Caught in the Wake of a Loved One’s Addiction

Addiction hurts more than just the addict.

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“It’s like I’m walking through a fog and it’s blurry, and I can’t see, and I don’t know what’s out there,” Jane (whose name has been changed) said with a distant look in her eyes, as she described what it feels like to deal with her addicted siblings every day.

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) one in every three people will develop a clinically significant alcohol or drug problem at some point in their lives, and one out of eight people will become dependent on them.

In Jane’s family, it is her two older brothers and her older sister that are experiencing addictions to drugs and alcohol.

“The drug problem had been going on my whole life, but I started realizing the changes when I was 9,” she said “and that’s when I went from being a kid to maturing super fast, I was forced to because of the situations I faced with my family members”.

On a typical day, Jane has to wake up at four am to drive her mom to work. Once she has dropped her mom off, Jane goes back home to try and squeeze in a couple more hours of sleep before she has to get ready for school at 7 am. To make matters worse, during this whole tiring process, she is barraged with comments from her siblings. “Shut up you’re loud, nobody cares” they say.

The struggle doesn’t end when Jane gets to school though.

“At school its a constant battle,”  she said. “All I can think about is my problems and its affected me so much. I feel down, I feel like an outcast, I don’t believe in myself.”

After Jane has grappled with the stress of keeping up with her honors and AP classes, she is faced with her siblings’ problems and substance abuse when she gets back home.

Lately, Jane explains, “I have to deal with my brother’s police situations, like meeting up with his [parole officer] and going to his court cases, because my mom was crying and focusing on being disappointed in him.”

One of the biggest problems that she has to deal with on a daily basis are her sibling’s constant outbursts and drug-induced fits of rage. Jane explained that the most common outburst occurs when people accidentally bump into her sister and her sister screams and verbally abuses the innocent stranger.

Jane says her siblings’ addictions are what causes their “unstable state of mind.” She continues by saying that the drugs cause them to do “crazy stuff in public and make scenes that [she] would have to deal with because [her] mom didn’t want to accept the reality of her children.”

Having to play such a big role in taking care of her family members has forced Jane to mature faster than most teens nowadays, which has proven to have affected her mental health.

“I’ve focused so much on them that I’ve lost myself and I don’t know who I am,” she expresses “and every single day I feel like an outcast, like I don’t belong because no one understands me because it’s hard to explain to people that bad state of mind that they’re in.”

Although Jane feels that “it’s a mental breakdown type of day, every single day,” she has come to accept the situation she is in and decided to grow and learn from it.

“I just have to face it and accept it,” Jane said, taking a breath before continuing “everything that I’ve been through, it defines me and why I think the way I do.”

In a final moment of reflection, as if she was attempting to see through the “fog” again, Jane concluded by saying “I wanna give up every single day, but there’s always something in me that tells me to keep going, so I do.”