How To Deal With People Who Don’t Understand Addiction Is A Disease
Dealing with a situation we all must learn to face
Alcohol and other drug use is a prominent part of our culture. Most people are able to exercise some restraint and moderation most of the time, and they feel confident that they would be able to say no to these substances if they plan to drive or have a medical conflict, such as pregnancy or if there is a conflict with their medication. They may enjoy alcohol or other drugs, but they aren’t necessarily addicted. Refusing or limiting these substances is a simple matter of self control, and they assume the situation is the same for everyone. They may say things to a person suffering from addiction such as “one drink won’t hurt, ” without fully understanding how much damage it can actually do.
But addiction is a disease in much the same way as depression is a disease, or diabetes, or several chronic pain conditions.
It is not something that is “cured” by going through a treatment program. A program can help by giving the addict the tools they need to manage their addiction and give them a fighting chance at maintaining their sobriety, but it is not magic wand. It is after a person begins to re-acclimate into their life that things often become more challenging. There is an inherent part of them that is drawn to the substance(s) they are addicted to. They know giving into these cravings is a bad idea, but holding onto that resolve can be more difficult when so many see addiction as a weakness and something that should be willed away rather than an actual disease.
Here are some ways to move forward in recovery, even when those around you don’t always understand.
Believe in the Disease Yourself
So much of society says fighting substance abuse is just about self control, and even when you suffer from addiction, it is easy to buy into this thinking, and allow others to convince you that “just a little” will be okay. If you accept that you have a disease, it is easier to stand by your convictions and do what you need to do in order to manage your symptoms. Like any other disease, there are times when your symptoms are more intense, and you must take extra precautions to protect yourself. Give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do. It might mean saying no, or staying away from places where you are likely to find the substance you are addicted to, such as bars or clubs, to heading off to a support group or talking to a sponsor who will take your side.
For many, this is easier said than done. Comprehensive treatment plans incorporate mental health care, nutritional guidance, meditation, exercise, and continued support that will help you come to terms with your illness. They also offer continued resources after the initial program period to help prevent relapse, or help you get back on track more quickly if your symptoms do resurface.
Offer to Educate
There may be some people who want to believe that addiction is a true disease, but they haven’t been exposed to the evidence and they just don’t understand. Pick a time and place where you are comfortable, such as going to lunch at a place that doesn’t serve alcohol. Explain that there are many illnesses and disorders that aren’t always obvious to the outside observer, such as autoimmune diseases, depression and anxiety related disorders, and neurological disorders. People with these and other conditions, including addiction learn to develop strategies that will help them subdue their symptoms and function the best they can. It is important that those closest to these people do not attempt to undermine these strategies, but offer their support instead.
A person who is managing an addiction may spend time in counseling, pursue an exercise regimen, or make changes to their diet in addition to simply staying away from the substance(s) they are addicted to. They may need to say no to situations that cause stress and increase the possibility of relapse.
Accept the Nonacceptance
The hard truth is that no matter how much you try to explain what makes addiction a disease, and why you need to deal with it in the way that you do, there will always be people who may not believe you. In the end, attempting to offer an explanation is something to offer as a courtesy, not something you owe anyone. The bottom line is that you need to take care of yourself, and no one has the right to make you feel guilty for doing that. It’s up to you to learn your limits and live within them. There may be people that you ultimately have to cut ties with. Allow yourself to mourn the loss, but move on and seek out people who can offer you the support you need.