When your child has an addiction, nothing can describe the melting pot of emotions you feel. Fear, frustration, anger and hopelessness may dominate your waking hours, taking a toll on your quality of life and well-being.
The National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence calls addiction a family disease, because one family member’s addiction affects all of the other family members.1 It can lead to deep dysfunction in the family system as each member develops unhealthy coping strategies to deal with upsetting experiences. The family unit becomes absorbed by the addiction, and life may start to feel as though it’s spinning out of control.
Getting your child into a high-quality treatment program is essential for successful recovery. But while treatment can help your child end an addiction for the long-term, successful recovery will depend on the level of support your child receives during and after treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that a safe, stable place to live and a high level of support from friends and family are two fundamental components of successful recovery.2
Here, we’ll discuss the important ways in which you can support your child before, during and after treatment.
Addiction and Dependence: A Short Primer
The number-one most important thing you can do to support your child before, during and after treatment is to fully understand addiction and dependence and how they’re diagnosed and treated.
What is Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse is the act of using drugs in a way that causes problems. These may be related to money, the law, relationships or health. Binge drinking is the most common form of drug abuse and occurs when you use enough alcohol in the space of two hours to bring your blood alcohol content up to .08 percent.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease. Much like diabetes and heart disease, addiction begins with lifestyle choices, but once it develops, choice is no longer a factor. Whether an addiction develops depends on a number of factors, including biology, genetics, environment and personality.
Addiction is the result of changes in brain function and structure that occur with chronic drug or alcohol abuse. Drugs, including alcohol, flood the brain with dopamine and other “feel-good” brain chemicals. The reward, memory, learning and motivation centers of the brain work together to solidify the association between the drug use and the pleasure it produces.
These areas of the brain communicate in a way that may eventually produce a strong motivation to use drugs. This motivation comes in the form of cravings, which are produced by the same mechanisms that drive us to eat food and procreate. The substance use becomes a necessity.
Addiction changes the way you think and behave. It leads to unhealthy thought patterns like black-and-white thinking, catastrophizing and dwelling on the negative. It can lead to pessimism, a distrust of others, self-centeredness and resentment. Addiction fosters self-destructive behaviors like lying or stealing, neglecting self-care and engaging in