My family has a personal connection to the opioid epidemic. Shortly after my grandmother’s death 10 years ago, my grandfather took a quick turn for the worse in terms of grief and coping.
He continues to be in his ever non-linear stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – though I would say acceptance is the phase in which he lingers farthest from.
When he lost the love of his life, he did not know how to cope. Because of this, and because of the never-ending pain he experienced every second, he decided to become involved in abusing substances.
Over this ten-year period, he has found himself overdosed twice, in the presence of prostitutes as a means of comfort, and considering buying a gun in order to protect himself from drug dealers he had yet to pay. He has done the worst, and yet continues to deny any wrong-doing, take any responsibility, or apologize for even the most minuscule inconvenience he placed on my parents being there for him. It continues to be a never-ending story of people doing him wrong, causing him pain, and him never being in the wrong. From this, my family has much frustration. As the social worker in the midst of this all, I find more empathy than others, and I remain hopeful that one day, perhaps after an inspiring message from his granddaughter the social worker, he will make the decision to try.
One thing too many people tend to forget is the underlying issue. Here, this issue is grief as a result of the death of my grandmother. This loss allowed my grandfather to attempt to replace her with drugs and prostitutes. And because these things are now in her place, he must feel as though he loves them as much as he loves my grandmother. However, every day he is without her, he is again reminded of the pain from loss. And because of his lack of coping abilities and lack of grief therapy and counseling, he resorts to the technique he knows best: heroin, cocaine, and no-strings sex.
This pain and grief does not excuse his decisions, but perhaps they add humanity to the drug-addict image you have. Many people grieve in different ways, and when you do not understand how to cope with a loss because you have never experienced one so great, it is almost understandable why addiction and substance abuse remain cyclical in my grandfather’s life.
This does not mean we give up as a family, nor as a society. This means we wholly give ourselves to serve the loved ones struggling with addiction. We tell them that when they are ready for help, we are there and have the listed resources, phone numbers, and time to actually help them. We do NOT do an “intervention,” as this places blame on the individual, and only enhances their desire for drugs afterwards as they feel attacked. We do not laugh in their face, we do not tell them we doubt their ability to change. We become ready, and we do not lose hope. Because at any second of any day, they could decide to try. And when they make the life-altering decision, there needs to be an effective support system in place to ensure a chance at success.