: Drugs, alcohol and mental health

Discuss the twin challenges of mental health and substance use

27 replies

How to feel about it?

I am really interested to learn what others views are on this, whether or not this is an area for debate or I am just thinking about it all wrong! Do you treat the addiction in your loved ones as an illness or a choice they make? I have always been of the understanding that addiction is very much an illness, yet many people relate to it being choices the person is making. I struggle very much with how I feel about my partners drinking and how to respond to him. Should I be sympathetic or annoyed? Should I continue trying to help and support him, or is he making a choice to lie to me and continue drinking? Is it one or the other? Or a bit of both? I feel completely confused and lost as to how to feel about it all and I would be really interested in hearing from others on this as I am really struggling right now. Thank you.

1 reply

replying to HolKat

This is something I spend a huge amount of time wondering about and which has caused friction in my family. To be honest, I go back and forth at different times. In my case, the addict in my family abuses coke as well as alcohol. I know with drugs they can completely change brain synapses and hormones, so it is much harder for them to make sound judgements. And surely no rational person would 'choose' to live in filth, have no money, be isolated and live in constant fear of dealers. But then sometimes I think maybe he chooses that because it's easier than dealing with the responsibilities of a 'normal' adult life with thousands of decisions and interactions each day. I get frustrated as my parents are definitely in the 'illness' camp, and I feel they are absolving him of responsibility, and I also see this in how they've treated him generally (he is the youngest child, got away with more etc).

I think it's normal for you to feel conflicted about this. Sometimes I feel blind rage at what he's doing to himself and my family and I think he's irresponsible. Sometimes I feel desperate sadness and it seems obvious it's an illness. What I struggle with is working in a healthcare setting where there are people who are terminally physically ill - literally nothing can be done for them. Whereas addiction can be treatable, plenty of people go on to recover so why can't they start making better decisions?

Sorry, quite rambly! It feels like a lot tonight

replying to lizzie1210

Thank you so much for your response and sharing your personal insight and experience, that in itself makes me feel so much better!

I am probably like you in that I go back and forth, but it’s almost as if I need someone to tell me which one it is so I can stick to reacting one way or another or I can make a decision based on what is the right way. I know really that it isn’t that easy, the more I’ve thought about it, the more it’s fascinated me to learn more about other peoples views on it.

I work in mental health and it makes me wonder if it’s a bit of a similar dilemma...we encourage people to make a choice to get treatment and improve their mental health, but then different conditions are seen in different ways. In a similar way to what you said about people who are terminally ill, or any physical illness, we would only ever expect a specialist or professional to be able to treat those kind of illnesses, so why is addiction or mental health any different? We wouldn’t expect someone with cancer or a broken leg to try and cure or fix it themselves, so is it fair/right to expect that of an addict or someone with depression or bi-polar?

It’s something I haven’t thought about in this much depth really until I’ve found myself in this situation with my partner, I’ve always been aware of addiction of course, and felt the ‘right’ way to look at it is to consider it as an illness, but it’s more difficult and complex when it’s a part of your life.

Thanks again, it’s just really helpful to be able to express and hear others views, very much appreciated :)

replying to HolKat

Absolutely. Before my brother got ill I was firmly in the 'addiction is an illness', compassionate camp. But seeing their behaviour up close can test that theory, especially when they're treating elderly relatives terribly for example. Having therapy has helped me feel less guilty about these thoughts, and that it's ok to be angry and frustrated with addicted relatives.

I suppose with physical illnesses, people still have to stick to treatments, and to want to get better. I have clinical depression (not helped by my brother, sigh), but I've got better at managing it with self help, meds and therapy. I feel that I've taken responsibility for my illness, and it can still get really bad, but I put effort in. I get frustrated with my brother having the option of getting help but not taking it up. Even if it's just going through the motions of logging into an online meeting and trying the 'fake it till you make it' approach.

