People often forget or are under the misapprehension that addiction has to do with the drug. They think that if only their loved one didn’t use crack cocaine, heroin, drink scotch or any other drug of choice, it would in some way fix the problem.

Addiction is not about the drugs, it about the behavior that is associated with addictive thinking. Addictive thinking is based on self-centeredness, with obsessiveness and compulsive behavior being the signs that addictive behaviour is being acted out.

We have treated many families that have been affected by addicts. Addiction, as it was pointed out in last month’s letter, is a systemic problem, the same rings true in the family environment. All the different family members, whether it be the wife, child or parent seem to be affected by the addicts self-centered behaviour.

It is very hard to diagnose addiction, as the addicts themselves are often in a state of denial and caught up in the spell of their own addictive thinking. When they promise on the lives of their children, not to repeat the behaviour, and are filled with genuine remorse and regret, they actually believe what they are saying. Being master manipulators, filled with determination and defiance, they are deluded by their own thinking.

Recovery is about empowering addictsin their own destructive thinking patterns and behaviours – and allowing them the respect and dignity to learn from their own mistakes. Families often suffer from the belief, and the anxiety and fear that goes with it, that they somehow will be able to fix, cure or control the addict’s life and to save him from his own destruction. This is often referred to as enabling behavior.

Familieswrestle with the feelings that arise whenthey realize that they are unable to control the addictive behavior and that the best thing they can do is to let go of their loved one and begin to face the reality of life without the addict.

People need to understand that this is the same trauma families suffer when one of their loved ones face a mental disease like bipolar, schizophrenia or depression.

Addiction is a mental illness and we constantly have to remind ourselves of that.