and you alone), and being discerning enough to sort between the two, is a pursuit you can take. It’s one I highly recommend.
Loving someone dealing with drug addiction can be one of two things: unending pain, guilt, and sacrifice, or a journey to a new and better way of life, love, and hope.
Resources for addicts
SAMHSA – the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is available 24/7, 365 days a year. They are a treatment referral and information service providing referrals to treatment facilities in your area as well as to support groups. 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. Their webpage even provides a link to the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or online at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.