When a loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder, all we want is for them to get help. No matter how much we want or encourage them to seek treatment, they have to want it for themselves before they are able to accept the help they need. What is most important in supporting a loved one with a substance use disorder is empathy. Emotional barriers to recovery can help a person recognize the difference between someone’s symptoms of a substance use disorder and merely experiencing a short-term crisis that will subside. To understand emotional triggers and barriers can help loved ones identify the ways they can best offer support.
Substance use disorders are complex. Someone who is struggling with substance use experiences changes in how their brain and body respond to their environment. Full-blown substance use is not by choice. A person’s brain and body chemistry changes so much, they only think first of their substance use, then everything else comes last. Emotional barriers to recovery happen because people with substance use disorders experience chronic symptoms. There is no magic pill to swallow or wand to wave that will make things change overnight. What can shift is their mindset around seeking help if the emotional barriers are identified and dealt with properly. When they feel ashamed, pushed, or enabled, they are less likely to get the help they need. Feeling supported and safe can encourage vulnerability and allow the first steps of healing to take place.
There is a lot of shame around substance use disorders. Mental health challenges are still stigmatized, but as more people come forward, they are becoming “normalized.” The hope is mental health issues will not be as stigmatized, but for some reason, addiction still comes with a heavy burden. People who are dependent on substances or alcohol try to hide it from loved ones out of fear or shame. They worry about losing relationships, jobs, and opportunities. They often deny it themselves and cannot face their actions. Shame is a big inhibiting factor that keeps those with substance use disorders from seeking treatment.
People with a substance use disorder understand the first stage of treatment is detox. Detox is uncomfortable, even painful, and causes physical and emotional withdrawal. It is a difficult time for the person for many reasons, but fear of the unknown or what’s next is felt by everyone. They may have gone through it before or fear the first time and will stay locked inside the substance use cycle, afraid to get out of the loop. The idea of living without the substance they’ve relied on to cope is scary. The crutch is their substance use, and they are worried about pushing it away to get help. As fear lingers and time passes, it can become harder to get help.
Often, shame and guilt go hand in hand, along with fear. It is hard to separate them. If shame deals with other people knowing about substance use disorders, guilt is personal. It is about wondering how things got so bad they feel out of control. Guilt from another person makes them feel like they are not able to get help, and all hope is lost. During times of sobriety, loved ones may not want to talk about getting help because it is too heavy a burden to bear. They worry about finances, what will happen after treatment, their kids or family, and other factors. Soon it becomes easier to talk themselves out of getting help.
Cycle of Cynicism
Since recovery can feel difficult, it is hard to trust others and that they actually have a person’s best interests at heart. Cynicism is the attitude that things are hard, and it is easier to hide. Hiding prevents others from getting close, and keeps the idea of getting help at bay. Cynical feelings often hide other things like fear, shame, and guilt, and the cycle continues while the person struggles to get out of the loop and admit they are stuck. Feelings of hopelessness can pervade their world and make them feel less than capable of handling what’s ahead.
A person in recovery is often astounded looking back and seeing how much they accomplished. Jumping in is hard, but it is a journey of ups and downs with the support and care of the community. It is a matter of whether or not the person is willing to let others help them cope. Only that individual knows how to manage their recovery, but they first have to let others help them get started. Denial is a big part of keeping people stuck. As soon as a loved one thinks they are not able to manage the situation, they may risk relapse. To avoid this, it helps to listen to loved ones asking to find support. A full-on relapse is often avoidable when people reach out to loved ones and ask for what they need.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.