Why is it so difficult for someone with an addiction to seek change? Perhaps they are unaware of their problem, not ready or willing to change, or perhaps they are afraid of living without the addiction. There could be many reasons for an individual to not seek help. People who are unaware of addiction may believe that if someone truly wanted to change they could “just stop”. The perception is addicts choose to engage in addictive behaviour, they could also choose to stop the addictive behaviour. However, speaking from my own lived experience, this is not the case; in essence, addiction is the absence of choice.
When someone discloses their struggles through addiction, it could be an indicator of how significant your relationship means to them. If this should ever happen, please understand how vulnerable this individual is, but also appreciate the strength and courage needed to share this information. Through your understanding that addicts cannot “just stop”, you will realize it is more powerful to respond through empathy and support. Through listening and responding, rather than reacting, you could positively influence their moving towards recovery.
To empathize with someone means seeing the world as they see it, to walk in their shoes. Walking in their shoes and experiencing what they are feeling, will lead you to a better understanding of their reality. Through this process you will gain insight into some of the reasons it might be so difficult for the addicted person to stop. One of these challenges is working through an identity crisis. Living with an addiction usually means that roughly 75% of their entire being is wrapped up in the addiction; it encompasses almost every area of life.
So as recovery begins, the individual will engage in an identity shift. What people might not be able to understand is how extremely difficult this is. When we change behaviour, we change who we are. As the previous identity is torn away, only a fraction of the individual remains; the difficult part of this process is filling this void.
Recovery is not an easy process and the best way to optimize success is to foster a relationship through trust and understanding. The best way to do this is to empathize and understand the addicted person on their terms.