Month: February 2017

Usually when we hear the word disease we think of something like cancer or diabetes. Alcoholism or addiction is not something most people think of as a disease. When they hear it called a disease it sounds confusing and even kind of annoying. After all, to drink or get high or play video games or have sex is a choice right? People with a real disease don’t have a choice. At least that is the logic.

There is a lot of evidence to show that addiction, in all it’s forms, is more than psychological – it is more than a choice. Scientists have found real physiological evidence to support that addiction is not just a choice. Some people are more prone to becoming addicts than others. It is the same with many other diseases. For example, if you have heart disease or diabetes in your family your chances of also getting it greatly increases. In the same way, if you have alcoholism or addiction in your family, your chances of becoming an alcoholic or addict greatly increase.

My point in this article is not to go into all the scientific evidence to prove that addiction is actually a disease. My point is to help you think of addiction differently. If we see addiction for what it really is, more than just a choice, I believe we will have compassion on the individual and then be able to help treat them. A correct diagnosis is the basis on which treatment can begin.

Personally, I don’t know if labeling addiction as a disease is really helpful. In some ways I think it brings the wrong things into focus. Instead of discussing how to help the suffering addict and the loved ones he or she is affecting, we enter a debate on the definition of disease. The point is not whether or not addiction fits into our classical definition of disease, the point is that the addict no longer has a choice, they need treatment and without it they will die.

You may still be saying, “Yes but to get better all they have to do is make the decision to stop.” The hard part about that statement is that in a way it is absolutely correct. The problem is they can’t stop. They don’t have the ability to make that decision. Even if they did make the decision they are powerless to act on it. The addiction is stronger than any decision. Ask yourself this: isn’t the addict in your life the most miserable person you know? Don’t you think that if they had the ability to change their life by simply making a decision to stop that they would? So if they can’t stop on their own then what is the answer?

The answer is they need treatment. The disease needs to be interrupted. The interruption needs to be dramatic and powerful yet laced with love and compassion. And the only way this can happen is if it is guided by a professional. Please don’t read the information contained here and think you can go out and save your loved one on your own. Just as you wouldn’t attempt to treat cancer on your own, don’t attempt to treat the addict on your own. Botched attempts at treatment can actually make things worse.

If you have been around the Alcoholics Anonymous program at all you have probably heard the title of this post as a preamble to the reading of the 12 Steps. In the life of every alcoholic, drug addict, video game addict, sex addict, there are times where they make attempts to change their behavior. Usually they try to cut back. Or they even quit for a period of time. Or they only engage their addiction on a certain day or a certain time. They say things like, “I was drinking too much so I only drink on the weekends now.” They may tell you that they only smoke weed now and gave up the “hard stuff.” The ways of “cutting back” are endless and creative. When we hear these things, as a loved one of the addict, we are encouraged and hopeful that there is going to be real and lasting change.

A couple of years ago I saw my sister and brother-in-law heading back down the road of alcoholism. They had quit drinking for a couple of years but had never actually entered recovery. Let me pause here to make a quick distinction: quitting does not equal recovery. There are individuals who have the ability to quit for a period of time, often early in their addiction, but without a plan and method to recover from whatever sent them down the road of addiction to begin with, they are in grave danger of returning. When they return they find that their addiction continued even while they had quit. It is the demon returning to find their home swept and in order so they invite hundreds more demons. The next occurrence of their addiction is more terrible than the first. This was the case with my sister and brother-in-law. When they went back out it started slowly and everyone was convinced it wasn’t a big deal. Actually, no one was convinced, they were just hopeful in the face of fear. Having the education in addiction that I have I knew how it all would end. I could see the end and I knew the terrible future that awaited. It was two years of torture watching the slow train wreck of their lives. At one point I wrote a letter to them letting them know their lies weren’t fooling anyone and that they were on a slippery slope. They acknowledged they had a problem and wanted to change. Over the next year or so there were several attempts at change. But the attempts were half measures. If I’m being honest, even my letter was a half measure on my part.

