Active addiction (a term which includes alcoholism in every respect) does a lot of damage to relationships, not only between the addict and the rest of the family members, but amongst these members themselves. In a practicing addict’s family, as well as among other relatives and even friends, everyone has a different concept of what is happening–and what should be done about it.
This obviously creates a lot of friction and strife; unfortunately, every practicing addict soon becomes adept at observing and utilizing such differences for his or her own negative, addiction–driven purposes. In short to manipulate them for the obtaining of drugs or alcohol at any cost. It is wrong to view such manipulative behavior as basically bad or evil it is nothing more or less than definitive symptoms of the disease of addiction, and should be approached as such if the addict is to recover.
Mukta Puntambekar aims to set the record straight on a few major myths that often impede the addict’s treatment process. As Clinical Psychologist at the well–known Muktangan De–addiction Center in Pune, she is well equipped with knowledge as well as personally encountered case–histories that illustrate these pitfalls in recovery.
The Role of Family Members In Re–establishing Healthy Relationships
She refers to a previously treated case from the Center’s archives. “I’m using fictionalized names to protect anonymity here, but every other detail is true to life”, she says, sitting back reflectively in her chair in her sunny office at the Muktangan Center, quoting both from the case–file before her and from memory. “We had a particularly hard time in convincing the parents of Rajeev Damania of their own responsibilities in this patient’s recovery from brown–sugar addiction. Their son had shown admirable tenacity, co–operation and concept–grasping abilities during his residential de–addictive and rehabilitative treatment–all of which would have been rendered totally non–productive by their stubbornness”. “It was Rajeev who got himself addicted–not us, or his brothers and sisters”, Mrs. Damania had proclaimed. “Are we being blamed for that?” “We did everything in our power to help him out of this hell–hole he had dug for himself”, said Mr. Damania. “Every mode of treatment that money can buy”.
Mukta paged the patient’s counselor during his stay at the Center. “I’ll agree to one indubitable fact here–Rajeev loves both of you, as well as his siblings, to a remarkable extent”, said Mr. Dwijen Smart. “But that does not change that fact that you have not grasped the concept of co–dependenency”.
A look at this term
The first instinctive reaction of a family member at discovering an addict in the family is to hide the fact with lies, half–truths and evasions from society. Blame is freely distributed, guilt and shame are felt by everyone. “You have made us the laughing–stock of the neighborhood”, is what the addict is accused of. He or she will react with thoughts as “I can use this guilt and shame my family –members are feeling for establishing a regular and secure access to drugs / alcohol”.
“These are not signs of irreversible flaws in the addict’s character”, says Mukta Puntambekar. “They merely represent perfectly normal symptoms in the disease of addiction. In an advanced case of addiction, the addict’s complete pre–occupation with his/her all consuming need to obtain and use intoxicants becomes something of a family–project in which every member participates to a certain extent”. Mr. Dwijen Smart expands on this concept “In co–dependency, the persons most involved in the patient’s state of addiction become ‘Enablers’, characterized by their total preoccupation with hiding the substance–abuser’s addiction from his/her teachers, employers and other key figures in the addict’s day–to–day existence. They make excuses for lack of attendance in school, college or place of work as long as possible, somehow convinced that the problem will sort itself out and disappear on its own”.
Mukta leans forward and taps Rajeev’s file for emphasis. “Misguided ideas such as the Damanias displayed initially, perfectly illustrate that most families do not realize the extent that they are responsible for in an addict’s recovery and overall rehabilitation. It took us a long time to convince them that self–delusion, emotional repression and compulsive behavior causes them to ignore the fact that they must change themselves as well, and do this only under the guidance of an experienced counselor”. It must be pointed out that children are the most severely affected.
Children of Addicts
Children of addicts often develop more severe neuroses, especially if they witness the development of drug or alcohol addiction in their closest family members. To be exposed to such a living nightmare in their impressionable years can cause a lot of damage. They may respond to such situations in their own enabling behavior, such as trying to cheer the rest of the family up with silly behavior and diversional tactics for drawing attention away from the addict’s unnatural and upsetting behavior. In every case, such children grow up with very little structure or consistency in the family. They receive conflicting messages and generally respond with shame, fear and disgust at the addicted adult’s behavior.
The families of recovering substance–abusers do indeed face a formidable challenge when it comes to re–establishing workable and healthy relationships amongst themselves. The first factors that they need to learn and employ are the concepts of ‘Tough love’ and empathy versus sympathy. Empathy is a pragmatic and well–considered approach that helps the addict to face the problems he or she will encounter while rejoining ‘normal’ society without allowing oneself to be manipulated in any way that can lead to a relapse. Sympathy, however, does permit manipulation merely by giving in to the addict’s demands to cheer him up, and generally allowing other barriers set up to protect his or her recovery to be occasionally crossed. Sympathy is a counter–productively emotional and sentimental approach that can reactivate the ‘Enabler’ syndrome at any time.
A final word of caution by Mukta Puntambekar “De–addictive and rehabilitation treatment bases itself on the fact that addiction to any kind of mind and mood–altering substances is a disease–and more importantly, a family disease. No matter which particular approach in treatment is used, the necessity of taking the entire family into account cannot be over–emphasized. A caring, well–informed family is the foundation of recovery”.