Few things in life can be as painful as watching a parent struggle with drug addiction. For many of us, feelings of guilt and shame at the inability to help our parents can be compounded by anger at them for putting their health at risk.
Oftentimes, we can also develop mental health conditions as a result of a parent’s struggle with addiction: We can slip into patterns of codependence or even substance abuse ourselves. Many people who become codependent experience the following symptoms:
- Poor boundaries
- Dependency on others for self-esteem
- Care-taking behaviors towards others
- Dismissal of one’s own needs or wants as unimportant or secondary
It is important to realize that you did not cause your father’s issues with substance abuse. Many adult children of those who suffer from substance abuse disorders blame themselves for the problem and its effects. This form of self-blame is quite simply unmerited. You cannot make decisions for another human being. Nor can you blame yourself for their decisions.
Secondly, it is important to consider how people develop substance use disorders in the first place. For the most part, substance use disorders tend to be secondary conditions. This is because substances are often used to treat an already existing disorder in the user. For example, a person who struggles with an anxiety disorder or a depressive disorder may use substances to manage difficult emotions.
Suppose for a moment that a person grew up in a controlling household in which their parents made every major decision for them. Such a person may have felt immense pressure to go to medical school and become a doctor because their parents wished it for them. To defy their parents would have been to invite conflict and even emotional abuse.
Such a person may develop a condition called Dependent Personality Disorder. This condition arises when a person becomes dependent on the approval of others. Fear of conflict may cause such a person to avoid any situation in which they do not “live up” to the standards set by the people around them.
Such a person may indeed live up to the all the outward signs of success. They may pursue a profession that provides them with high status and financial security. They may be esteemed members of their community. But such a person is also rarely happy. Instead of pursuing things that bring them joy or satisfaction, they constantly regard their own needs and wants as secondary to those of the people around them.
This person may end up turning to substances in order to manage their chaotic emotions. Because they fear setting emotional boundaries, they invite stress and disorder into their personal lives. To them, living a normal life is like living in constant survival mode.
It is easy to see why substance abuse might in some way seem like a solution to this person. In the beginning stage of a substance use disorder, a person may find temporary relief from feelings of anxiety or depression. In the long run, however, those feelings will become amplified. Yet as their lives begin to fall apart, the person may continue to abuse substances in order to gain a sense of control over their emotions.
To wit, until the underlying problem is addressed, such a person stands little chance of developing a healthy approach to life-stressors. And substance abuse is no cure for an anxiety or depressive disorder!
In other words, there is a good chance that your father’s approach to substance abuse is related to an underlying mental health condition. Recognizing that he is a human being who is simply trying to solve problems like the rest of us may allow you to see the problem of substance abuse for what it really is. Your father is not attempting to create more stress in his life and by extension in the lives of his family members and friends. It is just that his attempts to mitigate stress are simply exacerbating the problem rather than solving it.
So what can you do to help your father? The truth is that denial often goes hand-in-hand with a substance abuse disorder. Your father may react to your concern with dismissal or even anger. But if you can calmly assert your view of the effects that his substance abuse disorder have had on you and on your family, you may go some way towards providing yourself with a feeling of peace. If your father recognizes that he needs help, so much the better. But you must realize that you cannot control the outcome; you can only control your own behavior towards it.
If you feel that talking to someone about your struggles with your father’s actions might help you or help your father, please get in touch today. We are always here to help. You are not alone in your struggles! Call us at 833-497-3808.