It’s a question that feels awful to ask, but that’s the reality for so many people who have loved ones with addictions. And yet, it’s a question rarely addressed by quaint “Tips for Friends & Family” out there, so today I want to help fill in the gaps.
The truth is, there are actually many excellent reasons for your loved one acting less than lovely in the throes of addiction. Addiction is a disease that’s practically perfect for bringing out your beloved’s inner demons. How? Let me count the ways:
#1. Addictive behaviors in excess are already a bummer, but full-fledged addiction takes them to the next level.
Any level of addictive behavior changes the brain throughout. Some of those changes are what makes the behavior addictive! But engaging in them excessively really tips the scales towards trouble. They don’t call it “getting wasted” for nothing. You may have witnessed such changes in others before, or even experienced them yourself. For example, getting drunk makes for more impulsive, risky decisions, and poor inhibitions. Excess marijuana distorts perceptions, and can create confusion, paranoia, and sudden anxiety. The list goes on and on.
Now, enter the monster of addiction, and what would be a “bad time” for most of us becomes a regular thing, as does the lead-up and recovery period to that time. Thus, the negative experiences and aftermath ramp up… and things get even worse when the hallmarks of “addiction” enter the scene, like withdrawal (disruptive symptoms from stopping the behavior) and other physical, emotional, and behavioral changes.
#2. Your loved one might not remember being a jerk.
Addiction, you tricky troll you! During a “blackout” or “brownout,” your loved one’s brain is so burdened that it stops making memories. Uh oh! As you might imagine, that does not make for great companionship while it’s happening. As the wise Amy Schumer stated, “Nothing good ever happens in a blackout. I’ve never woken up and been like ‘What is this Pilates mat doing out?’”
So what about when your loved one comes out of a blackout? Ah, then surely it’s time for them to express appropriate remorse, right? Muahahahha! Wrong! Somewhere the demon of addiction is snickering, because like some sort of twisted joke, it’s very difficult to have a healthy reconciliation about destructive blackout behavior. Your loved one doesn’t remember! And you do! And assuming you are not the Giver, that rift between you two is one that will never be bridged.
#3. Co-morbidities are common and come with their own set of challenges.
Like some sort of cliche Disney villain, addiction does not roll out alone. There is a high rate of co-occurring addictions and other mental disorders. This complicates the issues and proper treatment of addiction. And it gets worse. Sadly many of the most common co-morbidities are ones that don’t align with healthy interpersonal skills, like social anxiety, PTSD, and major depression.
#4. Failures in the current standard of addiction care make the toll on families much worse.
This is not a Cinderella story! More like Sleeping Beauty, and your loved one is surrounded by a thousand obstacles to overcome in order to get well and also treat you appropriately, but anyways I digress. Way to check every Disney villain criteria in the box, Addiction Monster! What’s next? Trying to steal our hearts and cash simultaneously? Psych! The treatment industry has beaten you to it.
The average rehab cost is above the average American family’s salary. How are they getting away with that? Consider this: right now we act like there is no preventative option for addiction – addicts must “hit rock bottom" before “checking into some place to get better.” At that point, you, the family member, are likely to be desperate and panicked, and willing to plunk down whatever it costs.
#5. It’s easier to be angry than sad, or scared.
Anger has an attractive solution-oriented quality — it implies a cause, and incites energy for action and protest to correct that cause. It’s strangely hopeful in that regard; it assumes whoever is making one angry has some level of autonomy and control over the situation. Same goes for guilt, except it assumes oneself has autonomy and control.
But the reality of addiction is that it is by definition loss of control, on the part of the addict. And you don’t have control over it either; you didn’t cause it, can’t control it, or cure it - the “3 C’s” as Al-Anon wisely refers to them. What is left when you can’t be rationally angry at the addict or yourself? Sadness, and fear. Both are uncomfortable, and both leave only one option: acceptance.
So there you have it. The reason your addicted loved one is acting like a jerk? It’s the nature of the disease. It sounds simple, but in reality, it is devastating.
But it’s important to recognize the reality of the situation not to absolve you or the addict in your life of responsibility for your actions, but to be able to make decisions appropriately for what comes ahead. You will have to draw boundaries, and make decisions about treatment. Being informed as much as possible about the reality of addiction will help you do that as best you can for you and your loved one. Addiction is just another health condition that comes with well-studied and documented behavioral side effects, like dementia or narcolepsy.
As someone who has been through all this, I have benefited from learning all of the above. I also want you to know that there is hope, and that hope is in what we refer to as “recovery.” Our Workit world is filled with people who have been through the hell that is addiction, turned hellish themselves, and come out on the other side the shining people we always knew them to be deep down.
That means your loved one might come back to you, their lives, and themselves. We are all rooting for that to happen here at Workit. I’m also rooting for you to look at your loved one, who might seem like a jerk now, and look past it. Remember who you know they are deep down. Be that “loved one” who fights for their chance, who honors the life and soul in them even when they are at their worst. After all, what is love, if we only love those who are well and treat us well?
Cassandra McIntosh is the Head of Content at Workit Health, and brings a unique mix of expertise drawn from her background in counseling psychology, socio-organizational psychology and consumer insights.