One of the most difficult realities to face is that, when given an option, an addict will almost always choose drugs over love. He will choose drugs over family, friends, his career, and his health. Eventually, he will choose drugs over all basic tools of survival, such as food, water, and shelter. There is nothing more powerful than the compulsion an addict feels to continue using. You may be tempted to offer the passionate ultimatum in a heated moment of exacerbated defeat, “It is either me or the drugs!” You may expect and desperately want the addict to choose you. If he really loved you then he would, wouldn’t he? Unfortunately, for the addicted mind, making such a seemingly obvious decision is far from simple. The nature of drug addiction is that the addict is completely obsessed with obtaining and using drugs. He chases drugs compulsively, on a level that is completely beyond his personal control. No matter how badly he wants to choose you, he simply is not able. Drugs have got a hold on him that is far more powerful than any human emotion – even love.
Addiction is Stronger Than Love
This obsession with continued use in spite of consequences (no matter how severe), stems from both a psychological and physical place. When an addict attempts to discontinue his use without first checking in to a medical detoxification clinic, he risks undergoing a host of painful withdrawal symptoms, ranging from severe stomach cramping and diarrhea to extreme panic and intense hot and cold flashes. These physical symptoms alone, if left untreated, will typically drive an addict immediately back to using. When an addict uses drugs for a prolonged period of time, his brain undergoes significant physiological changes. Brain chemistry is altered, and neurotransmitters are essentially transformed. At this point in time, the relationship the addict has with drugs becomes the most important and esteemed relationship in his life. His body and brain tell the addict that without the constant use of drugs, he will die. He loses the power of choice. When his relationship with drugs is threatened, he readily discards this threat – not because he wants to, but because his body and his mind tell him this is the only way to successfully survive. He will quickly kick you to the curb if you are not giving him what he wants – not because he doesn’t love you, but because he simply has no other choice.
Loving an Addict and Powerlessness
Loving an addict is one of the most painful things in the world to do. Standing by helplessly and watching someone you care deeply for lose his battle with addiction right before your eyes may seem an impossibility. You may attempt to set boundaries and offer ultimatums, but nothing you say or do seems to make any slight difference. The reality is – you are completely powerless over his addiction. The most beneficial thing you can do is begin putting the focus back on yourself, and repair your own life rather than attempt to control someone you are completely powerless over. Look into attending an Al-Anon or Narc-Anon meeting, and find others who are undergoing (or have undergone) similar experiences and can offer you strength and hope. Try to constantly remind yourself that the disease of addiction is never personal – your loved one is not choosing drugs over you because he doesn’t love you, he has simply lost all choice in the matter. His rejection of you and your help is not based on a lack of love, but rather on a mental and physical obsession beyond human control. For more information on how to love an addicted individual without compromising your own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, please see our blog post entitled ‘10 Steps to Loving an Addict‘.