When we acknowledge that addiction is a brain disease it becomes easier to understand that there is a battle going on inside the addict’s head. They hear the “voice of the disease” saying that they need drugs and alcohol to cope with life, or they really don’t have a serious problem, or what they do is no one’s business. And then there is the “voice of recovery,” reminding them of the consequences that have come from their use of drugs and alcohol, their inability to make wise choices, and the knowledge that “just one” will never be enough.
This battle inside an addict’s head intensifies at the beginning of treatment. Addiction uses manipulation, dishonesty and denial to protect itself, and when the use of drugs and alcohol stops, the addiction fights back. There are unpleasant physiological symptoms, increasingly strong cravings, and intense thoughts and dreams about using. It is at this stage that tough love is often necessary to keep someone on the path to recovery.
All too often we see addicts wanting to leave rehab within the first week of treatment. Many think “I can do this on my own,” even when the individual’s past experiences prove otherwise. Staying in treatment for those first few weeks and learning how to begin a strong recovery are not easy. Quitting crosses the mind of most.
In these times, it is crucial for family and friends to stand strong as well. If they want the person they care about to stay in treatment and change his or her life, they must resist the temptation to believe the manipulation and lies. A great way to do so is to create consequences for quitting, such as revoking financial support, housing or even friendship. Failing to do so is like abandoning the fight against addiction before it has really begun.
Joe provides a good example:
After five days in detox he was feeling better than he had in years, his family could hear a new person on the phone, and excitement for a new life began to grow. Joe said all the right things about how “this time will be different” and how he was ready to be a new man. He argued that he did not need to stay in treatment; he was ready to start his new life now. So he left.
Two weeks later Joe relapsed. It wasn’t that he had been intentionally insincere, but he was nowhere near ready to begin recovery on his own. He had not learned the necessary skills to think in new ways, nor had he established a support network to help him manage the challenges of recovery. A month later, Joe admitted defeat, and began addiction treatment for a second time.
Marie’s story does not have a happy ending:
Ten days into her treatment for a heroin addiction, she begged her mother to come and get her. She missed being at home, she would never use drugs again, and it would be different this time. During each phone call she used tears and pleading. Even though Marie’s counselor explained to her mother the pattern of manipulation, and how Marie needed to push harder to get beyond her cravings, she did not want her daughter to be sad. Two weeks after Marie’s mother picked her up she died from a drug overdose.
Recovery should not be a negotiation. For many people it is a life or death decision to fight a disease that destroys families, careers, relationships and lives. Everyone who cares about someone trying to break free from addiction must be ready to stand strong. There must be consequences for abandoning the fight – because they motivate the addict to win.
Try these: “If you leave treatment early you cannot come home.” “Our relationship will end if you are not prepared to stop using drugs and get help.” “Don’t expect me to pick you up or offer support if you don’t make a sincere effort to stop.”
These are the resolutions that help people overcome times of weakness and stay strong in recovery. Without consequences, the addict will often choose the easy way out.
Before your loved one goes into treatment, decided what the consequences of quitting will be. Don’t be afraid to be tough – because you are fighting the addiction as well – and draw a very hard line. By standing firm, you are showing your true love, and you may end up saving someone’s life.