Spouses, family members, friends, and coworkers are often flooded with emotions as they watch someone they care deeply about struggle in the grip of addiction. But here’s something you may not realize: many of the emotions a loved one feels are the same emotions someone battling addiction feels.
We’re Not So Different
Even though a person with addiction and their loved one may seem to be polar opposites, the truth is they’re not so different after all. Loved ones of people with substance use disorders are frequently paralyzed by guilt. Parents often wonder if they failed to raise their child properly, while family members, spouses, or friends may ask themselves what they could have done differently to prevent the addiction.
Because guilt is such a painful and powerful emotion, people often try to make up for it by enabling the person with addiction, which only complicates matters. More than any other emotion, shame tries to strip away our worthiness. It tries to convince us that we are somehow a lesser person just because of our situation. And it’s the major reason many people with substance use disorders and mental illnesses hesitate to seek the treatment they so desperately need. While the reasons behind the emotions may be different, the internal chaos brought about by those emotions is the same; and it can be just as debilitating to both parties.
The inability to solve a loved one’s addiction can be maddening. At the same time, the person struggling with addiction feels helpless, too. Their substance of choice has hijacked their body and mind, and they are no longer in control. Because they feel powerless, it’s not uncommon for them to simply accept their situation, no matter how dire it is…which is why you can’t blame them.
People fighting addiction may feel like they’ve failed to live up to expectations – either their own or a loved one’s – and that their life is a disappointment. Or they may be sad about opportunities they’ve missed out on because of their addiction. Whatever the reasons, their lives can be wrought with sadness.
No matter how simple or complex the perceived threats are, they are all very real to the person feeling them. Fear can negatively impact the thinking and decision-making of people with addiction and loved ones alike, and can lead to irrational and impulsive behavior.
5 Emotions People With Addiction and Loved Ones Share
- #1 Shame
Social scientist and author Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Those are feelings no human being should ever have to experience, but, sadly, they go hand in hand with addiction. Because so many people still think of substance abuse as a moral weakness or character flaw, people struggling with addiction and their loved ones can feel inferior, embarrassed, and afraid to speak out.
- #2 Helplessness
Having a loved one who suffers from addiction will make even the most capable person feel helpless. Sure, Al-Anon tells loved ones that they didn’t cause the addiction, they can’t control it, and they can’t cure it, but that doesn’t really make anyone feel less helpless.
- #3 Sadness
There’s nothing positive about addiction, so it’s no surprise that everyone affected by it feels its sadness. Loved ones feel sad because they see how addiction derails the hopes and dreams of a person who is incredibly important to them. Just like the person suffering from addiction, they may ask themselves, “Why me?” After all, nobody wants to see a loved one suffer. However, no one wants to be a person who is consumed by addiction either, so sadness is very prevalent in a substance abuser’s life as well.
- #4 Fear
Addiction is a dangerous disease. It carries with it a multitude of things for everyone involved to be afraid of, including shattered relationships, financial problems, incarceration, and death. Those things top the list of a loved one’s fears, while the person with addiction’s biggest fears may be more rudimentary—like where their next fix is going to come from.
- #5 Guilt
People who are addicted to a substance may not have feelings of guilt while under the influence, but during sober periods, the questionable behaviors they’ve engaged in—lies, manipulation, cheating, stealing—will likely weigh on them. They may also feel guilty for making their family suffer, whether it’s emotionally, physically, or financially.
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