What Families Should Know about Addiction

Young person in the foreground hugging their knees, while an older, distraught-looking person sits in the background.

Many of us don’t think of addiction as a symptom of another issue. But underlying causes, from personality disorders to past traumas, can fan the flames of substance abuse – leaving loved ones unsure of what steps to take next.

Approximately 22 million Americans meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, yet fewer than 11 percent seek the treatment they need.

Part of the reason for this low statistic is that there’s often much more at the heart of an addiction than substance abuse itself. Many people struggling with addiction also struggle with co-occurring mental health issues and disorders, which can jeopardize the likelihood that they’ll seek out treatment. The majority of people dealing with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring disorder, so diagnosing this and developing a strategy to address it is a key component of effective treatment.

Co-occurring disorders that often accompany an addiction can include personality disorders (such as borderline, antisocial and obsessive-compulsive disorders), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety and depression, just to name a few. Research shows that childhood trauma – emotional or physical abuse during childhood, for example – is one of the factors that can lead to the development of a substance use disorder later in life.

Additionally, a drug or alcohol addiction may coincide with other compulsive behaviors, also known as addiction interaction disorders (AID). These include sex, gambling, shopping, gaming and work addictions, as well as eating disorders.

While these disorders don’t necessarily create the addiction, they can create fertile ground for it to take root. People may use drugs and alcohol to escape or lessen the negative symptoms of these conditions, such as the inability to deal with unpleasant emotions. This can result in behavioral issues like lying, stealing, violence and self-harm.

Many people with co-occurring disorders may not recognize that they’re struggling, which presents an overwhelming obstacle for families. It’s for this reason that addressing the issues that accompany addiction is as important as treating the addiction itself. It's not just stopping the active symptoms of being sick, but it's also about how to get the patient back to functioning so that person can grow in their career, their schooling and their relationships.

If your loved one is exhibiting signs of a co-occurring or interactive disorder, you may think that it’s an isolated issue; in reality, they may be grappling with an addiction in addition to multiple mental health disorders. Because of this, it’s crucial to reach out to a professional, who can assess the individual in order to identify the root causes fueling the behaviors and offer suggestions on next steps.

At Caron, we use an integrated treatment method that simultaneously treats the co-occurring mental health disorders alongside the drug or alcohol addiction itself. As an organization with treatment centers for co-occurring disorders, Caron has a comprehensive approach continually evaluates the patient based on their experiences with substance abuse, their physical health, their mental health issues, their readiness to change and their relationships. By considering these dimensions of each individual’s life, we can tailor their treatment approach to suit their unique needs.

If you’re concerned about your loved one, consider arranging a professional evaluation either over the phone, in person or through an in-depth residential assessment program. There is no one-size-fits-all path for families to follow when learning how to manage a loved one’s addiction and underlying disorders. Though making that initial contact can be difficult for both patient and family, it’s a crucial first step in the recovery process.

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