Conflict, Confrontation, Avoidance and Addiction
Conflict is no stranger to people with substance problems. It lies in wait for us seemingly at every turn when things are finally beginning to fall apart. The conflict with loved ones is apt to be quite intense, but so is the inner conflict of anyone with an addiction.
Similarly, confrontation from loved ones is typically a staple in the lives of people who have progressed into negative consequences of their substance use. Those close to us are overwhelmed, frightened, grief-stricken and angry. And, often they have fewer buffers against the pain of our lost control than we do. They aren’t for example, as likely to have the fierce denial we do about what substances are doing to us. It’s far easier for our own frequent and repeated intoxications to surround us in oblivion.
Avoiding the reality-based feedback of others is a ‘normal’ tendency in a substance problem. After all, we are seeking an overall avoidance of unpleasant things, even though we can’t be one hundred percent successful. Intoxication itself is an avoidance strategy, and it can provide good filters for a long period of time. We can evade stress and discomfort by using. Our own denial too will keep filters in place a good deal of the time. We can see our situation through the lens of intoxication and take a significant edge of its unpleasantness that way.
Relationship Conflict Because of Use
One of the symptoms used to diagnose a Substance Use Disorder, or what we commonly call a substance abuse problem or addiction, is relationship problems related to substance use. And, it makes sense. Our relationships are good barometers of our true state of well-being or distress. Our close loved ones are very much in tune with what happens to us; how we feel, think and behave. If there is a decline in our functioning, they are likely to be among the first to know. They are also likely to be alarmed.
Relationships suffer in a variety of ways when one person is losing control of substance use. The usual ‘agreements’ between friends, partners, family members and even coworkers begin to shift. One pulls back from participation in these agreements that naturally spring up in our relationships. You become less present in many ways, and others notice. Substance use draws you away not only emotionally and mentally, but also in time and involvement.
You may not begin a substance problem seeking solely to withdraw from a relationship, but many do. The stress of a damaged marriage, for example, pulls many to substance use. However, sometimes primary relationships are not the source of distress early on but become causalities of substance problems eventually. When this is the case, the load of negative consequences dramatically increases as problem after problem layer on. In the unmanageability of an addiction though, no close relationship can thrive. Some damage, often serious damage, will occur to weaken or sever the bond.
Dealing with the Conflict and Confrontation
Loved ones (family and friends) are likely to be the ones who confront our substance use and its effects. They are naturally privy to more information about us than anyone else and have more opportunities to observe us than anyone else. Also, loved ones have a long history of information, having known us up close over an extended period. They are better able to gauge our shifts and changes, knowing when we are simply not ourselves. Although they may not know initially what the problem is, they do know there is a problem.
When a loved one brings their observations and concerns to us, several things can happen. In the best of all possible outcomes, we would wake up and say, Hey! you’re right! Thank you for loving me enough to wake me up about this. I’ll take care of it right now! That would save everyone a lot of pain, but unfortunately, that is not likely to happen. By the time others notice there’s a problem, we are likely to be well entrenched in our problem. We are also likely to be in some degree of denial and to feel our substance use is important to us. We might not want to give up the ‘fun’ of it for example, or we might not want to give up its benefits.
Consequently, our likely response to confrontation is a defensive one. Our thoughts and beliefs fortify themselves against the information we are receiving. We can think this person is simply mistaken or even worse–that they have ulterior motives, are messing with us, or just not smart enough to see how we’ve got this all under control. Our responses can range from dismissing their concerns to actively attacking their perceptions and even their integrity. In a worse case scenario, we can escalate to conflict, go into attack mode and shut them down as best we can. We can also shut down the relationship.
Power and Control Tactics in Avoidance
Sometimes we engage in intense interactions in order to avoid a painful truth. Avoidance isn’t always running away and ducking interaction. Sometimes arguing, blaming, shaming and other power and control tactics are also ways to avoid a painful truth. Here are some power and control strategies that divert attention away from your own problems:
Blaming–blaming another is often effective in diverting attention to ourselves. It occurs when one is confronted about personal behavior but chooses to blame the confronter for the problem. An example is that the person with a substance problem tells the concerned person, If you weren’t so hard to live with, I wouldn’t have to drink!
Shifting the focus–shifting the focus occurs when one is confronted and responds by pointing out the confronter’s problem instead of dealing with the information about the self. For example, if a loved one states concern about your drinking, you might shift the focus by saying, What about your shortcomings? You don’t clean the house, you’ve let yourself go, and you can’t get a good job?!
Gaslighting–gaslighting is a form of mental abuse that endeavors to make the confronter seem or feel crazy. For example, you may say to someone who is concerned about your drinking, No, you’re having flashbacks about your drunk dad. You know that was horribly traumatizing. Maybe you should get some help.
Intimidation–intimidation tactics seek to make others afraid to continue asserting their concerns and observations. They can cover a wide range of behaviors intended to induce fear such as responding to a confrontation with yelling or slamming things around.
Lost Control and the Scramble for Control
Substance problems are progressive in their nature if unchecked. Symptoms increase, as do the negative consequences of use across the range of one’s life experiences. It is a loss of control that deepens and widens. Early on, for example, one might lose control over behavior on weekends, using heavily, passing out, or forgetting all the details of the binge. As the problem deepens, the loss of control may extend to uncontrollable mood swings at work, angry outbursts with others, or depressive symptoms that sap energy and motivation. There are many possible examples of lost control, and while it is hard to pinpoint what particular set you may experience, it is certain they will occur and they will escalate in intensity and effect.
As we sense we are losing control of ourselves and our lives, we scramble for control. And, we are likely again and again to look in the wrong places for it. The unmanageability caused by substance use can seem like countless other things–other people’s personalities, the boss’s lack of appreciation for you, your partner’s disordered priorities, or even just a streak of ‘bad luck’. These amount to misinterpretations and result in misplaced efforts to regain personal control. It leads to even more chaos and unmanageability. Unfortunately too, it prolongs the suffering in active addiction as it causes delays in understanding the true problem and seeking the appropriate solutions.
If You are Ready to Overcome Addiction and All Its Related Chaos
It can take a long time to get ready for treatment–in large part because we get lost in our misunderstandings of what is at the core of our troubles. The illness of addiction itself has powerful ways of distorting our perceptions and impairing our ability to think logically, problem-solve, plan and make decisions. In many ways, the illness process ensures we will have to struggle hard to get hold of the problem, and then to fight it. However, we are very fortunate these days. We know a great deal about how addiction works, and a great deal about what it takes to recover from one. Luckily, there are many highly skilled people who have done the research, and there are many others who have expertise in applying that information through treatment modalities and programs.
We can avoid the solutions for long periods of time, but we cannot avoid the pain and suffering of an active addiction. One thing we can bank on though is that we will inevitably get sick and tired of being sick and tired. If you are there, you should give us a call. We are in the business of helping people in your situation get the help they need.
We offer free consultations designed to pinpoint your treatment needs and preferences, clarify your insurance coverage and match effective treatment options to those. Treatment works and there is always hope for recovery, no matter how hopeless you feel or how severe your situation seems. Give us a call today and begin to apply the solutions in your life.