Month: March 2017

So often we get angry with the addict or alcoholic and wonder why they don’t change. Why don’t they just stop drinking? Can’t he see that drugs is ruining his life? Can’t she see her drinking is tearing apart her family? Why don’t they stop? This is the question I would ask you: if they could stop don’t you think they would? Isn’t the most miserable person you know the addict in your life? Often they will say they are going to stop. They will make attempts to stop. But they always fail. They fail until they finally give up and they lose all hope for a normal life.

The answer to the question of whether or not they can stop on their own is simple but it isn’t easy. The simple answer is no. No, they cannot stop on their own without help. Let me clarify, I know many who have quit drinking on their own for a period of time. I don’t know any who have recovered. I don’t know any who have never drank again. Some went years without picking up a drink or a drug again, but at some point they did.

Last Sunday I got the following email from a young man, 28 years old, who desperately wanted to get clean:

Hi Chad, I don’t believe we have met but we are connected in so many more ways than I previously thought. I have a story that in ways are probably very similar to yours and am in the process of getting clean and sober for what I’m hoping is the final time in my life. Over the past 10 years I have kicked 2 separate lengthy meth addictions, beat my heavy addiction to oxycontin following my near fatal motorcycle accident, and am now working on quitting synthetic opioids for the second time in the past 3-4 years. This past October on a road trip I experienced sudden cardiac arrest, died twice, and against all odds managed to be part of the 8% of people who recover from SCA with zero brain damage. I have never gone to a treatment facility, and have decided if I’m not 100% clean by my 29th birthday I will go that route. I really appreciate you sharing your story because that alone provides me with much needed hope and positivity that will aid me in the battle ahead. For now I would appreciate you keeping this between you and I. My hope is that in the not so distant future I too can share my complete story because hearing yours gave me that glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. You are an inspiration and I just wanted to thank you for your drive to help others like us… not bad people, just people who have made bad decisions.

He mentions the several addictions he “kicked” over the past 10 years. The truth is he didn’t kick any of them. He sobered up for periods of time but his addiction continued. He didn’t go back to meth – he replaced one drug for another. His ability to stop from time to time convinced those around him that he could beat his addiction. He convinced himself that he could beat his addiction. I can’t tell you how heart broken I am over this email because this young man died the next day. His addiction took his life. He never made it to his 29th birthday. He was surrounded by family and friends that loved him dearly but they didn’t know or understand addiction and how to get him the help he really needed.

I want to be very clear here because I don’t want my words to be misunderstood at all. His family and friends are not to blame. I do not blame or put any responsibility on them. I don’t know them personally but I am certain they did the best they could with the information they had. But that is the problem. When our child has a fever and complains of an ear ache we know to go to the doctor to get antibiotics for an ear infection. But when a loved one is suffering with an addiction we have no idea what to do and so often we do the absolute wrong thing. We end up loving them to death.

I sent an email back to this young man right away. I was worried about him making it to his 29th birthday. I knew well enough that he wasn’t going to be able to stop on his own and usually when someone makes that decision they go out hard one last time. That last time is what often kills them. I asked him to meet me for coffee. I invited him to come with me to a recovery group. My prayer was that I would have time to help him. I didn’t. I had no idea his time was up. I question if there was more I could have done. Maybe I should have been more direct. Maybe I should have pushed harder. I didn’t even know him that well and I have those thoughts; I can’t imagine what his family must be going through. We don’t know when time will run out for the addict in our life. We don’t have the luxury of time. If you are reading this and there is someone you are worried about, what are you waiting for? Are you going to love them to death? If you don’t know what to do then hit that contact button and send me a message. I’ll help get you started.

There is a big misconception when it comes to defining what an addict or alcoholic is. Most people think it has to do with whether or not the person in question can abstain from their substance of choice for any length of time. You hear things like, “Well she doesn’t drink every day so she can’t be an alcoholic.” Another way people define addiction is whether or not there is a physical component. If he goes through any sort of physical withdrawal when he doesn’t have his drugs or alcohol then he is an addict or alcoholic. The problem with these definitions is that there is an element of truth to them. Certainly someone who doesn’t drink everyday may not be an alcoholic or someone who has withdrawal symptoms likely is an addict but neither of those define addiction.

When I got into treatment I finally realized that I was an addict and alcoholic. But I didn’t fit either one of the definitions above. There usually was a couple of days a week where I didn’t drink or use drugs. When I got to treatment I didn’t have to go through detox like most people because I hadn’t drank in the 24 hours. I also had no physical withdrawal symptoms. But if you knew me then, or know my story, there is no doubt that I had a problem. I was stuck in a cycle that I couldn’t get out. My life was swirling around the toilet bowl and I was inches away from disaster.

So how do you define an addiction? I gave a clue above. It really is simple. Anyone who experiences negative consequences as a result of their drinking, drug use, video game playing, pornography viewing, or any other in the long list of addictions. Still that is a little vague so let’s clarify.

First of all, negative consequences is plural. We are not talking about getting in trouble one time. We aren’t talking about one hangover. This is pattern behavior. We will see the same thing over and over. The addict may have trouble with relationships, may have trouble holding a job, may be arrested multiple times for driving under the influence. There are a lot of different types of consequences. It could be health consequences. And there will likely be a mix of consequences. Personally, I had financial problems, relationship problems, I had put on a lot of weight, and I wasn’t very pleasant to be around.