Half measures give us hope. When my sister and brother-in-law acknowledged their problem and that they were going to change I was hopeful. Even though I knew better, I thought there was a chance they could change. After all, they had stopped drinking before. But what they had never done is enter or make any attempts at recovery. What is important to recognize as family or friends of someone suffering from addiction is that any attempt of willpower is a half measure. Just as recovery requires complete honesty on the part of the addict or alcoholic we must be completely honest about what we see in the life of our loved one. Accepting their half measures will only help them stay sick. Let’s call it what it is: half measures are lies and manipulation designed to get you off their back. Their demons are comfortable where they are and will do anything to keep you from interrupting the good thing they got going on. That’s why, when you try to stop them, they fight like hell.

Recognizing half measures for what they are is a big step towards getting your loved one help. If you can no longer be manipulated then you can set clear boundaries. The reality is that when someone close to you is sick, their sickness effects you too. If you are also sick, chances are you will keep them sick. In order for them to get well you must also get well. You also must not employ half measures. For example, if you set a boundary where your loved one is not allowed to sleep in your house if they have been out drinking or getting high then you need to stick to it. If they come to you after a night or day of partying and it is either sleep in your house or the sleep on the streets you need to let them sleep on the streets. If you allow them to stay in your house then your boundary was a half measure. Remember, half measures avail us nothing. In other words, they don’t work. In fact, they do the opposite. I know it’s hard to tell a loved one that they have to sleep on the street but what if that is the only way they will get well? By allowing them to stay in your house you have robbed them of the chance for a new life. Think about that! Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get your loved one well? Or do you want to stay sick with them as long as it is a little more comfortable? Wouldn’t you sacrifice a few days of terrible for a new life of awesome? Or do you want to stay in this life of mediocre misery? There is help. There is recovery. There is a good life. Others have it. Others have done it. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

Last night I heard the story of a young lady, twenty-four years old, who didn’t have any sober ups left. In case you are new to the world of addiction this means her addiction finally took her life. She had a two year old son and had gotten sober for nearly three years. But a few months ago her roommate noticed that her behavior started to change. It was a slow progression at first but as the days and weeks went along it became more and more apparent. Finally her roommate asked her if she was using again. She was. Her drug of choice was heroin. This beautiful young lady couldn’t live with the guilt and shame of her addiction any longer. She lost hope. Her bondage was so great that she saw only one option – suicide. They found her hanging from a bridge.

My wife’s cousin got married a couple years ago to a young man who had managed to put his life together despite a battle with drugs and alcohol. They had a son together. He had been sober for a while but he worked on fishing boats in Alaska and at some point along the way, while at work, he went back out with his addiction. His alcohol use and heroin addiction became so bad that the young couple separated and finally divorced. Two weeks ago he was found dead. He had choked to death in his own vomit.

When I got into treatment one of the things they taught me is that there are really only two options for alcoholics and addicts: jail or death. As long as someone is active in their addiction one of these will get them.

Recently I found out about a gal I went to school with had a problem with alcohol. She is married with high school age kids. On the outside they looked like the perfect family. But she had her secrets. Thankfully her family confronted her and got her into treatment. Unfortunately it was a low quality program so she didn’t get all the tools she needed to deal with her alcoholism. When she got home she was sober for a while but one day, in a moment of weakness, she bought a bottle of wine. In the middle of the day she was driving home – impaired to the point that other drivers called the police. When she pulled into her driveway the police were there waiting. Her 16 year old son watched as mom was handcuffed and arrested for DUI. She spent the next 18 hours in the local jail. Thankfully she got jail and not death.

We don’t know which one the addict we love will get. We only know they are guaranteed one or the other. But there is another option. They can get help. It starts with those that love them. You have the power, as the loved one of an addict, to help them stay sick or to help them get well. So many I talk to are afraid of the addict in their life. They see they are loosing that person and are afraid if they do something they will loose them completely. But if you believe there really are only two options for your loved one, jail or death, and when either of these is realized you will have lost them, then maybe you will have the courage to do something.

This site is dedicated to helping families navigate this scary road. If you have questions please contact us or look through the resources we have provided.