Why Addicts Choose Addiction Over Friends and Family

Having a functional relationship with somebody who is suffering from an addiction is always difficult. Addiction can cause people to lie, cheat, and steal their way to their next fix, and this can take a huge emotional toll on family and friends.

Slowly but surely, relationships between the addict and their family and friends can become strained and break down, and this can lead many loved ones to say those fateful words — “it’s me or the drugs.”

While you may think this is an effective way to prompt the addict to change, more often than not, the addict chooses their addiction over the people that they love the most.

For family and friends, this can be a hard pill to swallow. This post aims to explain why addicts choose addiction over family and friends, as well as help loved ones who desire to stay by the addict’s side make better sense of the addict’s hurtful decision.

They Don’t Really Have a Choice

When given the choice between their addiction and their relationships, true addicts will almost always choose their addiction.

Why? Well, the answer is simple — they never really had a choice to begin with.

Throughout the process of addiction, an addict’s brain and body develops an inherent need for the substance and becomes dependent upon it.

To someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they need the release it provides in order to function and everything else comes second to that. Without the substance, they feel incapable of maintaining a relationship or even a job. Even simple human functions like eating come second to it.

person under blanket

If you’re someone who’s never suffered from an addiction, this can be a hard concept to come to terms with.

Many people take the addict’s ‘choice’ personally, but the truth is that the addict really has no choice in the matter. They’re not choosing the substance over you, they’re not choosing anything at all. The addiction simply means that the substance comes before everything else.

Ultimatums Don’t Work

When trying to help someone break away from addiction, you may seek advice from experts. In many cases, this advice will involve trying to reason with your loved one and showing them ‘tough love’. This tough love usually takes the form of emotional bargaining or ultimatums. For example:

“If you truly love me, you’ll quit drinking right now”

“I’ve had enough. Quit taking drugs or we’re through”

Although people often advise using these sorts of tactics, they simply don’t work and they can be extremely damaging to relationships. What these ultimatums actually do is leave the addict feeling unloved and unsupported.

Ultimatums make addicts feel as though their family’s love and support is conditional upon quitting. However, their addiction causes them to feel that quitting is impossible and they have no choice but to accept the breakdown of their relationships as a result.

People that are fighting addiction need unconditional love and support from their friends and family, and while this doesn’t translate to condoning their behavior, it does mean that you should take giving up on them or the threat of abandonment off the table.

It’s Not Just Their Decision

When you say to an addict “you need to quit or I’m leaving you” there are two decisions involved in that statement.

One is the responsibility of the addict — they hypothetically have the choice to quit.

The other lies with the person giving the ultimatum — they also have the choice to not leave.

When you ask someone to choose you or their addiction, you place all the responsibility of the relationship’s survival on the addict. While this ultimatum feels perfectly rational to a sober person, to the addict, it will only reinforce that the only truly dependable thing in his or her life is the addiction.

They Need Unconditional Love and Support

Even if an addict chooses their addiction over their friends and family, it is essential that their support network show tolerance and patience. While addiction takes an emotional toll on everybody involved, addicts need love and support in order to get better.

At the depths of their addiction, addicts may be unable to fully comprehend the damage they’re doing to others, but as they begin to fight their addiction, they’ll be able to make amends for their wrongdoings and rebuild their relationships with the people who stood by them.

Final Thoughts

Although cutting ties with an addict that seems to have chosen their addiction over their family may seem like the right choice in the heat of the moment, it won’t help them to progress towards their goal of sobriety if you truly do intend to stay and help see the person through his or her struggle.

Cutting ties can also lead to negative impacts for the family members involved. The emotional toll of abandoning someone in need will likely weigh heavily. That may be what you, the loved one ultimately needs. However, if you choose to maintain your relationship, try your best to be patient and understanding and seek the professional help for your loved one that they so desperately need.

About the Author

Paula Nicola, M.D.
Dr. Nicola is the Facility Director at Renu. She is a trained and board certified medical doctor with specialized training in addiction medicine.

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