This summer many families will have untreated addicts attending family gatherings and everyone will do their best to pretend everything is ok. The normal questions like “what have you been up to?” and “how’s work going?” will be avoided. Everybody will try and get through without upsetting each other and have a nice day.

Imagine if that person had diabetes, heart disease or cancer it’s likely your family would do everything they could to get that person into treatment. You would be researching treatment options, talking with other family members and friends on the phone, ringing doctors and clinics and insisting your loved one got the treatment they needed. You would be supporting your loved one through their fear and denial, telling them you loved them and believed in them. Telling them it’s not their fault and they need help. You would not be sitting around pretending everything was OK.

Why do we do this year after year? Because we don’t understand addiction.

We tend to respond differently to addiction than we do to other chronic health conditions. We pretend the addiction is not that bad, we have the (false) belief that the person must be ‘ready’ for treatment. We avoid the issue altogether or worse still we blame the addict. Addiction is seen as “self-inflicted” and the addict is told they need to sort it out themselves. As family members we are less likely to talk to our friends about my daughter the heroin addict, my husband the alcoholic. We are ashamed of our loved one’s struggle with addiction and because of this shame we want to hide the problem away. We don’t talk about it openly, we don’t ask our friends for help or advice in the same way that we would if my son had diabetes or my mother had heart disease. Because addiction is seen as a moral failing addicts and their families are not receiving the treatment they need and people are dying.

Families are crucial in supporting people suffering from addiction to drugs and alcohol into treatment. Addiction doesn’t just go away; it gets progressively worse. It is unfair to expect the addict to recognize that they need treatment and be able to organize it for themselves. Addicts are chaotic. Their brains are organized to seek and use drugs. Your loved one needs you to support them into treatment because they cannot do it for themselves. Addiction does not respond to negative consequences. One of the defining features of addiction is that people cannot stop despite potentially catastrophic consequences. This is not because people are bad, it’s because they are sick.

Make the right decision now and next summer your loved one could be celebrating a year clean in recovery and not another year in the grip of addiction pretending everything is okay.

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