How To Help a Person with Addiction?
“I was a heroin and crack addict and alcoholic for 20 years. I would steal on a daily basis and have been to jail several times for drug- and alcohol – related offenses. I got sick and tired of being sick. I am only seven months into recovery, but now I wake up every morning just happy to wake up.
“My most difficult day in recovery is a thousand times better than one in active addiction. I want to make sure every addict knows there’s a solution. No addict needs to feel helpless. I want to give addicts hope that there is something that works. There is recovery for everyone who wants it.” – David, a 38-year-old recovering addict
In the United States, at least 22 million adults, adolescents and even children are addicted to alcohol, drugs or both. If every addict affects just three family members, that adds up to more than 130 million people who are impacted by chemical dependence in one way or another. The devastating social problems closely associated with addiction include family disintegration, domestic violence and child abuse.
Although this situation is disturbing, we must keep in mind that there is hope. Hope comes from understanding this disease and learning just how treatable it is.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Drug addiction is a dependency on a street drug or a medication. When you’re addicted, you may not be able to control your drug use and you may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes. You may want to quit, but most people find they can’t do it on their own.”
When medical researchers and social scientists first started studying addictive behavior in the 1930s, alcoholics and drug users were thought to be seriously morally flawed people who simply lacked the willpower to stop. Today, thankfully, addiction is generally recognized as a chronic, but treatable, brain disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that the brains of addicted people “have been modified by the drug in such a way that absence of the drug makes a signal to their brains that is equivalent to the signal of when you are starving… It’s as powerful as that.”
Adolescent and adults take drugs for many reasons. Cocaine and heroin, for instance, initially cause intense feelings of pleasure.
People suffering from social anxiety, stress and depression often start using drugs to lessen their sense of distress and hopelessness. Recently, we’ve seen many professional baseball players, cyclists and runners take anabolic steroids and other drugs to give them a competitive advantage.
And some individuals, especially teenagers and young adults, start using marijuana or the party drug ecstasy because of peer pressure, curiosity or the desire to engage in on-the-edge daring behaviors.
Dr. Mark Wallenbring, director of Treatment Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says that 95 percent of Americans dependent on alcohol or other drugs started using them before they turned 20. And research shows that adolescents who abuse drugs are more inclined to be disruptive, do poorly academically and drop out of school. In addition, they’re at greater risk of unplanned pregnancies, violence and infectious disease.
Today’s students are often first exposed to cigarettes and alcohol in middle school, or even in elementary school. By the time they enter high school, teenagers can encounter a supermarket of drugs, often through older kids who are already veteran drug abusers, or at parties and dances where drugs are used.
All this is happening, unfortunately, at the same time that teenagers are experimenting with new and risky behaviors. “From a kid’s perspective, there’s a lot of a good reason to use drugs,” says Dr. Michael Dennis, a research psychologist at the Illinois-based Chestnut Health Systems. “They’re learning to try different things (and) they have impulse problems with their brain where they don’t have very good judgment about how risky something is.”
Why Do Some People Become Addicted?
- The most important influence on children is their home environment. Growing up in a family where parents or older siblings abuse alcohol or drugs greatly increases a child’s chance of developing his or her own substance abuse problems.
- Severe childhood trauma – including abuse or neglect, prolonged family conflict and other traumatic experiences – play a major role in shaping a child’s brain chemistry and later vulnerability to addiction.
- Peer pressure, especially during adolescence, can persuade even those boys and girls without any other risk factor to try drugs. Kids who aren’t going well academically in school or who have poor social skills are further at risk for drug abuse.
- Adults who live or work in a social environment where drinking and drug use is common are more likely to abuse drugs.
- One’s genes play a big role in addiction, accounting for at least 40 percent of an individual’s vulnerability to becoming an addict. More than six out of ten alcoholics have alcoholism in their family histories.
- Mental illness is another significant risk factor. Those adolescents and adults suffering from anxiety, depression or mood illnesses are especially vulnerable to becoming full-blown addicts.
A Treatable Disease
Although addiction can’t be cured, it’s a treatable disease. But recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is an arduous life-long task. By the time addicts usually enter treatment, the disease has taken over every part of their lives. Getting drugs, taking drugs and experiencing the effects of drugs, in short, has dominated most or all of the addict’s waking moments. And that’s why, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the best recovery programs incorporate a wide variety of rehab services into a comprehensive treatment regimen – addressing the addict’s medical, psychological, social, vocational and legal needs.
Whatever recovery program is chosen, family support is essential. In a national survey of adults who have immediate family member with a recovering drug or alcohol addiction, “family support/pressure” was the number one reason given for the addict’s changed behavior. Outpatient, residential and inpatient treatment programs often use educational and therapy sessions focused on helping the person not only get sober but prevent a relapse.
Couseling, whether individual, family or group, with a psychologist, psychiarist or addiction specialist, can keep former addicts from returning to their old lifestyles of drug use. Moreover, counseling can help to resolve job, legal and family problems. Behavioral therapies are geared to helping patients change their attitudes and behaviors while increasing life skills to handle stress and environmental cues that trigger drug cravings. Both Alcholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are self-help groups using the 12-step model first developed by AA in 1935. Although these groups can differ in their approach of dealing with recovering addicts, their basic message is the same: because addiction is a chornic disorder, there’s always a danger of relapse. So ongoing support by fellow addicts must be maintained.
Addicts work through the 12 steps by admitting they can’t control their addiction, recognizing a “Greater Power,” examining past errors with the help of a sponsor and making amends for these errors, learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior and helping others who suffer from the same addictions.
Drug abuse can involve a variety of stimulants: marijuana and hashish; barbiturates and benzodiazepines like Seconal, Valium and Xanax; methmphetamines, cocaine; hallucinogens; inhalants; narcotic painkillers and “club drugs” like Ecstasy. Each of them can cause different symptoms. But Mayo Clinic advises parents to look for at least five warning signs of drug use by their children:
- Problems at school – missing classes or school, sudden disinterest in school or school activities, drop in grades;
- Physical health issues – lack of energy and motivation;
- Neglected appearance – lack of interest in clothing, grooming or looks;
- Changes in behavior – going to great lengths to keep family out of their room or any drastic change in relationships with family and friends;
- Spending money – asking for large amounts of cash or finding hidden money.
In the United States today, there are over 13,000 licensed addiction treatment programs. These are usually listed in the yellow pages under: “alcohol,” “addiction treatment” and “drug.” Local branches of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are often listed in the white pages. Most of these programs and organizaitons also have websites and can be found by plugging the above key words into Google or other search engines.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse website (http://drugabuse.gov/nidahome.html) includes educational materials about specific drugs as well as the consequences, prevention and treatment of drug abuse. The site also has resources for young people, parents, teachers, physicians and other health professionals.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Source: Christopher New Note 537, The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; Tel. 1-888-298-4050; Email: [email protected]
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