What can I do?

Dear Carer,

Assalamu alaikum. This is a letter from me to you. I have worked alongside both addicts and their carers during my time working with Muslims and I have seen the different methods families use in order to try to help their loved-one overcome their addiction. The chances are you are visiting this site long before your addicted loved-one. Unfortunately, as carers we tend to seek help well in advance of the one who is most in need of it. Well done, for searching beyond yourself for extra support. You, as a carer will need a lot of support along this journey.

Social network theories stress how important it is for newly recovering adicts to have in place a positive group of core caregivers  so that they can share treatment goals and aid in preventing relapse (Copello, Orford, Hodgeson, Tober & Barrett, 2002). Studies show that when Muslim families seek help for themselves there is more chance of the Muslim addict getting and staying clean. (Al-Krenawi et al., 1997). Unfortunately, we find Muslim families are the least likely group to both encourage their loved-ones to get treatment and they are less likely to be proactively involved in the treatment care. Its time this changed.

Muslims are the least likely group among addicts to seek proffessional help and part of that is due to the reluctance of the family to put down boundaries or encourage their loved-one to seek help from the available services. Sometimes this is also due to their lack of knowledge or a fear of Western treatment services.

Our aim as the carers, friends or family of an active, using addict, is to get them to seek proffessional help as soon as possible. Wherever possible, the family must stand united and not become divided amongst themselves. Each family member must clearly state the same message, that is for them to get the proffessional help they need.

Unfortunately, Muslims are more likely to try every other intervention possible before they realise it is proffessional help their loved-one needs. Here are some examples of ways in which carers may attempt to ‘help’ the addict;

Silence: Many Muslim carers feel at a loss. Often parents do not understand the ways of their childrens culture and cannot relate to this kind of behaviour. Lack of education can play a part in not knowing what to say or how to address the issue. Sometimes, we as Muslims can lack the tools to deal with things and it can cause feelings of anxiety and anguish that we do not know which way to turn. Sometimes we can fall into the ‘just make duah’ mentality. We think that if we just pray hard to Allah, He will solve things for us. However, Islam teaches us to take a proactive role and that we must also tie our camels along side our prayers. If we saw someone about to fall off a cliff or walk into a fire, we would try hard to save them from that disaster. We need to get ourselves out of that state of denial and make a firm decision to afront the problem head on. This is not something we can do alone. We must not only seek proffessional help, but turn to another member of the family who we believe will help us in our mission. By sweeping things under the proverbial carpet, we are only allowing the addict to continue in their behaviour. We have not provided any consequences that will allow them to stop and think about where they are heading. Silence is never golden in addiction. It is the silence that keeps us all sick. 

Pampering: Giving into their every whim and desire will not solve the problem. Addicts need very firm boundaries. Left to their own devices, an addict will take as much as they can without giving in retur n. Pampering may include paying off their debts to dealers or other fines they may incur as a result of their behaviour. This will never help an addict as we are merely making it easier for them to keep using drugs or engaging in other addictive behaviours. This is called ‘enabling’ as we are enabling them to continue in their actions without any consequences. Carers need to be clear with their loved-one exactly what is acceptable and must NEVER accept the unnacceptable. This is part of taking a tough-love approach

Marriage: This is quite possibly the most irresponsible method of trying to help an addict change or give up on their addiction. I have seen many times young men and women in their twenties or thirties ‘married off’, often spouses brought over from their country of origin in the hope that marriage will instill a sense of responsibility in them. Parents hope that if their son or daughter is married they will become busy and preoccupied with their new spouse and will no longer feel the urge to go out and engage in their addiction. Unfortunately, this can only exaccerbate the problem. There have been many cases where the addict is forced into marriage beyond their will, in same cases even drugged or in extreme cases they have told me they have been given some kind of ‘magic potion’ to go along with the ceremony. Once the marriage takes place, the addict can feel a great sense of resentment and in most cases the drug taking or addictive behaviour continues or escalates. This only goes on to bring another person into hardship and inevitably children are born into this awful situation. In cases where the addict is a woman, children can be born to a mother who is dependent upon substances. Babies are born addicted to drugs like heroin and in many cases are eventually, removed from the family home and placed in foster care or adopted permanently. Marriage will not solve the addiction. An addict needs to learn how to love and care for themself before they are given responsibility to love another.

