Category: About Addiction

Whatever the addict or alcoholic says or does while in active addiction is just noise. Realize that they are not themselves. They are controlled by an illness that is cunning and baffling. Their addiction will do or say anything in order to protect itself. The addict is a control freak. They are liars and master manipulators.

It is natural to second guess your assessment of your loved one. As you contemplate an intervention, tough love, or other methods of dealing with the addict in your life you will see conflicting evidence. Just as you become convinced of one thing something will happen and you think maybe your were wrong. For example, a young man recently reached out to me for help. He really wanted to quit drinking. Together we started going to recovery meetings. To his family this was a good sign. Just when all hope was lost he started making progress. But this was just noise. He was still drinking. He wasn’t getting better and reality was that he was spiraling. He was getting worse.

Here is why this is such an important concept to understand: if you listen to the noise you miss the opportunities to help. It is hard not to get sucked in. We want to believe the best in other people. We want to believe what they say is true. More than anything we need hope. We need to hope that our loved one has a chance to get better. Here is the thing, we need to hope in the right things. People can change. Addicts and alcoholics can get better. Rarely do they do it on their own. Rarely are they successful on their first try. So we don’t put our hope in what they say. We don’t even put our hope in their actions.

Until they have strung together several days and have a sufficient amount of time sober we must always be aware that it could all just be noise. Even if they are in a treatment facility that is not sufficient for us to not be suspicious of the noise. I had a family member who had a drug and alcohol problem and finally agreed to get treatment. He was doing great in treatment. I personally talked to his case manager who told me he was doing a great job working his program. Then with about a week left in his treatment he walked away. He left his wife and two young kids at home. Completely abandoned everyone and everything in his life never to return. Today, fifteen years later, he is still living in active addiction.

Recognizing the noise is really about seeing the situation realistically. Don’t let yourself be fooled or manipulated. The only way you get your loved one back is by the addiction loosing it’s slave. That doesn’t happen easily. In order for the process to start the people in the addicts life need to start filtering out the noise and focusing on the only thing that matters – doing whatever it takes to help the addict get clean.

I recently had a young man reach out to me for help. He was desperate to quit drinking. Alcohol was destroying his life. I met him at a local coffee shop to hear his story and see how I could help. He had recently totaled his car and been arrested for drunk driving. The prosecution agreed to a deferment but it meant he would be on probation for 5 years and required not to drink. Violating his parole would have some pretty terrible consequences. And yet he drank. He wanted to stop. Tried doing it on his own. Finally he started reaching out for help.

After our meeting I agreed to help hold him accountable. I went with him to local AA and Celebrate Recovery meetings and started doing a step study with him. He was required to call me every day by 7pm or I would assume he was drinking. Over the next several weeks this went on. He came over to my house and hung out and we talked regularly. And still he drank. He would drink before we went to a meeting. He thought he was hiding it from me.

One weekend I didn’t hear from him at all until Monday. When he called on Monday he had this long crazy story about why he couldn’t call. The story may or may not have been true. You see, the problem is that even though he is a good guy and he really did want to quit, because of the alcohol he couldn’t stop lying. This story he told, it was serious, but I couldn’t tell if it was true. Ultimately it didn’t matter. As the weeks went by a pattern developed where he wouldn’t call me on the weekends. I would talk to him before the weekend and ask him what his plan was to stay sober. He never had one. I would suggest ways he could stay sober but he wouldn’t take them. His alcoholic brain already had a plan of getting totally f’d up. Which is what he would do. He would drink a bottle of vodka and drive. He hit stuff. Blacked out. Then did it again. It was scary and it finally scared him enough to realize he needed more serious help than what I or anyone else around him could provide.

Monday he checked in to a treatment facility where he will spend the next 28 days. This is his second time in a treatment center. Hopefully this time he gets it.

Along the way many of us asked the question, why can’t he stop drinking? Even I asked that question and I’ve been there. For those of you who aren’t addicts or alcoholics but have a loved one that is, you have likely asked this question hundreds if not thousands of times. This young man has a great support structure with a lot of people around him who love him and who are willing to help. He is not being enabled by family, which can sometimes keep an addict stuck. He also has serious consequences. His drinking got him kicked out of the place he was living. His drinking totaled his car and could have killed him or someone else. His drinking will land him in jail the next time he is caught. Yet none of this was sufficient motivation. What is his problem? Why can some people stop and others can’t?

There isn’t any easy answer to these questions but there is an explanation. The bottom line is that it comes down to compulsion:

an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one’s conscious wishes

He has an irresistible urge, that no matter how much he fought it with his conscious mind, he could not win. The alcohol always won. Does this mean he was hopeless? By no means! Treatment isn’t a cure for addiction or alcoholism but what it provides is a period of time where the alcoholic is forcefully separated from his or her compulsions. It is also a time to learn how to handle your compulsions. That is what he has never learned. It is what I tried to teach him. It is why I tried to help him develop a plan for the weekends when the compulsion would be the strongest. It is why I told him he needed to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting every night.

Watching a loved one destroy their life when they should have every motivation and reason to stop is frustrating, infuriating, and a helpless feeling. What they are doing makes no sense. We don’t have to pretend it makes sense. We can understand it though. We understand it in light of it being a compulsion that they really don’t have the ability to fight on their own. They need help. They need new ways to deal with the compulsion. It is possible. But it isn’t possible to do it on their own.

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.

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.