Professional Advice for Family Members w/ Loved Ones Suffering from Addiction

The following is an interview with Thomas Foley, CADC, Clinical Director of BioCare Recovery, which is a drug rehabilitation treatment center in Pennsylvania. This interview reflects the personal and professional opinions and advice of Thomas Foley only and not those of iamafighter. Please read with individual discretion, and always consult a licensed healthcare professional before implementing anything that you read on the internet.

What is addiction? How is it defined?

support group for family member of addict

iamafighter’s anonymous support group for family members and friends of addicts has over 300 members!

Each individual will have an understanding of addiction based on their own life experiences and observations.  This personal understanding can be useful in navigating through the addiction and recovery process with a loved one.  It is important to balance that subjective experience with the objective, fact-based, scientifically-supported, boiled-down-to-brass-tax, straightforward definition of the pathology of addiction.  Here is a basic definition: Substance addiction is a chronically relapsing brain disorder that has been characterized by (1) compulsion to seek and take the substance, (2) loss of control in limiting intake, and (3) emergence of a negative emotional state (eg, dysphoria, anxiety, irritability) reflecting a motivational withdrawal syndrome when access to the drug is prevented. Drug addiction has been conceptualized as a disorder that involves elements of both impulsivity and compulsivity that yield a composite addiction cycle composed of three stages: ‘binge/intoxication’, ‘withdrawal/negative affect’, and ‘preoccupation/anticipation’ (craving) (Koob & Volkow 2010).

How does a person develop addiction?

A majority of people will at some time in their life experiment with and/or casually use some substance.  The main factors that determine whether a person will try a drug are 1. Perceived risk associated with using versus expected benefit and 2. Availability.  This is why most individuals’ first experience will be with Alcohol, Marijuana and Tobacco.  When we are teenagers, which is when most people begin to experiment, these are the substances that are perceived as less risky and also have greater availability for that age group.  The main risk factors that determine heightened probability of addiction include:  1. Genetics- your family history, 2. Age- when you start taking drugs (the earlier experimentation begins, the higher the possibility of addiction developing) 3. Family (including abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences in childhood), as well as Social Environment (including access to drugs) and 4. Types of drugs used. Risk factors for becoming addicted, like other conditions and diseases, vary from person to person (NCADD 2014).
family member of addict support group

iamafighter is a 24/7, anonymous resource available for free at and in the app stores!

How do I know if someone is addicted?

The complexity of addiction combined with some cultural stigma that has been attached to substance use disorders can make it difficult to recognize & accept that a loved one in addicted.  The most basic qualitative measurement to determine if someone has become addicted is “CONTINUED SUBSTANCE USE DESPITE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES.”  The severity of these consequences will vary from person to person.  Oftentimes the phrase “functional addict” will be mistakenly attached to a person.  This is a fallacy. By its definition, addiction creates disruption on functioning in several areas of a person’s life.  Families/friends and treatment providers can fall into a method of thinking that minimizes obvious damage that is incurred by overestimating levels of functioning in other areas of a person’s life.  The progressive nature of addiction dictates that eventually symptoms will progress without appropriate interventions.  Additionally, addiction isn’t defined by the frequency or the amount of substance used, it is measured by the impact on a person’s life when they take a substance.
“…eventually symptoms will progress without appropriate interventions.  Additionally, addiction isn’t defined by the frequency or the amount of substance used, it is measured by the impact on a person’s life when they take a substance.”

Since treatment didn’t work the first time (or second, third, fourth, or fifth), what’s the point in trying again?

For some, long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs may start after their first mutual aid/self-help meeting or with the first time they go to treatment.  But, like other chronic illnesses, recovery from addiction requires a life-long commitment to a program of change.  For some, relapse back to active use of alcohol or drugs may play a critical role in their rededication to their recovery.
“For some, relapse back to active use of alcohol or drugs may play a critical role in their rededication to their recovery.”
So, relapse can be a signal to get back on track, either by going back to meetings, treatment or adjusting the treatment approach  (NCADD 2014).  A chronic illness requires consistent intervention.  The frequency and intensity of intervention is determined by the person’s desire to engage in making changes and the current severity of their disease.  One of the most difficult aspects of treatment, recovery and relapse for families is remaining an emotionally supportive presence in the person’s life.  It can be challenging to maintain balance between being an emotional support, not enabling addictive behaviors and staying involved in a loved one’s recovery due to the pain/hurt addiction has (and may be continuing) to cause.  It is important to remember, a person actively using drugs may do/say anything to facilitate their continued access to their drug of choice.  Being supportive means recognizing that and providing consistent support without stigmatizing their loved one’s suffering or enabling their disease to progress.  All of the emotions felt by family members are valid and deserve to be recognized because they are real consequences of the disease process.  Furthermore, the family deserves the chance to have their loved one healthy and functioning.  It is advisable to seek support from professionals and from grassroots organizations compiled of other friends, family members, spouses etc who have been down the same road.
iamafighter family member of addict support

iamafighter offers over two dozen color-coded support groups. The “Family/Friend of Addict” group is our magenta group and currently has over 300 members.

