Never in my life did I expect to be working in the substance abuse industry. I grew up in the Midwest in an upper middle class family. My parents had a stable marriage. I had two brothers and a large extended family as well.
I graduated high school in 1964 during the Vietnam War. Many of my classmates served in the military during this time. Some of the guys I graduated with came home from the war smoking marijuana and experimenting with LSD. This was my first exposure to drug use.
When I was diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal cancer in 1986, I became interested in the nutrition field. The doctors told me if I lived another 18 months, I might make it to five years. I immediately had the attitude, “You are not going to tell me when I am going to die; you are not in charge; God is!”
I knew that God had created my body with the ability to heal itself. I just had to get my immune system working at an optimum level. While the doctors put me on an experimental chemo-therapy protocol of very high doses of drugs for three treatments a month apart, I began my study of the immune system.
I went back to college and earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Holistic Nutrition. Sixteen years after my diagnosis, I started my private practice. It wasn’t long before a local therapist asked me to work with a recovering addict to help improve his health and reduce his cravings. One thing led to another, and I soon found myself working with many clients in recovery. I discovered a passion for recovery nutrition and for the clients who so desperately needed my help.
I was personally introduced to addiction in the late 1980s, when a close family member became a meth addict. The family handled it all wrong. We didn’t realize then that the drugs were the problem, not the person. After all, he was scary and violent toward other family members. Not understanding that it was an addiction and thinking that he could just stop, the family kicked him out, believing he would “get it together” pretty quickly and straighten up.
At the time, there were not many resources available. The internet was not what it is today. We found ourselves speaking with total strangers in other states who were trying to explain a problem we couldn’t begin to comprehend. We did not understand the treatment he needed or how he could get it. Unfortunately, he disappeared for five years. He was off the grid, and we didn’t know if he was dead or alive. It was horrible!
In the late 1990s, we again found ourselves dealing with addicted family members; this time heroin addiction. By that time, the Web was a better resource for substance abuse information, but finding help was not much easier.
The biggest issue my family had was admitting that we could not fix our beloved teens by just loving them. We could see their behavior was more and more unacceptable, and their health was declining. We wanted to believe all the lies they told us. We made excuses for their behavior; after all, they were teenagers!
Deciding what to do and how do it was an almost debilitating decision-making process. We didn’t have the money to send them to treatment. We didn’t know how to get them the help they needed.
When substance abuse becomes a problem in a family, the effects can be devastating and life-altering for both the nuclear and extended family. Without realizing it, our family became part of the problem.
Eventually we learned about the following negative coping mechanisms:
Adaptation: When substance abuse affects a family, the family may try to adapt and change their relationships by accommodating the addicted family member in an effort to preserve the family unit. In my family, we built our life around the abuser’s behavior.
Denial: The family is in denial about substance abuse in much the same way the abuser is in denial about their addiction. Substance abuse is often a problem long before the family recognizes it as such. Even though we found drug paraphernalia and signs of abuse, the abusers always offered excuses we readily accepted.
Estrangement: The abuser centers his life on obtaining and using the substance, and then diverts his energy away from family and friends. The result is a deterioration of relationships and eventual estrangement from their significant others.
Home Environment: Drug abuse is corrosive; it dissolves cohesiveness within the home. The abuser may grow secretive and suspicious; he may isolate himself from other members of the family. Expectations are not met, trust and accountability are compromised and communication with the abuser is very difficult. In my family, communication and family outings ceased. Some of us believed if we ignored the problem, maybe it would just go away.
Co-Dependency: Co-dependency is one of the more serious side effects of substance abuse. Family members become conditioned by the abnormal relationship with the substance abuser. They may adopt emotions and behaviors that impede their ability to participate in other relationships. Family members, especially children, may experience depression and anxiety or exhibit eating disorders and make suicide attempts. The family may have unrealistic expectations of the addict, and focus on how can I fix this?
By the grace of God, my family reunited. Everyone is in recovery and healthy now. We didn’t lose anyone to this insidious disease; we are the lucky ones.
Family recovery is a slow and sometimes painful process. Regaining family cohesiveness and sanity takes time. Substance abuse affects everyone in the family, and they all need help and support.
While the effects of substance abuse on a family may not be identical from home to home, one thing is constant – the cycle of addiction must be stopped. Families need to get help for the abuser and the other family members.
If you or a family member is addicted, take action now. Find nearby reputable family treatment options. You can make a difference. Treatment saves lives. For more information go to: http://www.jacquemiller.com/