Coming to terms with a loved one’s addiction is a journey fraught with pain, anger, denial, sleepless nights, and, often, some magical thinking. We want to convince ourselves that our child, parent, or partner’s situation is different: they simply have a problem with drugs/alcohol.
Changing our thinking is the first step toward acceptance of drug addiction. Typically, our motivation to change is inspired by someone or triggered by an event. Otherwise, we repeat and rely on long-held beliefs or experiences, even if/when they no longer serve any useful purpose or work for us. When we remain ignorant of the realities of addiction, we are giving our addicted loved one free reign to manipulate, cajole and live recklessly. It is not until we feel used and abused by our loved one’s alcohol/drug-related behaviors that we finally seek help.
If we are lucky enough to find our way to Al-Anon (the 12-Step program for the friends and family of people suffering from addiction), we gain an understanding and acceptance of drug addiction for what it is…. a disease. The fellowship and tools of the Al-Anon program open the door to spectacular changes in our perception of our loved one and re-focus our attention on our own recovery from the effects of the disease. Al-Anon helps us understand that our acceptance of a loved one’s addiction does not justify our enabling behaviors and co-dependency, further reminding us that “we did not cause, we cannot control, and we cannot cure” the disease.
A major obstacle in our acceptance of drug addiction is our inability to differentiate acceptance from approval. When we understand that addiction is a brain disease, characterized by cravings, poor judgment, and distorted thinking, we can accept and show compassion for our addicted loved one. Nonetheless, acceptance is not approval. Our acceptance of drug addiction does not mean that we approve of, allow, or support our loved one’s irresponsible behaviors or unwillingness to manage their disease.