How To Love An Addict: Balancing Compassion and Self-Protection

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Are you in a relationship with an addict? How to help a loved one who suffers from addiction.

Loving an addict is undeniably difficult. Addiction is a family disease that wreaks havoc on the lives of the addict as well as the addict's family and loved ones. The addict's primary relationship is with his or her mind-altering chemical (or compulsive behavior) at the expense of other relationships. Loved ones, which are referred to as "hostages," are relegated to second-class relationships. To successfully manage a relationship with an addict requires a balance of compassion and self-protection. This article discusses what addiction is, how families typically respond to addiction, and how to make loving an addict more effective and fulfilling.

Addiction is a Family Disease

Research suggests that addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that is often fatal if left untreated. It is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and has a reciprocal impact on family members and other loved ones. There is no cure for addiction, but there are treatments that are effective in controlling its harmful symptoms. Some people believe that referring to addiction as a disease exonerates an addict from any accountability with regards to his or her behavior. This is not true: Just as with cancer or any other disease, the addict is held responsible for following treatment protocols such as individual and group counseling, 12-Step Program support, and medication management, when necessary. If a cancer patient refused to follow doctors' orders with regards to treatment, he or she would be held accountable as well.

Symptoms of Addiction

With addiction, there are symptoms that occur in the addicted person, and there are symptoms that occur in family members and other loved ones. The latter are referred to as "parallel processes." The addict's psychological and behavioral symptoms include obsession, loss of control, denial, and rationalization with regards to the addictive substance or behavior. Physical symptoms include increased tolerance (e.g., needing more of the substance to get the desired effect), blackouts, and withdrawal. Interpersonally, addicts tend to isolate themselves more and more as the addiction progresses. Keep reading...

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