So useful to hear from someone else feeling the same way

replying to HolKat

Hi ya, I feel I've been where you are. I felt like I tried every avenue to try and support my drinking husband...shouting, monitoring, soothing.... I lost myself. I didnt start to acknowledge this wasn't the path. I went to Al anon which was the first time I admitted it was out of my control. I have a daughter and sadly clutched onto the idea we could be a happy family. I've not got tonnes of things right but detaching helped my sanity. Still I clutch at a hope but my relationship has fallen apart, since I've tried not to manage the situation. I've not the answers you want but would encourage a support group to guide you to whats normal and whats not. Just don't lose yourself to something you cant control. I hope for your family you find a future you want.

replying to HolKat

You are not alone in asking those questions. Living and loving anyone who has an addiction is incredibly difficult and puts you on a never ending emotional roller coaster. So the answer of how to react is all of the above. I know from sad experience with my partner who is an alcoholic in total denial.

As to it being an illness or choice I am currently in the camp of it being a choice. People don't choose to be ill, i know as I watched my mum succumb to cancer and she would have given anything to have not had that awful disease. However, if you make life choices such as smoke, drink or do drugs knowing that they will impact your physical and mental health then that is your choice to make, and also your choice to stop and get help before the consequences become irreversible.

It comes down to the addict taking personal responsibility for their actions and asking for help. If they choose to do neither then no one else can help them.

The only person you can help is yourself. You have to focus on you and not their addiction. It's hard to do, however it empowers you and breaks the cycle of enabling / codependecy which ultimately helps them.

Remember, if they fall don't pick them up. They have to suffer the consequences of their actions to make them want to change.

replying to HolKat

How do I post a question

replying to HolKat

hi HOLKAT I'm totally with you on this and i think its the way addiction gets you . I find is so frustrating and get so angry when i hear how much our family member wants to stop drinking himself into and early grave but refuses to fully engage with the professional help and support that's being offered too him . I get so angry when he sits at my house in tears asking for help and then lies about taking it any further than a telephone call and then excuse after excuse not to reengage with them on a regular basis . It feels like he is choosing alcohol over reason every time , i said too him a few weeks ago if hitting your hand with a big hammer hurts stop doing it , but then i remember he is an addict it is an illness .

The problem comes in the support or the enablement its hard to stop doing that under the guise that its an illness and they need help , the enablement has to stop because it is an illness not increase , the help has to come from them wanting it , and im not sure my family member is ready . My concern is where will he be and how far will he fall before he is ready ??? if at all

replying to HolKat

Thanks for all your posts everyone and helping me to not feel so alone. When I posted it part of me was a bit scared that people would say, of course it’s an illness not a choice! So it really helps to know other people struggle with this as well and have different views.

We’re having such a tough time at the moment and it’s a perfect example of not knowing what to think, how to view this or do for the best. He hasn’t engaged at all yet with any support services, and I am practically begging him to get help. He is very depressed and just fixates on how crap life is and how nobody cares so what’s the point of getting help. This is where I struggle - is it purely that he’s unwell which is stopping him seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, or are these just excuses not to engage or get help?

I am trying so hard to understand but then I struggle to understand it because to me, help is literally a phone call away. I know our local alcohol service is extremely supportive and can assess quickly to get people the right help. He just won’t entertain it at all.

Because of Covid, he’s lost his job and can’t find another at the moment and I know he is desperately trying to. Money is very soon going to become a problem. Yet he still goes out for a walk and comes back 4 hours later having been drinking. So is he actually choosing to spend what little money we have left on a few cans, even knowing the position we’re in? Another dilemma for me to try and navigate in terms of him making choices.

I can see that he is going through a truly awful time, he’s scared, he’s depressed, he’s got no hope or confidence, he’s drinking for whatever his reasons are. And I’m here just trying my best to understand, be supportive, be sympathetic, but then sometimes it feels like he doesn’t want support or solutions, it sometimes feels like he wants to stay hopeless. He reacts by either completely ignoring me, or getting defensive and frustrated at me as if I’m just nagging him.

I just don’t know what else I can do, to understand but also what action I can or should take. I could leave him, go off and live my life and let him go and do whatever he wants to do with his, but he is at his lowest point and honestly, I am scared of what he could do if I left, because I do care about him. Yet, if he won’t get any help, how much longer am I able to live my life like this? Not knowing if he’s had a drink today, being on edge waiting to see if he has or not, walking on egg shells not wanting to be nagging, fighting the urge to just scream at him to please just do something and get some help, in this constant ‘illness or choice’ dilemma and not even knowing myself how to feel about it or how to respond. I don’t want to live like this and I don’t want him to. I feel pretty stuck right now.

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