LETTER TO MY PAST: one fighter reflects on rock-bottom and what they wish they had known

The iamafighter blog is back from summer break and to celebrate, we are publishing a hard-hitting Letter to my Past from an anonymous fighter.

Trigger Warning: mention of suicide, rape, bullying, addiction, anxiety and depression

Disclaimer: iamafighter does not provide suicide prevention services of any kind, at any time, to any person. If you or someone you know is thinking about harming themselves, please contact medical professionals or call 911 immediately.

Dear Past Self,

Suicide’s looking like a pretty good idea to you right now.

I know you’ve been eyeing that ceiling fan more times than you’d ever admit.

Don’t give up.

You know that feeling, deep-down at the core of you– the place you’ve only scratched in those moments of your absolute darkest despair?

That part of you whispering “You cannot be going through this for nothing” is telling the truth.

There is a purpose. And I don’t even think I know what it is fully yet.

But I think I’m getting close…

We search for meaning our entire lives, but more than search for meaning, we try to avoid pain.

But our pain can reveal to us our meaning. And it will with you.

“But our pain can reveal to us our meaning. And it will with you.”

Honey, that lecture your sister gave you in the car that day will save your life. When she looked at you and asked “You would really put our family through another suicide?”

The guilt from that lecture and all the spite you have for your bullies, in that you desperately don’t want them to know how much they’ve truly gotten to you, will keep you alive, dear one.

And thus, you will eventually learn: There is a purpose for everything… even things that appear quite ugly.

Your rape, dear one.

Your pain, dear one.

Your bullying, your unease, your general feeling of isolation in every form at all times… It will all present itself back to you in the form of a beautiful lesson if you just do what you don’t want to do but know that you need to do: and stick around.

You will. After all, dear one, you’re a fighter. But it won’t be easy.

You come face-to-face with all the pain from the gates of Hell that a 21 year-old girl can handle without utterly collapsing.

And one day- like today as I write this- you are grateful for every bit of it.

It’s not that I sit here writing you, claiming to want more struggle. But the purpose of struggle has been revealed to me. To us. Eventually. And finally.

And, to test your characteristic lack of patience, I will not tell you what it is. You just need to have faith. The purpose is worth it. Just remember that.

And you will. Because you didn’t even need me to write this to tell you that.

Today I’m the strongest we’ve ever been, but I look back on you and am impressed. My God, your ability to tolerate pain is remarkable…

I know I went through it once, back when I was You. But sometimes I wonder if I could handle going through it all over again…

Only at our weakest do we realize the source and the magnitude of our strength.

“Only at our weakest do we realize the source and the magnitude of our strength.”

So although, dear one, life seems to be gripping you around the neck and squeezing… This won’t last forever. And there’s a point to it.

I hope that you remember that in all painful events in the years to come- break-ups, lay-offs, addiction, anxiety, crushing fear… In any negativity, remember this: This won’t last forever. And there’s a point to it.

I didn’t need to write you to tell you this. Because you already knew. Somehow.

Somehow you already knew because the voice telling you that existed back then, perhaps so that I may write you this now. You live. And you wake up most days happy. (I promise. And I swear.)

You are going to change lives, girl. The first and foremost being your own.

Good or bad: It won’t last forever. And there is a point to it. But, you already knew that.

I’m writing to tell you that I’m here for you… and that I will never give up on you. It’s you and me until the end, no matter who or what else may fall to the side.

And you didn’t know that. Even until recently, we didn’t know that.

So allow me to inform you, Past Self: I’m not going anywhere… even when others do. You will always have Me. It will always be us. And we’re stronger than we think we are.

We’re fighters, after all.


