We’ve all heard the adage, “don’t shoot the messenger.”   It means that the bearer of bad news did not create the problem; he’s merely relaying the facts.  Maybe this logic can be applied before judging an addict as a hopeless loser. Can we try to think of an addict as a messenger?  He is relaying a message that something has happened that is out of his control. With this perspective, it’s possible we can learn to hate the addiction, not the addict.  

Learning to Hate the Addiction, Not the Addict

The amount of research and information available about the effects of drugs on the brain and body is astounding. Yet, millions of people still mistakenly believe that addicts lack the willpower or motivation to quit.  This outdated stigma prevents many addicts from seeking the professional help they need. Of course, we also have those who think the “tough love” approach to addiction is the best way to help. What do these individuals need to know that will help them hate the addiction, not the addict?  

Some facts that will help us treat addicts with empathy and compassion:

1. Addiction is a chronic disorder:

It hijacks a person’s brain. Drugs change the structure and function of the brain.  It interferes with decision-making, self-control, and response to pleasure or pain.  

2. The brain wants more:

Abused substances over-stimulate the production of dopamine in the reward center of the brain.  When the drug is withheld, dopamine drops and the brain produces withdrawal symptoms that force the person to seek more of the drug.  In many cases, withdrawals can be so severe they lead to seizures, coma, or death.

3. Drugs turn a person into a liar:

The effects of drugs are so powerful that the person loses interest in everything except getting their next fix.  Too often, addicts lie, steal, resort to prostitution, or become dealers themselves to fund their habit. Unwanted pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, STDs, and other health problems are a result of their desperation.

4. The initial drug use was a choice:

But, no one chooses to become an addict.  They mistakenly believed they could try it once and quit whenever they wanted. Unfortunately, addiction happens after one use with some drugs.  In some cases, a person uses drugs as a form of self-medication to help deal with depression or other issues.  When these disorders are combined with substance abuse, addiction is more likely to occur.

5. Addicts don’t have to “hit rock bottom” before they can get help.  

The earlier they enter treatment, the recovery process will be easier.  If you try to go the “tough love” route and leave it up to the addict to get help, they will likely continue with the substance use until overdose or death occurs.  You may need to enlist the services of a professional interventionist to convince your loved one to seek help.

6. Don’t be an enabler:  

Are you lying for the addict in your life?  You don’t want everyone to know what is going on, so you try to cover it up.  Do you make excuses for their substance use? Or, have you given the person money, paid their bills, or bailed them out of jail?  If so, you are preventing the person from suffering the consequences that might encourage them to seek treatment. You’re making it easy for the person to continue their behavior.

7. Relapse is common in recovery:

If your loved one goes through rehab and then relapses shortly after, don’t give up.  This doesn’t mean the rehab failed, and it doesn’t mean your loved one is a hopeless case.  He or she still needs your support and may need more time in rehab.

It’s important to point out that no matter how severe the addiction, the person’s core identity is still intact. This is why it is vital that we learn to hate the addiction, not the addict.  Your loved one is trapped in a body that is controlled by a force they can’t resist. But, with the right treatment program, these individuals can rediscover who they are and reach their full potential in a drug-free life.

You Can’t Fix Your Loved One’s Addiction Yourself

When a person becomes addicted, they aren’t the only one who suffers. Friends, family, employers, and the community also suffer the consequences of addiction.  As much as you may want to fix this situation, you can’t. Addiction recovery is a complex process that requires the perfect balance of detox, training, education, and counseling.  

Rehab programs are designed to provide a comprehensive curriculum that addresses all aspects of the addiction.  At New Beginnings Rehab Center, we understand the complexities of addiction and recovery and can offer your loved one a program designed for his or her specific needs.  Our counselors know how to hate the addiction, not the addict. Each of our clients is treated with ultimate respect and compassion at all times. Call now to learn more about how we can help.


health.harvard.edu – What is Addiction?