It’s the holiday season, and many of us are blessed with loving and caring families, with whom we will share delightful hours of blissful conversation. However, for some addicts in recovery, families can be…challenging.
Many people in recovery have done things to their families during active addiction that they are not proud of, just as other family members have taken actions against the addicted person that are less than admirable. At holidays, old resentments can surface, leading to feeling of shame, guilt, anger and resentment on both sides.
For patients in medication-assisted treatment, holiday problems can be magnified. Not only do these recovering people need to deal with old hurts and past problems, but sometimes also have to hear other family members criticize a form of recovery that’s working well. Many family members feel like they have the right to criticize a recovering addict if he is on medication-assisted treatment with either methadone or buprenorphine.
Here are a few ways families can sabotage these recovering people:
1. Tell the recovering person that you don’t “believe” in methadone/buprenorphine. You can do this in a blunt and aggressive way, or you can be sneaky and make hints, saying things like, “people shouldn’t need drugs to get off drugs,” or something similar. You say this despite knowing next to nothing about methadone/buprenorphine. Your mind is uncluttered by any knowledge of the fifty-plus years of research showing how much medication-assisted treatment helps opioid addicts to recover.
2. Tell the recovering person that he is “weak” for needing any medication, and that the best way to defeat an addiction is “cold turkey.” Say this with a straight face as you drink a glass of whiskey and puff on your fifteenth cigarette of the day.
3. Tell him his opioid treatment center is just a legal drug dealer. Tell him there’s no difference between buying illegal opioids from a criminal on the street, and being prescribed a life-saving medication by a doctor at a treatment center that has been approved by the DEA, state and federal health and human services organizations. You have no idea that the treatment of opioid addiction is more regulated than any other medical service in the nation, but don’t let that stop you from saying something stupid. You will conveniently need to forget the recovering person gets counseling on a regular basis about how to make needed life changes at the opioid treatment program. Street dealers don’t usually offer this.
4. Tell your recovering family member that he’s not in “real” recovery. Tell him he’s still in active addiction because he’s prescribed methadone/buprenorphine. To look sincere when you say this, you will need to forget all of the positive changes you have seen in your loved one. He may have gotten a job, paid off old child support charges, gotten his driver’s license back and resolved all criminal charges, but don’t let all of those positive actions block your judgment of him.
5. Tell your recovering family member it’s “time to get off that stuff.” You can make fun of how long he’s used this crutch, even though you have no knowledge or training about the ideal length of methadone/buprenorphine treatment. After all, you haven’t let facts interfere with your judgment of his recovery process yet.
If you are also in recovery, you have additional ways of shaming your recovering relative. He’s using a different recovery path than you, so he must be wrong. You don’t care what his prescribing doctor recommended, because you know more than anyone else. You conveniently forget that line in AA’s Big Book that says, “We are not doctors…” and, “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little.”
Not all people in recovery on medication-assisted treatment have harshly judgmental families. In some families, the addicted person’s recovery speaks for itself, and the whole family is encouraging and supportive. That’s the ideal, but in reality, patients on medication-assisted treatments often must have thick skins and learn how to handle negative influences. We usually think this means old drug-using buddies, but family can be just as destructive, only in different ways.
Now have a Great Christmas!