Addiction, Stress and the Autoimmune System: The Physical Consequences on Parents and Families

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Announcements,

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Today, June 29th, is World Scleroderma Day. Per the Mayo Clinic, “Scleroderma is a group of rare, chronic diseases that involve the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues — the fibers that provide Tthe framework and support for your body. There is no cure, but symptoms can be treated easing the pain and discomfort.

In some people, Scleroderma affects only the skin. But in many people, Scleroderma also harms structures beyond the skin — such as blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract. Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which structures are affected.” The problem is with your immune system, which causes your body to make too much of the protein collagen. As a result, your skin gets thick and tight, and scars can form on your lungs and kidneys. Your blood vessels can thicken and not work the way they should leading to tissue damage and high blood pressure.

Scleroderma an autoimmune disease that often leads to, or is predicated by, other diseases such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, Lupus, and Raynaud’s, a disease which cuts the blood flow off to extremities in cool weather. Raynaud’s is symptom of Scleroderma. These conditions attack the immune system, all with many uncomfortable, painful and even life-threatening implications.

What does this have to do with addiction and recovery?

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Absolutely nothing and absolutely everything.

Autoimmune diseases are often stress-induced, and the physical and emotional consequences of addiction within the family – on a parent – can surface through such illnesses. It takes great courage to manage the painful physical symptoms and deterioration each day. We know because Carla is dealing with all of three of these extremely difficult conditions and has been for several years. Thanks to the care and concern of a very dear friend and coworker at school, she was able to seek help and get an early diagnosis.

If you see Carla in the grocery store, there is a good chance she will have gloves on because the cooler temperature turn her fingers grey and her toes purple. The gloves protect herself. In the winter, you’ll see her wearing them at school (yes, the fingers in this pic are hers). She focuses on healthy eating, exercise and enough sleep – a daily discipline and sacrifice, Carla works to manage each day the best she can.  But her journey is not easy. Carla’s body is turning on itself and things we take for granted, like trips to the dentist, reveal new, progressive and painful impacts. But for those of you who know Carla, she is resilient and courageous and approaches each day, one day at a time, and refuses to give up, or give in.

You’d probably never know Carla is struggling with these diseases because she is not one to complain. She’s a lot like her mother in that regard. She leans on those closest to her while she steadfastly manages her conditions, removing herself from the environmental or physical factors that trigger the painful elements of her diseases.  She spends more time thinking about her health leaving her with a certain level of uncertainty about her future. She is less social simply because she doesn’t feel well.  But she has an interior joy that is beautiful and contagious.

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Take Care of You

Many of you may be dealing with a chronic disease. Maybe it’s addiction or maybe you are that parent watching your child struggle with substance abuse. That worry, that pain, that emptiness can trigger autoimmune diseases and at this time, there are no real cures.

Are you caring for yourself?  What specific, daily actions do you take for your own emotional health and well-being? Is your diet nutritious and your physical exercise consistent?  Do you use silent walks, prayer, yoga or meditation to calm and center yourself?

Think of these things now through the pain and struggle. Keeping yourself healthy is important to your family unit and to the one affected by addiction. This will require great courage, discipline and sacrifice on your part. You might feel like giving up or don’t have the energy to focus on you. If anything, you share this need for internal fortitude, courage, sacrifice and letting go with your addicted family member.

Despite our best efforts to manage stress and stay healthy, the pain of watching a child or loved one struggle with addiction (or any other significant stressor) may result in an autoimmune disease. All you can do is what’s in your control by talking to your doctor, prioritizing yourself and getting the care you need to manage day-to-day. The rest we put in God’s hands.

Let’s all pause today and send prayers of strength and healing to those experiencing painful and stressful personal situations, and those battling chronic disease. Faith, love and prayer can be the greatest healer of all.

To understand more about this disease, please watch Living with Scleroderma or contact your healthcare professional.