“I know who they are, and at times, I see them.”
This is a familiar statement I have heard from family members about their addicted loved ones. It is evidence of how much addiction is a disorder of value and values. We all know that person in our life who is a completely different person when they are drinking/using. When they are not drinking/using, they are kind, caring, funny, and reasonable. When they are drinking/using, they are inconsiderate, cruel, tragic, and unreasonable. Drinking/using crosses over into addiction when individuals start consistently violating their system of values while drinking to take part in the behavior, and/or recovering from its effects. The person we all know doesn’t act like who they really are because their addictive behavior/substance has become more important than the parts of their life that are truly important to them.
Addiction is a Disorder of Values
Essentially, addiction is a disorder of values, literally. For a person that becomes addicted, their brain has been wired so that their addictive behavior/substance use is more valuable than other important parts of their life. The alcoholic/addict’s reward and self-control circuits evolved precisely to enable us to discover new, important, healthy rewards, remember them, and pursue them single-mindedly; drugs are sometimes said to “hijack” those circuits (Volkow 2018)” so much so, that it impacts other areas of the person’s life.
Addiction impacts their health, their family or close relationships, their work, and/or their legal situation. A drink has more value than reading a story to their son or daughter before bedtime, or more value than a career they have dedicated their life to. Part of overcoming addiction, is finding value in the “moments” of life. “Moments” that create meaning so as they do not to return to the addictive behavior.
Is it Me or the Addiction?
Sometimes, confusion plays into continuing the addictive behavior. Is it me or the addiction? Living consistently with one’s values may seem to be a simple task. The alcoholic/addict recovery begins with the task of living consistently with their values on a continuous basis. Challenges occur when the person looks back at their violation of those values in their past. Typically, the violations are tied to their addictive behavior. When they see those violations, it can be hard to differentiate between whether it was really “them” or “them during addiction.”
I know I always had a choice, at some point the choice became one of two things though: keep going, or admit I was out of control and that I needed to get help dealing with how to live. That second choice was a tough one, because I was admitting that I didn’t have a choice anymore whether I was going to drink or use. I was always taught that one of my values was to never give up and always keep going. To me, getting help felt like giving up, but in all reality it was giving myself a chance. It was an admission that I didn’t have control. I have some new values now. One of those ends up being, “I don’t always have the answers, and in fact, a lot of times I don’t have the answers.”
When You Don’t Have the Answers
For many alcoholics and addicts, not having the answer becomes a moment to learn. Moments are just that, moments. There is a moment when someone is ready to take action, when they are ready to go to treatment, and when they are ready to make change. Those moments come and go quickly. Information can help someone so much, but even more so, care and understanding from others.
Help from Others
Receiving care and understanding from others, can teach the addict that it is okay to have care and understanding for themselves. Treating someone like a human being with a problem versus lecturing about how someone has done something improperly over and over and over, can make all the difference on reaching someone. It doesn’t mean coddling someone, but it does mean being understanding. Holding someone accountable is evidence that you are out for someone’s best interest. Challenging someone’s distorted views is evidence they are worth it, and it can help them find value in themselves.
By: Andrew Garrison
Andrew Garrison has a masters degree in counselling psych and is a licensed mental health professional and addictions counsellor