IS SOMEONE YOU LOVE HOOKED?
Frequently asked questions about addiction
Note: This is the second of three columns on coping with an
alcohol or drug abuser. The gender identifications in the following
are a matter of convenience, rather than an indication that one sex
is more prone to addiction than the other. Both men and women succumb
all too frequently and all too readily. Other troubling addictions include
gambling and sex.
To take care of yourself -- and to help the addict --
You need a coherent plan of action...
The following question-and-answer series is typical of numerous discussions
I've had with individuals who are searching for ways to engage with
a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs.
¶ Q: Recently my husband's drinking has gotten worse. I
thought I could cope with his depression and lack of interest in anything.
But if I raise the subject of his drinking, he gets angry. I feel the
situation is hopeless. What is the most constructive thing I could do
A: As I discussed in the previous column, people who use alcohol
or drugs to excess think in ways that exonerate them of any significant
blame. They have a strong need to defend themselves against criticism.
Especially when indulging. Therefore, the best time to talk to such
a person is usually mid-morning, after he's fully awake, but before
he has had much opportunity to befuddle his mind.
¶ Q: What should I say? What can I do?
A: Get yourself, along with any close members of your family and
close friends who care enough to invest their time and effort, into
a program where you can learn how to cope with the problem.
Intervention in the habits of a person who uses alcohol or drugs to
excess requires a carefully planned approach if it is to succeed. But
success is possible when it is done right.
Programs that provide guidance for co-dependents, family members and
others who interact with addicts, include training in how to interact
with a person who has difficulty controlling alcohol consumption or
drug abuse. A variety of treatment centers and many therapists can help
you learn more effective ways of handling alcohol and drug related issues.
If time, location, or money prevent you from obtaining private counseling,
Al-Anon is an excellent, low-cost, widely available, self-help organization
which specializes in just such problems. Al-Anon is usually listed in
the Yellow Pages under "Alcoholism Treatment Centers." (In
NYC, 212-254-7230.) They'll tell you the locations and times of meetings
near where you live and near where you work. If you don't find a listing,
call a local therapist or your minister, priest, or rabbi -- they usually
know of a local Al-Anon program.
¶ Q: Should I hide the fact that I'm seeking help?
A: No, you have nothing to hide. You are engaged in an effort
to re-establish a more loving, better functioning relationship. You
can do so with pride and confidence. Furthermore, being open about what
you are doing sends a message regarding the depth of your concern about
¶ Q: Can I get him to change?
A: Unfortunately, there are no guarantees.
The key to success lies in obtaining a realistic perspective on yourself
and the situation, plus getting the proper coaching regarding how to
intervene. As a rule, confrontation is a dramatic, often traumatic process.
Success requires careful planning and execution.
Timing is an important factor. Effectiveness is dependent
upon proper preparation. And should be done when the user's alcohol
or drug induced haziness is at a minimum. Again, usually mid-morningish
Confrontation by a group of loved ones is a kind of emotional
shock treatment: One at a time, each person describes the user's
behavior in objective terms -- this may require a lot of coaching
in order to avoid judgments and accusations and stick to observed
facts (such as, "You missed work eight times last month"
or, "You fell on the stairs and hurt your knee last Saturday").
Each shares feelings, including feelings of concern for the user.
Each asserts that they think the user has a problem. Each states they'd
like it if the user would get help. And each enumerates the kind of
help and support they are willing to provide.
Then let the person being confronted express how all this outpouring
of concern, affection and caring affects him (or her). Properly
executed, the process will penetrate the abuser's systematic denial
patterns. So don't be surprised by the depth of pain involved.
Be prepared for success: If it seems appropriate, make advance
arrangements for the person to enter a detoxification unit or rehabilitation
center immediately. Have the person's bags packed and be ready to
go directly. If that isn't possible or seems inappropriate, have some
form of counseling for abuse start immediately: private counseling,
Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings -- whatever is
available and affordable.
¶ Q: But what if I'm the only person willing to speak up?
Should I just give up?
A: By no means. I'll discuss how to maximize the effectiveness
of a one-person intervention in the next column. Stay tuned.
To discover how to make a solo intervention with a person who is addicted,
take a look at the next column...
Is Someone You Love Hooked? #3
Or, if you want to review the first of these three columns, return
Is Someone You Love Hooked
on Alcohol or Drugs? #1...questions and answers on alcohol abuse.
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William W. Snow