With all the talk about addiction and recovery happening in the news, online, and in cities and towns big and small across the country now; even the 2016 presidential candidates are talking about addiction as a national health crisis, you would think that it would be easier than ever before to acknowledge having an addiction issue or loved one with addiction.

In some ways it is; more young people are talking about addiction than ever before in schools and with their parents and peers. There are now mobile options for dealing with addiction treatment, and online meetings make finding recovery support possible for those who can’t or don’t want to go to in-person meetings. New and creative options for addiction treatment and recovery are being created on a regular basis, but for many people and families dealing with addiction, the stigma and shame is still so powerful that it keeps them in the shadows and suffering in silence.

Why is that? Why is it that after all this time and all the advances made in the addiction field, addiction is still so hard to talk about?

Of course stigma is a major barrier, but I also think that admitting that there’s a problem is a huge barrier as well. I come to the subject of addiction not as a person with an addiction, but as the sibling and spouse of loved ones with addiction issues. I lost a brother to alcoholism and my sister and husband are in long-term recovery and I can tell you that it was extremely difficult for us on both sides of the issue to admit there was a problem and then do something about it.

Why Families Need to Admit There is a Problem

In order for families to help their loved ones with addiction, they first have to admit they have a problem. If we don’t admit there’s a problem, how is the person with the addiction going to admit they have a problem? If the family turns a blind eye, they will as well.

To get your loved one to admit there is a problem, you have to be willing to approach your family member without judgment, find out what the issue is, and then educate yourself as much as possible about it. When it comes to addiction, in a lot of instances families will be the ones responsible for getting family members into treatment, so it is vital to learn as much as you can about what your loved one is dealing with so you know how to help them.

It’s also very important for the family members to admit that they need their own treatment and/or support when it comes to dealing with addiction, because we go through just as much as the person with the addiction does. If we don’t admit this, then the person with the addiction will get the help and tools they need to deal with their issue and the family won’t. This means only half of the problem is being treated and that can be a path to failure for both sides.

When family members admit there is a problem and they do it in the spirit of love and wanting to help, I believe it makes it easier for the person with the addiction to admit they have a problem. They know their families will be with them through the entire process because they will be going through their own treatment and recovery, and they understand the need to support each other for successful long term recovery.

One of the things I know that families need to be very aware of is the feeling that only the person with the addiction needs help and not them. I know from personal experience how detrimental this can be; it can build resentment on both sides and delay much needed healing. For years I knew my siblings and spouse had an issue and needed help, but not me and I was extremely resistant to seek out any help for myself until this past year. I believe that my relationship with my sister suffered greatly because of this, and had I sought help for myself sooner maybe our relationship could be better today.

Maybe the reason I couldn’t admit that I needed help back then is because I felt it would make me complicit in what they were doing, or maybe it was just the shame and guilt. Whatever it was it hurt me deeply and all these years later I am still dealing with the fallout.

My point is the first step to dealing with a problem, regardless of what it is, is admitting that you have one. In the case of addiction, that admission could be the difference between life and death for your loved one and years of happiness and peace of mind for yourself.

Nadine Herring is a virtual assistant and owner of Virtually Nadine, an online administrative support company. She is also a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a family addiction advocate, community activist, Boston Celtics fan, runner, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

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