Opioid addiction is an issue that more and more families are facing head on. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2012 over 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids – almost enough for every American. While opioids can still provide meaningful and clinically effective relief from chronic pain when properly prescribed and administered (without any addiction), they can also be misused.
Today, the opioid addiction impacts families from every walk of life – rich, poor, urban, and rural – you name it. In Kentucky, the problem has become so prolific that is now considered one of the top public health issues facing Kentuckians. So, to that point, here’s a little more background, followed by information, on what you can do if you’re living with a family member struggling with opioid addiction.
Background: Opioid addiction in Kentucky, and around the nation, has skyrocketed over the past several years. In Kentucky, approximately 4 people/day lose their lives to an opioid overdose (many of these are from prescribed medications). Nationally, the number of people that die from opioid overdoses has surpassed deaths from car crashes. There are a range of factors that contribute to this epidemic; the most prominent factor being the role of prescribed opioids. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC): since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, even though the degree of pain Americans reported changed minimally. In this same time frame deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—also quadrupled.
Today, medical professionals, advocates, and policy makers are taking decisive action to address the epidemic. Clearer guidelines for prescribing are being reviewed as well as robust planning to scale treatment and recovery programs is in motion. See this NYT article here for an overview of the issue and attempts to address it.
Treatment and recovery: If you or someone you care about is in need of treatment and recovery support, two (of many) local resources that specialize in addictions treatment are the Morton Center and the Jefferson Alcohol Drug & Abuse Center. If you’re looking for family or couple’s therapy to compliment addictions treatment with a specialized addictions provider, feel free to reach out to a therapist at Northstar Counseling Center.
Supporting a spouse or other family member with an addiction: Accepting that your spouse or loved one is addicted to opioids, whether the addiction is active or that person in recovery, can be immensely difficult to process and understand. Step one is to get the spouse or loved one, struggling with addiction, the appropriate treatment and recovery supports. Once your spouse or family member is in treatment – you may need to seek support for yourself. In this stage, there can be a delicate dance between giving and getting support. This blog does an excellent job at outlining the struggle addiction can bring to a marriage and ways to work toward recovery – here are some of the steps it identifies:
- Educate yourself. Learn about the process of recovery and the risk factors for relapse, and work with your spouse on their relapse prevention plan. Try to understand your spouse’s journey into sobriety and the obstacles and personal torment they’ve faced.
- Open the lines of communication. Talk to your spouse about the kind of support they need, taking care not to sacrifice your own emotional, physical or mental health. Share your hopes and expectations so that you can work toward the same goals. In counseling, you’ll be able to practice new communication skills and work together to identify and manage feelings.
- Know that your relationship is going to change. Your spouse’s progress may be slow, or it may be surprisingly quick. They may meet new friends, excel at work and perhaps even outshine you. Allow your spouse some freedom to explore who they are without drugs or alcohol, knowing that a shift in responsibilities and power dynamics can bring greater happiness to your home.
- Know that you and/or your spouse may consider leaving the marriage. In the process of getting reacquainted, you may feel that you never knew or loved your spouse, or that you no longer have anything in common. The emotional ups and downs of recovery may place a great deal of stress on the relationship, and it can be difficult to repair the damage, particularly if legal or financial problems continue to impact the family. Counseling can help you reconnect and remember why you came together in the first place.
- Be patient. Even without drugs or alcohol, your spouse may not become the person you’ve always hoped they’d be – at least not quickly. It will take time for them to fulfill family responsibilities, and it may take time for you to be ready to put those responsibilities back in their hands.
- Work on forgiveness. Partners often have a lot of pain and anger built up after years of dealing with an addicted spouse. Those feelings are unquestionably valid, but holding on to them may prevent you from healing and moving forward.
- Avoid blame. Remember that addiction is a disease – not a moral failing or lack of willpower – and your spouse likely feels a great deal of shame and guilt for their past behaviors.
- Praise your spouse’s progress. Encourage them to go to 12-Step meetings and meet with their sponsor any time, even if it’s inconvenient.
- Prepare for setbacks. Even after completing drug rehab, your spouse may struggle on the path of addiction recovery. Hurdles can range from lying, manipulating and selfishness to full-blown relapse.
- Don’t take relapse personally. Your spouse’s recovery involves you, but it is really about them. If your spouse falls back into old patterns, continue to lend your support and get them back into drug rehab.
- Spend time getting to know each other again. You may not recognize the individual you’re living with, but chances are you’ll grow to like this person far more than the person they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This is a process that will likely test the strength of any relationship and it is a major process for both parties. In the event you feel that your marriage or family would benefit from additional supports in this process, feel free to make an appointment at Northstar Counseling Center.