Addiction is an isolating disease for the addict/alcoholic as well as the family and friends who love them. Stepping out of the disease and into recovery requires education and support. Over the last few years, new language has begun to emerge to describe the recovery process for patients and family alike. The word ‘management’ is quickly becoming synonymous with recovery. This is a result of extensive brain research over the last fifteen years and the growing understanding of the complexities of recovery. We now see that chemical dependency requires ongoing ‘management,’ just like other diseases, to prevent relapse or to help someone if a relapse has occurred.
The brain disease of addiction needs management for several reasons. The most important is the dramatic change that occurs in the brain when one becomes addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin or prescription drugs such as pain killers (known as opiates), tranquilizers (known as benzodiazepines), and many others. It takes time for the brain to heal and return to normal functioning. While healing is taking place, an addict and/or alcoholic’s brain is much more oriented towards behaviors that represent addiction.
The need for management is true for families as well. Family members and friends of the alcoholic/addict often feel ‘out of control’, depressed or crazy. Extreme mood swings and stress-related diseases are common. In many situations, it is not unusual for family members to feel or appear more dysfunctional than the addict/alcoholic themselves. Therefore, family and friends need to focus on managing their own recovery in the same manner the alcoholic/addict does.
In the Family Program at Residence XII, we show the film “The Hijacked Brain” to illustrate and educate families and friends of the women in treatment about the impact of addiction on the brain. It is narrated by television commentator, Bill Moyer, and contains valuable information, research and visuals. Additionally, HBO recently released their series “Addiction,” which contains an episode on addiction as a brain disease. Either of these films should be a must-see for family and friends wanting a more scientific understanding why addiction, treatment and recovery is truly a medical as well as behavioral process.
Most importantly, recovery and management can only happen when there is recognition and acceptance that their loved one has a disease. Once any denial has been put aside, families can focus on their own recovery as well. This is the point at which ‘management’ can begin.