Drug addiction affects family mental health: ‘We live each other’s lives’ – 05/09/2022

When one of the children was 15, administrative manager Lana Chistina Casarini, 62, discovered he was a drug user. “I found marijuana. I threw it away in front of him, we ground him, but nothing worked and he only got worse”, she recalls. Today, 26 years later, she saw her son hospitalized five times, kicked him out of the house and saw him live on the street. Lana is a codependent, person who lives with someone who has a drug addiction.

Just as the chemical dependent needs treatment, the family member needs care — especially mental health care. In the long term, especially in those who already have emotional problems, the situation can trigger conditions linked to depression and anxiety, in addition to cardiovascular and degenerative diseases.

If I’m okay, I’ll be able to help my son. Codependency is a disease equal to chemical dependence, we live the life of the other and this has to be taken care of”. Lana christina Casarini.

In her case, the child’s dependence was the trigger in an already sensitive scenario. The ex-husband abused alcohol and had episodes of aggression with the children. When she managed to buy an apartment, Lana separated, but saw her son’s addiction worsen.

“I would go out to work and he would steal from me. I had to put him out and prevent him from entering the apartment. It was 11 pm and he would make a fuss in the building, he would call at dawn, it took 15 days to make my life hell, because he didn’t expect me to have this attitude”, he recalls.

Path to isolation

Some feelings are common in codependents. It is natural that, first, there is distrust about the use. When there is no longer a way to deny it, these people try to control the actions of the dependents, managing, for example, delays at work and other routine responsibilities.

Then comes the guilt. “Along with shame, these are frequent feelings, especially for the parents. Mainly the mother. They have doubts about giving too much or too little love, they look for where they went wrong”, describes psychologist Claudia Cristina Oliveira, a researcher at ECIM (Infirmary of Behaviors). Impulsive), from the Institute of Psychiatry, Hospital das Clínicas, USP (University of São Paulo).

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Guilt, in addition to torturing, favors manipulation, one of the disease’s strategies for maintaining addiction. And then, even without realizing it, the family can favor access to the drug. “I never imagined how to act and ended up being a facilitator. I gave him several cell phones, sneakers, because he said he had been stolen”, says Lana. Therefore, experts indicate that, as with any disease, it is important to seek medical help for chemical dependence when identifying the first signs in the person.

It is also common that the fear of judgment causes the person to isolate himself. Something dangerous, because not letting off steam can increase the risk of chronic stress, pathological conditions of anxiety and depression, with serious outcomes — including suicidal ideation.

“Disproportionate Fight”

Living with her son’s addiction for more than 25 years, Lana understood that she needed to take care of herself. “No mother likes to see her child in this state, but I’m trying to help myself. I go to a psychiatrist, psychologist, I take medication for anxiety. I keep working, because I need to, I’m alone. But I’m looking to look more at myself.”

It takes time to realize that facing drug addiction — and codependency — is disproportionate. Mainly because they are unaware of the multifactorial nature of the disease, it is common for family members to also refrain from seeking help for themselves, for fear of being another burden in an already complex context. Or, still, for feeling “healthier” for not having any mental disorder.

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The treatment for family members involves psychological monitoring and, if necessary, medication. Therapy, even done jointly by the family, is one of the devices to understand the psychic dynamics of that circle, analyzing the roles of each member, and can help in the recovery of the user. Some people, when returning to their routine after hospitalization, cannot keep themselves “clean”, because they also return to the same conflicts as before.

“She is faced with the same family structure, which was sickening. When the nucleus understands the process, it begins to change ways of dealing with the disease, and with this change in posture of the habits that it perpetuated, the dependent begins to understand that the family does not will agree with the process”, highlights psychiatrist Rogério Jesus, who holds a master’s degree from the UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) and a member of the APB (Psychiatric Association of Bahia).

There are also cases in which the family keeps the dependent in the place he was before, believing that he should change other behaviors, and it involves other aspects of his lifestyle.

Hot potato

In some cases, it is common for a single family member to assume the situation. Something Juliana* understands well. A former drug user, she currently lives with her brother’s addiction. The husband also uses substances, even if in a more controlled way, according to her.

“It was always me who decided to hospitalize my brother. I always supported him, because I think moral support is the main thing”, he says. juliana decided to stop drugs when she became pregnant, relapsed, which was “a horrible feeling”. “I’ve always been anxious, I witnessed an event and had very strong depression. After I stopped, when I see my husband using it, I get quite apprehensive, anguished, a thousand things go through my mind”, she says.

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Taking control may not be beneficial, explains psychiatrist Pedro Ferreira, a professor at PUCRS (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul). That’s because sharing responsibility avoids emotional and physical wear and tear.

“It’s a hot potato, that is, it doesn’t get cold and someone has to hold it. But if only one holds it, it will burn that hand. The only way for anyone to get hurt is to rotate the caregiver role between several hands, be it other family members, friends, doctors, mental health professionals, institutions”, warns Ferreira.

Sharing lessens the burden, but where to go for help?

One of the main tools can be mutual help groups, with other family members of chemical dependents. These spaces encourage exchanges with people in the same situation, or who have already experienced similar moments, so they are considered model places. “People learn not to be facilitators of relapse and to maintain mental serenity”, says Ferreira.

André* discovered in the groups a new meaning for life while dealing with the addiction of his son, who became an addict in his teens and had a psychotic break because of drugs.

“When I started attending, they gave me a way. My son still continued using drugs in that period for a long time, then he entered a religion in a very fervent way, because every chemical dependent is a compulsive”, he reports. Now, even with his son away from addiction, he is still part of Nar-Anon, one of the main initiatives to promote codependency.

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Image: iStock

These groups offer welcoming and judgment-free aspects, explains psychologist Claudia Cristina Oliveira. “Often, people start to isolate themselves from the rest of the family, because they don’t want to hear criticism, they start to reduce contacts. There, they meet people who live the same drama, they are free to share experiences and listen to find solutions.”

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