Understanding Drug Dependence
One Person's Prescription Drug Addiction Can Destroy A Whole Family
Alcoholism, addiction to illicit street drugs, and now these days the growing problem of prescription drug addiction, can tear apart a family as it struggles to cope with the situation.
With each passing year, we hear more about prescription drug addiction damaging ordinary American families -- sometimes beyond repair. Whether it’s a parent, a child or a relative with the addiction, everyone in the family can suffer, and usually does. And the net effect is damaging the whole country in myriad ways -- financially, socially and spiritually.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults -- kids with their whole lives ahead of them -- pour into emergency departments across the country with life-threatening medical conditions caused by prescription drugs. The same kind of thing is happening with greater frequency among all age groups, even seniors.
Usually it’s an overdose situation, often complicated by mixtures of prescription drugs or drugs and alcohol. Much less frequently, illicit street drugs can be involved.
The good news is that most lives are saved by alert and well-trained paramedics and ER physicians. And young people whose futures were threatened by death or injury can get a second chance.
But the bad news is -- this is far from the whole story. Prescription drug addiction and abuse has a much wider sphere of destruction than just the life of the abuser.
A sudden medical emergency from a one-time drug experiment may be a wake-up call to the abuser and their family, but an addiction causes the kinds of problems that grind a family to pieces. Outright addiction, whether to alcohol, street drugs, or a prescription drug addiction -- even one that started with a valid prescription -- can spread out to consume everyone around the abuser who cares.
These aren’t just ripples in a pond, these are tidal waves engulfing everything in their path.
A prescription drug addiction, particularly to narcotic pain relievers like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percodan, Lortab and many others -- which are basically heroin in a pill — becomes an all-consuming obsession for the addicted. Their lives revolve around the drug.
And before long, the lives of one or more family members can become equally obsessed and entangled with the life of the addicted family member. In addition to their usual worries about the addict’s health, job, and prospects for a normal future, family members undergo fundamental personality changes as a reaction to the addiction -- and to each other. They exhibit erratic behavior in their own way, just as surely as the addict does in his -- for example, more than half of all child and spousal abuse stems directly from addiction, but far too frequently, nothing is done about it. When an addiction is involved, family members seem powerless to do anything truly effective about it.
Professional drug rehab counselors routinely see certain types of behavior among family members who are suffering along with their addicted son, daughter, parent or relative:
- The ‘caretaker’ mistakenly thinks he or she is helping by providing money, food and shelter and legal aid, regardless of the destructive behavior of the addict. It’s often called ‘the enabler’, because it enables the addiction to continue.
- The ‘heroic figure’ soldiers on, putting on a brave face for all to see, doing nothing but suffering in silence while the addicted family member continues his or her destructive and abusive behavior unchecked and unchallenged.
- The ‘jester’ jokes to others about the situation at home, even going as far as making light of things with the addict. Obviously, this is not confronting and effectively dealing with the addiction and its destructive effects.
- The ‘ghost’ never says anything, never admits he or she is suffering, never makes their needs known, just goes on trying to be invisible and somehow survive as if nothing is affecting them. This could be the most terrible of all — hiding themselves from themselves!
None of these behaviors are helpful to the addict, and are all destructive to their own lives and, as a consequence, to the whole family. Soon everyone is suffering because no one can deal with all the ineffective craziness. This can lead to families literally falling apart — fights, arguments, people moving out.
The right solution is to look the problem square in the face and deal with it once and for all. But because that is so incredibly difficult and complex for so many people, getting professional help is usually the only way to make it happen.
If you or someone in your family is involved in a bad situation involving prescription drug addiction, street drug addiction or alcohol addiction, and no one is confronting the scene — maybe they’re being an enabler, a jester, a hero or a ghost — you can start turning things around by contacting a medical drug detox center right away. Professional counselors can provide advice and even real action, including a professional family-backed intervention, that could save an addict’s life and get your family back together.
Rod MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.