Your Future Self

LETTER TO MY PAST: overcoming an abusive relationship and a partner’s addiction

As iamafighter exceeded the 1,000-fighter mark earlier this week, we are celebrating by highlighting another one of our amazing fighters, as they talk about coming out of an abusive relationship with a person struggling with addiction, sharing what they know now… iamafighter offers free and anonymous support groups for abusive relationships and coping with a loved one’s addiction, among over two dozen other support groups.

Dear past self,

Life can change in an instant.

When you get that Facebook message from that boy you hooked up with when you were 17, apologizing for not texting you after that night, you don’t have to answer him.  You also don’t have to forgive him for that.  Even if you do, you don’t have to let him call you.  I mean, he told you what happened.   He used dope and crack, he went crazy and went to jail.

It’s going to start this whole big mess that you aren’t even going to want to know about.

You guys are going to start dating, and it is going to go way too fast. After about two months of dating, he’s going to over-dose, which obviously means he was using without telling you.  Listen to me, DO NOT forgive him.

You are going to anyway because you are the nicest, most forgiving person in the world but you really shouldn’t be.  You will learn though.  I promise you that.  So, after that he says he stopped using and fine.  You believe him.  You decide to move-in together.  Mistake numero dos.  He cheats on you and you collapse into this miserable person, who is totally not you.  You cry everyday and you barely even smile.  You don’t even sing anymore.

It’s really sad:  You think you need him. You think if you break up with him, you won’t find anyone else.  ‘No one will ever love you besides him.’  This drug-addicted, abusive, shell of a man.  That is not true.  In fact, it is the total opposite!  You will find someone amazing when it is the time.

Alas, you stay with him.  Eventually, he overdoses again and of course, you forgive him.  Now he’s using every day.  He’s using your car to get to Newark to get drugs.  Which, eventually he returns your car totaled.  When he’s dope sick, you even get him suboxone.  You are such a caring person to him and he couldn’t even give two shits about you.  Girl, you should have been out the door but you keep thinking that no one will love you and you will be alone forever so you stay with him.

I’m going to tell you this right now, when you put your feet down and don’t let him use your car, he is going to hit you, he is going to spit on you and strangle you.  He is going to call you names.  You need to leave.  You are so strong.  You are stronger than you think you are!

The only time I found out how strong I was when I got away from him!  It was the best thing I could have ever done.

iamafighter offers free support groups for abusive relationships, dealing with loved ones' addictions and more...

“You are like a phoenix; you have risen from the ashes.”

The only time I found out how strong I was when I got away from him!  It was the best thing I could have ever done.

Unfortunately, you stay with him for months longer, in total you are together for a year and a half.  He broke up with me in Febuary of this year.  That’s ok though!  It’s better than ok.  It was the best thing that could ever happen to you!  YOU GOT AWAY!  Yes, it was hard.  You cried and cried for at least 3 weeks.  Yes, you drank a lot of wine and beer.  You also found out who your true friends were.  You found out how freaking strong of a person you really are!  I know you always considered yourself weak, especially since we cry at hallmark commercials and cat commercials!  However, we are so strong!

We got out of a physically and verbally abusive relationship!  We also went to court, and spoke to a judge about our experience and got a restraining order!  We will never have to hear from him again.  You are liberated and you are starting your life anew!  You have a job now and you are so much more responsible and mature than you have ever been!  Now, I’m going to be honest: There are going to be nights when you are laying in bed and he is going to pop up.  You ARE going to miss him.  You are going to wonder what the F$%! is wrong with you.  I am still trying to figure this out.  The only answer I have right now, is that it is NORMAL.  Baby girl, you are NORMAL.

There are going to be nights when you go out and you see couples together and you are going to want to cry.  You are going to think “it’s been months, why am I still missing him, why am I so sad being so alone.”  One word:  NORMAL.

I am still trying to be okay with myself before we can be in a relationship or even think about that.  I promise you, I am trying though, as hard as I can.  No matter how much time passes, things will still trigger memories.  But, memories are okay.  Without this whole experience, you would have never become so independent and mature.  Most importantly, you wouldn’t have realized how strong of a female you are. I am so, so proud of the person you have become.  You are like a phoenix; you have risen from the ashes.

You lost twenty pounds and you are trying to lose more. And you are working on your self confidence.  If there was one more thing I could tell you: it would just be to love yourself as much as you possibly can.  You are an amazing, loving, forgiving person and anyone would be lucky to know you.  You are a fighter.

You are a fighter.

Love, your future self

abusive relationship support groups

iamafighter is a recovery network of over two dozen support groups, including those for abusive relationships, dealing with loved ones struggling with addiction and more…