Despite these negative consequences the addict or alcoholic doesn’t change. They continue to do the same things. To the outside world they seem crazy. We shake our heads at what an idiot the person is. The reality is that the person is stuck. In and of themselves they do not have the power to change. Their life has become unmanageable.

The simplest and most elegant definition of an addict or alcoholic I believe is this: Anyone who’s life has become unmanageable and is powerless to change it without help. If you are wondering whether or not your loved one has a problem ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. Has their behavior negatively effected their life in any way?
  2. Are they unable to make any lasting positive changes in their life?
  3. Does their life seem out of control?

If you answered yes to any of those questions then your loved one likely needs help. If you are still not convinced here is one last test. Think of people you know who you are one hundred percent certain do not have an addiction problem. Does anyone ever wonder if they have an addiction? No, of course not. We never wonder if someone has a problem who doesn’t actually have a problem. It just doesn’t happen. So if you are asking the question, there is almost no chance that they do not have a problem. The fact that you are still asking the question probably means they aren’t too far gone yet. It means they still have hope. It means the sooner they are able to get help the better the chance they will have of a normal life again.

As the name implies, an intervention is an attempt to intervene. One myth is that an addicted person needs to hit rock bottom before they will be ready to get help and that an intervention is an attempt to create that rock bottom. This simply isn’t true. It may be that it does create that bottom but that isn’t the point. I know in my case, my intervention was a defining moment and it certainly did create a bottom for me. It is still hard for me to look back on that event because of the absolute bottom I hit that day.

An intervention is an interruption and may even be better named as that. The addict in your life is stuck in a pattern of self destruction. If you analyze their behavior you will see the same behaviors repeating themselves. Obviously there is the using but also there is the isolation – where you may go days without hearing from them or even be able to get in touch with them. There are the good days that give you hope that maybe change is on the horizon. Then there are the bad days where you are totally hopeless and feel you may have lost them forever. There are the huge mood swings and the path of destruction left in their wake as they tear through your life like the Tasmanian Devil in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Over the months or years these behaviors have likely repeated themselves over and over and over again. The first goal of an intervention is to interrupt this behavior pattern and give you control back over your life.

What is the purpose of an intervention?

As I stated, we want to take control back from the addict. They have been controlling and manipulating you and your family for long enough. We lovingly tell them that we are no longer going to allow their sickness to make us sick. For this reason alone the intervention should give you hope. It isn’t just for the addict, it is for you too.

The second reason for the intervention is to offer the addict help. We give them the opportunity to get well. We communicate with them what we love about them, what their addiction has done to us, and what we believe their life could be when they are sober. Through this process we hope to awaken something in them. We don’t get our hopes up too high, we’re only just trying to spark something that will bring them to an agreement to get help.

The final reason for doing an intervention is because it is the best tool we have available. If you are like most people, you have tried everything else. You have tried reasoning, you have tried begging, you have tried love, you have tried tough love, and you have tried anger and yelling and nothing seems to work. Why hasn’t anything else worked? Because you were using a screwdriver to hammer a nail. You have to use the right tool for the right job.

How does an intervention work?

Interventions are typically attended by close family and friends of the addicted person. By this gathering of loved ones we hope to apply peer pressure in firm but loving way. Typically the people attending the intervention will have met beforehand and created a plan. They will have prepared letters that will be read at the intervention that outline the good they see in the person, how their addiction has effected them personally, and a plea to get help. There is also a separate letter prepared that is called “the bottom line.” This is shared if the addict refuses to accept help. The bottom line is not a punishment and should not be constructed as one. The bottom line has two purposes: let the addict know that their destructive behavior is not allowed in your life anymore and to apply that final bit of pressure to get the addict to treatment. As best we can we communicate that we love them but we are not going to love them to death.

An intervention should always be facilitated by a third party who is trained in interventions and is not emotionally involved with the addicted person. Attempts to do an intervention on your own can have disastrous consequences. It would be like hiring an accountant to be your electrician. The reason for this is that interventions are highly emotionally charged events and emotions cloud judgement. And, probably most important, the addict has likely already figured out how to manipulate you and other family members. You have already proven that you are not able to do this on your own.

How effective are interventions?

This is a very difficult question to answer. An effective interventionist will likely have an 85% – 90% success rate of getting the person to treatment at the time of the intervention. Sometimes the addict doesn’t go the day of the intervention but ends up going within a week so the effectiveness can be as high as 90% – 95%. It is important not to confuse the effectiveness of an intervention with the addict getting better. The goal of the intervention is not to cure the addict. It is only to get the addict to a place where they can receive help.

When is the right time to do an intervention?

Yesterday! The longer someone is stuck in their addiction the harder it is for them to break out of it. It isn’t impossible but just like with any disease, the sooner it is treated the better the chances of success. If you are reading this right now with a loved one in mind then the time to do an intervention is now. There isn’t going to be a magical “right time.” There isn’t going to be a time that is easier. There aren’t other options that you should exhaust first. I’ve seen it too often where the family waits until it is too late. Or they take half measures which don’t work. This really is a life and death issue so take action today.