When a person is addicted to drugs, it is not just his or her life that is changed irrevocably by the habit. All of his or her loved ones are affected. And while friends do have the option to walk away, or to be there to “catch them when they fall,” families don’t have that option. Families will be there every step of the way, suffering along with the addict. In a way, you could say that the damage that an addict inflicts upon his or her family can be just as scarring as what is inflicted upon the addict’s own body and scarring.
Is it the addict’s fault?
Becoming addicted is, for most of the time, not really the fault of the addict. Let’s be straight here: drug addiction can be caused by biochemical, biological, and psychological reasons – probably a combination of all of the above. And we’re not even factoring a person’s history, where a person’s experiences can trigger addiction as well.
However, the extent to which an addict goes into the spiral of self-destruction (there really is no other way to say it), and how they affect others, is perfectly within their control. It’s easy to say that “normal people do not know what it feels like,” and that is true. However, it does not excuse addicts their actions.
The Black Sheep
The reason why I decided to write about drug addiction in the family is that I come from a family that did have a drug addict. And though for most of his time living in our house, I suspect that he never did take drugs (or if he did, he was very good at hiding it and its effects), the fallout of what happened to his life, and what it did to my family should serve as a warning to other families.
In the beginning, everyone who was older would simply say that my uncle was going through tough times, but as I grew older, it was rather obvious that he did have a drug problem. He would often appear three or four times a year at the home, and he was always treated in a strange way, as if the family was both happy to see him, and cautious about him. Many events reflected this, and one of the stranger times was when he went home near incapacitated (no one wanted to know if he was drunk or high), and he decided to relive himself by urinating on the stereo system. Luckily, the whole system was shut down at the time, or else he would probably have been electrocuted.
Approximately 15 or so years ago, the family took a vote, and he was allowed to live in our house again – with his family. Now, the family story goes that some of them had visited my uncle, and found his current living quarters to be unacceptable.
And so it was that he lived with us in the ancestral house. Many family issues cropped up, that were, to be fair, not due to his being an addict, but to many other things. Still, his addiction had taken from him one important thing: his health.
Most people don’t know, or haven’t yet experienced how total the effect of addiction is on a person. My uncle, for all his health (he was known to be as lively and as active as an ox in his day), deteriorated over the years. As I have mentioned before, he was either not using drugs anymore, or he was not taking as much.
His hands were already unsteady, trembling. His sense of focus, while incredible when he was working on something, could also be very erratic, meaning he could work for hours on one thing, and then suddenly snap out of it and do something else, regardless of if it was finished or not. Later on, he developed problems with his eyesight, his blood pressure and even, I think, his liver. It was as if his whole body was breaking down from all the abuse.
One other thing that I noticed was that he tended to be erratic, too, in the way he dealt with people. Unfortunately, one focal point for this concern was my father, and he and my mother had many arguments (some of which have left emotional wounds to this day) about what to do with him.
You see, that’s the problem with having a drug addict in the family: you have to deal with the fallout. In my case, our family always tried to find a way for him to have gainful employment, and yet, because he had a weakened body and he hadn’t really studied well, finding employment for him was difficult, to say the least. It didn’t help, either, that he did have a police record from his younger days.
The many questions and decisions on how to deal with him and help him correctly eventually wore away at our family. While he may not have meant to cause so much trouble, his worsening health, inability to be employed, and his erratic behavior damaged many family relationships – some of which are beyond repair.
Some people, of course, can say: but isn’t this more a problem of the family? To that, I say, no. The root cause of all this is one man’s addiction to drugs. And this is the price that most, if not all families pay when a member is addicted to drugs: a trail of emotional and psychological devastation brought about by trying to make things better. For some families, it can be little more than an inconvenience, but for many others, like mine, it changes the whole family dynamic.
It is my belief that a form of unintentional selfishness is the real root of all this destruction. As the addict becomes accustomed to simply finding pleasure for the self, it instills a mindset, of just getting what the self needs, above the needs of all others, in an aggressive manner. This is why drug addicts make their families suffer: their mindset is not anymore about family, but about the self. This creates the dissonance that can tear apart happy families.
My uncle died recently, due to his health taking a turn for the worse. I wish I could say that the family is recovering from all that has happened. I still do wish that will happen.
For all those who are addicted, and are reading this: please, get some help. And please, do be aware it’s not just you who is affected by your addiction. Your family loves you, but you also have to learn to love them back, so that dealing with the addiction won’t distort your family anymore than it should.