Beating or imprisoning in the home : This is a crime in itself and is punishable by law. Carers justify this strong action, out of desperation for their loved-one, hoping that by locking them away in the house they cannot go out and engage in their addiction or obtain substances. Perhaps, they force the addict into detox at home which can be medically very dangerous, especially in the case of alcohol withdrawal which can result in sudden death.  Detox should be done under the monitoring of a proffessional medic. Carers sometimes believe that this is the answer. However, forcing an addict to get clean in this way is taking away their choice. In order for an addict to change, they need to make a strong intention. This is not only an Islamic understanding, but also widely reverred in the world of psychology such as theorists as John Bargh. The danger is, that as soon as the addict is detoxed, or the carer believes they are now ‘cured’ as soon as the addict is released, he or she will resume back to their addiction immediately. Addicts need to willingly direct their own recovery programme and this means making a decision to get help and take responsibility for their own self. Please never beat or imprison your addict. It is not permissible in Islam, or by Western laws and you will never get the result that you are looking for, and thats a fact.

Boycotting: In some cases, it may be necessary to cut off from our loved-one. If the addict has become violent, aggressive or has been stealing from the family, it may be time to ask the addict to leave the family home. Domestic violence and addiction often go hand in hand and in these cases, it is not befitting to put up with this behaviour. Having implemented a tough-love approach we will have placed down boundaries and explained in advance that if the addict behaves in certain ways, he or she will be asked to leave. If this is not possible, then the carer may need to find a way to leave themself. It is important that we act upon ultimatums so the addict knows exactly that we are not willing to accept their behaviour. If we allow them to overstep the boundaries, even just once, they will continue to ovestep them. Islamically, we need to ensure that we keep ourselves and other family members safe, and this is most important. Sometimes carers are afraid that if they ask the addict to leave the home, or in some cases stop seeing them, that they are displeasing Allah. However, safety is paramount, and this can include our mental and emotional health. Each case will differ, and its important that we weigh up how much contact we can or cannot have with our loved-one, especially in the cases where children are involved. Sometimes carers are afraid that the addict will get worse if we ask them to leave. However, allowing them to stay wont change them. In my experience, addicts do sometimes get worse quicker when they are asked to leave, however it is the consequence that they need to turn things around. In the long-run they embrace recovery quicker when they realise the family are unwilling to accept their behaviour and are very clearn in their boundaries. If we allow them to stay we are just enabling them to stay in their addictions for longer. 

Treatment ‘back home’: Often out of desperation, when all else has failed, carers of addicts may wish to send their loved-ones ‘back home’ to countries like Pakistan or Bangladesh. This can often be one of the most drastic and ineffective attempts to get our loved-ones better. Having worked with some young men who were sent back to such countries for treatment there were times I was horrified at what I heard. There were stories of being tied to ceiling fans, spat on, called names such as ‘pig’ and ‘dog’, which can be highly offensive in some Muslim cultures. Men were heavily sedated for days on end with no comprehension of where time had gone. Some were beaten and even punished through starving. When the family came to visit they were fed lies, that the client had been uncooperative or that they needed further ‘treatment’ so that the family would pay for more time. 

Western Treatment Services: It is very often when every other box has been ticked that they finally, out of sheer exhaustion try proffessional help.  Our non-Muslim counterparts generally seek out help from the right sources first. Its time Muslims changed our mentality and encouraged our loved-ones in the right way from the begining. The longer they go without help, the longer their addiction will continue. Why is it that families prefer treatment ‘back home’ rather than in the country they are residing? Perhaps it is more affordable, or more likley it is a fear of western services. Familiies often fear that western services will not understand their culture and that only Muslims can help Muslims. This is an unreasonable fear. Most western treatment services provide wholistic treatment, whereby they will ask clients about all the aspects of their life, and how spirituality may be a beneficial component of their recovery programme. Muslim carers must overcome this fear of Western services if they truly want to help their loved-ones. Muslim carers must make Western treatment services their first port of call and not their last.

So dearest carer, I hope that this letter from me to you has helped you to understand the importance of seeking the correct proffessional help for your loved-one. Now it is time to be an ambassador of this message to all the other family members or friends who are around the addict. It may be that the addict tries to split the family. He or she will use very cunning tactics to ‘divide and conquer’ so that they can protect their addiction. They may say one thing to one family member, and another thing to someone else, in the hope of gaining sympathy or providing excuses. They may attempt to shift the blame in order to justify their actions. It is important as a family we do not allow the addict to do this. It is by singing the same tune, and repeating this message of what is not acceptable and that they must get help, to the addict in a united way that he or she will eventually succumb to the idea and solution themselves. I make duah to Allah that He makes it easy for you and I make duah that you are able to convince your loved-one to seek help. Ameen.

Lynne Ali-Northcott MSc

(Addiction Counsellor and Carer Support)

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