ADDICTION & CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY
Support begins with understandimg
Affecting over 20 million Americans, illegal drug use and addiction impacts not only the individual, but families and communities alike.
Understanding the complexities of substance abuse and the path to recovery requires both a global lens in how our culture responds to and treats addiction, as well as taking an individualistic approach in understanding each person and their narrative. The intricate nature of recovery encounters challenges from the ordinary to the complicated, some of which can be magnified during the holiday season. Stress, assorted family dynamics, triggers and temptations can earmark the days of what should be celebration with family and friends – and highlights why preventative planning and establishing healthy support is paramount.
Erin York, a licensed addiction counselor and provisional licensed professional counselor in Shreveport, explains that the impact of addiction can be seen across many facets of someone’s life. From the occasional running late to work, all the way to potential homelessness – and everything in between – York stated that addiction can be seen at all levels. She goes on to discuss how family and loved ones can act as a critical piece of support for someone struggling with addiction, and that providing healthy support starts with having an educational understanding of the condition.
“I like to educate families by using analogies,” said York. “For example, I may speed to work every day. I know the consequences – I can harm myself, someone else, obtain a speeding ticket, et cetera. However, the consequence does not appear to be a threat to me; thus, I continue to speed. This is how addicts look at their behaviors. The consequences of their actions are not ‘bad enough’ or ‘real enough’ to stop using.
“Addiction is a behavior.
Behaviors have consequences. Keep it simple. We all have done some form of negative behavior.
We continue to do it if there is some form of gain; we stop the behavior when there is nothing left to gain. Some will ask, what is there to gain when using drugs/alcohol? There can be lots of answers to this: It feels good, I enjoy it, [or] I enjoy the lifestyle.”
Having the knowledge, language and basic understanding of what someone might be experiencing in their recovery is the foundation in being a pillar of support. York explains that the best way in being empathetic and supportive is through genuine care, listening and respect.
“[The best way is through] education, education, education,” she said. “Ask them first-hand, ‘What are ways I can be of support for you?’ If they are in therapy, ask if you have a release to speak with their counselor, to become more educated on their recovery. If they attend self-help meetings, ask them if you could support them by going to one. Please remember they can [or] may not want you to come, and that’s OK! Respect their boundary.”
As holidays are fast approaching, the support from family and friends will be crucial, and yet preventative planning on the individual’s part is fundamental. York shares that holidays can be stressful for anyone, whether they are in recovery or not, as they can bring up a number of different factors to consider.
“Holidays are relapse traps,” she said.
“[First], family will come in, maybe family you haven’t seen in a while. Be prepared for the questions, be prepared for uncomfortable conversations, be prepared for family to not know about your addiction/recovery, [and] be prepared for others to use around you. [Secondly], the holidays include spending more money. This can be stressful when one is in recovery. Sometimes people new in recovery are recovering from more than their drug of choice. One may be having to pay off debts, catch up on bills, or work longer hours; this can become stressful, which is a relapse trap.”
“Addiction is not always about drugs or alcohol,” York continued. “Roughly two million people are considered compulsive gamblers in the United States. People spend more money during the holidays, and when you are in recovery, especially with gambling disorder, needing money could result in a relapse.”
York provides a multitude of services in her work with clients, but uses primarily the direction of solution-focused therapy. She encourages the use of other support groups and programs, while considering the initial step of seeking individual therapy.
“I would tell anyone [who is] seeking recovery ... to look into individual therapy first,” she said. “[Seek] someone who is licensed in addiction treatment. From there, the client and counselor can create a healthy plan of treatment, and involve them in selfhelp groups as well. The counselor can also help a person meet other goals that may contribute to their addiction such as financial problems, family and relationships, communication skills, building trust, codependency, toxic relationships, parenting skills, et cetera.”
York explained that one of the most common challenges she sees when someone enters recovery is the setting of unrealistic goals or having a distorted idea of what recovery will be. While it may be filled with fears of uncertainties, it’s important to have gentle understanding, patience and honest commitment.