I have worked with addiction for many years. Here is what I’ve found: helping a person struggling with an addiction to accept the disease model is a lot easier than convincing their loved ones that the person has a disease. The loved ones feedback to the addicted person commonly sounds more like “If you loved me enough you would quit,” or “I’ll stop so you can, too,” or “You just don’t care about anyone but yourself.” But here’s the reality: usually it’s the addicted person cares the least about themselves.
\Most people who struggle with any addiction are good people with good intentions who care very deeply about the people around them. But when you mix genetic pre-disposition, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, trauma, and/or self-medication with the dangerous disease of addiction, you end up with good people who can’t or don’t know how to get better. Imagine being unhappy with both versions of yourself (sober and using) but at least the unhappy using version has at least moments of happiness or numbness that are created by a mood-altering substance or behavior. Logically, most people would agree they would choose the lesser of two evils. This is the familiar battle with which the addicted person struggles.
Ultimately the point is this – if love were enough to help people get sober then there would be many more sober people out there and much less need for addiction treatment centers. Instead, what most people need in order to maintain recovery is a solid sober support system (for many this is a 12-Step program), therapy and/or treatment, and the capacity to change their life-style. And, if a person has been self-medicating a mental illness, they must also manage and maintain the symptoms of that illness in order to better maintain sobriety.
So, if you are in the difficult position of watching your loved one struggle with addiction (of any kind), instead of asking “Why don’t you love me enough to stop?”, instead try asking “Why don’t you love yourself enough to stop?” That is the heart of the matter.
~ Tiffany Tumminaro, LCSW, CADC