You only have to turn on the TV or open any of your social media apps to find evidence that the United States Women’s National Soccer Team won the FIFA World Cup this month. Tears, sweat, larger-than-life grins, streamers, confetti, and a thunderous crowd were all accounted for. Not in attendance: co-captain Megan Rapinoe’s brother, who at one point became a stranger to his sister because of his addiction.

megan-rapinoe's-brother-1Don’t worry, you don’t have to know anything about soccer to see where this is going. Addiction turns loved ones into strangers. The soccer star is one of many, many people who have experienced this.

“My Loved One Has Become a Stranger to Me”

In an addict’s mind, there is nothing more important than access to their drug of choice. That access weighs greater than even friends and family. In order to get access to their drug of choice, addicts are likely to participate in destructive behaviors. These behaviors are seen as a series of bad choices to the rest of the world.

For example, addicts may not show up for work, steal money from loved ones, forget to pick their kids up from school, and miss rent payments. After so many of these unfortunate decisions, you may feel as if you don’t even know your loved one anymore.

One of Many Cases: Megan Rapinoe’s Brother

megan-rapinoe's-brother-3Megan Rapinoe’s brother Brian was her childhood idol. He was actually the one who introduced her to soccer. The athlete admits that her brother’s addiction — in its darkest points — had turned him into someone she hardly recognized. At age 15, Brian was caught bringing meth to school and had been in and out of incarceration ever since.

In an ESPN report, Brian explains that his only drive while incarcerated was to get another hit. In order to do so, he had to learn and actively participate in prison culture. If he fit in with the white prison gang, he’d have easier access to drugs. Eventually, Brian harbored racial prejudices and was covered in white supremacist tattoos.

The tattoos, the prejudice, the delinquent behavior and attraction to the next fastest drug — these are all things that labeled Brian as “stranger” to Megan and the rest of the family.

A Game of Survival

Many drugs cause surges of neurotransmitters in the brain that are much larger than those naturally produced with healthy rewards (like eating or exercising). Dopamine is one of the largest players. The drug produces a large surge of dopamine, then the drug user feels pleasure. Over time, the drug user will build up a tolerance and dopamine supplies will become depleted. Those healthy reward behaviors will no longer be able to stimulate enough dopamine; only the drug can. Without the euphoric high, life becomes intolerable and the addict is pushed to using in order to appease the brain’s hijacked reward system.

Using becomes about survival.

Simply put, an addict uses because they feel as if they can’t survive without their drug of choice. In order to save itself the extended efforts of cognitive processing, the brain uses shortcuts for decision-making in which survival is the be-all end-all. In other words, addicts will make quick and fast decisions to use their drug of choice in order to survive, regardless of the consequences of those decisions.

This is how your addicted loved one turns into a stranger.

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Your Loved One Isn’t Permanently Gone

While the decisions your addict makes and the stranger they seem to have turned into may very well be heartbreaking, it’s important to remember that the person they once were is still there. These faulty decisions are byproducts of the chemical dependency created by your loved one’s addiction.

Recovery will help bring your loved one back. Detox is the best first step to break that chemical dependency and start your loved one on their journey through recovery.

Judgement, shame, and blame will only push an addict to keep using. It’s important to treat your addicted loved one with compassion without enabling their addiction. This is seen between Megan Rapinoe and her brother. Brian Rapinoe is actively working on his recovery and may not have been able to witness his sister’s triumph in person, but there’s no love lost between the two. Her birthday shoutout to him is evidence of that.

If your loved one is struggling with substance abuse, our addiction counselors can help. We’re available 24/7 by phone: 855-997-4702