Guest Blog, Michelle Peterson
A Survival Guide for Singles this Valentine's Day....
Recently, the San Francisco Chronicle had a heartbreaking letter written by Ricci & Vernae Graham’s about the loss of their son Malcolm to an opioid overdose.
The Graham’s son is a typical story. He got hooked on prescription opioids after a football injury, over time became addicted, had mood problems, got in trouble with the criminal justice system and went through numerous treatment programs. He had periods of sobriety and using until he finally overdosed. His parents did everything possible to help their son. But, it wasn’t enough, in part, because our methods of treating addiction are just not good enough.
As an addiction counselor since 1985 I’ve worked with addicts/alcoholics and many, many family members who desperately seek ways to help their loved ones through the destructive path of addiction. As the daughter of an alcoholic mother, who finally become sober, the sister of an alcoholic who died in 2013 and mother of a son who went through many rehabs before sobriety, I know the pain of addiction on a personal level.
Opioids, both prescribed and street obtained, are a huge problem in the U.S. “The United States comprises 4.6% of the world population, yet consumes 83% and 99% of the worlds oxycodone and hydrocodone supplies.”*
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine 44,000 people die in the United States annually from an overdose of prescription painkillers.
As a nation, we need to fully change our old thinking that addiction/alcoholism is a moral/criminal problem and shift to understanding this is a chronic medical condition, like diabetes, that needs continued treatment to stay in remission. Yes, if someone behaves criminally they need to be held accountable and also need treatment for the addiction.
Johann Hari in his brilliant Youtube clip “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong” discusses how other countries do a much better job treating addiction (Portugal one example). Shaming, judging and disconnecting from the addict simply doesn’t work to get someone to stop hurting themselves. Learning how to set loving limits is a process and the 12 Step program Alanon is helpful for family members.
My observation is that the addicts/alcoholics who have the best chance of recovery, with our current treatment options, are the lucky ones whose families don’t give up on them and are able to set firm limits about behavior they will or won’t accept.
However, the family can’t make recovery happen. Ms. Szalavitz, author of The Unbroken Brain, states that many addicts outgrow their using in self-harming ways by age 30. I have to say that was true with me.
Staying lovingly connected to a using child or family member is tough business. Most families are not trained in how to cope with their own feelings, while staying connected with love AND holding limits around what is and isn’t acceptable.
A guiding question I encourage parents or family members to ask is: “Am I doing something for my loved one that they can or should be doing for themselves.”
There is new research about the brain and adolescent vulnerability to using any alcohol or drugs before the age of 21. The Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz, makes the very good point that learning is key to recovery. Learning new ways of thinking and new behaviors, over time, help to re-shape the brain. New ways of behaving and thinking is what a good treatment program and 12 Step Programs teach.
Drug and Alcohol use Prevention needs to be happening in elementary through high school. We can do much better to help children understand the dangers of use before 21 on the developing brain help them make better choices. We did this with cigarette smoking through PSA announcements and educational materials.
Treatment for our loved ones suffering with addiction is not a guaranteed process. It’s often a painful one for both the addict and the family. Hope is always possible.
I know the HOPE and joy when there is family love that encourages someone struggling with addiction to be able to finally make the choice to be sober. My brother Lee, a homeless meth addict a few years ago is now sober 3 and a half years, working, in his own place and with a wonderful woman.
Feel free to use all or part of this blog as long as you list my name, website and contact information.
Lynn Telford-Sahl, M.A. Psychology, Certified Addiction Counselor, Private Practice, Modesto (209) 492-8745 www.addictionmodesto.com
Lynn is the author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.
Is Dr. Drew Pinsky is responsible for the celebrity death of Mindy McCready, a 37-year-old country singer who appeared on his "Celebrity Rehab" television show?* No, not fully, but certainly he is partiaily responsible. Like Dr. Phil who has clients on TV for entertainment value, so does Dr. Drew. Dr. Pinsky says he hasn't seen Ms. McCready in years so he's not responsible. I get it. Am I responsible for a client of mine who leaves counseling and later starts using again? I'm not legally responsible, but in my heart it feels different. That heart-ache is part caring, part over-responsibility and part helplessness about the nature of addiction, treatment and recovery. I imagine Dr. Drew has similar feelings.
What's the real problem Dr. Drew is faced with? A national television show means it's in the spotlight.The spotlight shines very brightly on the good and the bad and the ugly.That's what makes these types of reality shows popular. People love the drama and the trauma. But while dating shows can cause hurt and pain, addiction is a volatile, dangerous subject, a risky subject to address on national television. People die from the disease of addiction every day. (approximately 40,000 from alcohol in 2010 alone). That's not Dr. Drew's fault, it's the collective responsibility of the medical and therapeutic community that our treatment approaches haven't changed much over the last 30 years.
So what's a celebrity Reality Show Star like Dr. Drew to do? Keep talking about addiction. Keep talking about the reality of what it takes for people to get and stay sober. Continue talking about the fact alcoholism and addiction are diseases that need to be treated, not judged as a morality issue. Keep talking about the abysmal recovery rates and the lack of prevention, early education and lack of money for treatment options for poor and middle-class folks with no insurance. Talk about the effective medications now available like Vivitrol, a once a month injection that cuts the high of alcohol (like antabuse) and reduces cravings. Use the platform and use it to help educate and move us toward better treatment. Using the limelight to educate as well as entertain is Dr. Drew's responsibility.
*NY Times article "Where Rehab TV Meets Reality" June 9, 2013
As I talk to people in the business community, at my networking groups and certainly among my clients about my sister Lane's passing I hear story after story of loss: "My brother died at 41 from heroin, my sister at 38, my daughter at 30 from an overdose." The truth is addiction kills the body and the soul of those struggling with it. One woman said to me she doesn't talk about her sister's death because everyone judges addiction so much.
It's true families often feel embarassed, ashamed and want to hide the fact their loved one is ill. Out of a lack of education or ignorance we family members often blame the addict and and let me be clear, I'm not saying addicts are not responsible for their actions - they are. This is where a good Alanon program or philosophy can help a family separate the blame/shame they feel from the love while detaching from the problem - the addiction.
I don't feel ashamed of my sister's illness - not that I liked the way she behaved at times. I feel ashamed of the medical and therapeutic community because the collective WE have not done a better job of treating this illness. The recovery and relapse rates for addiction are abysmal - I'll follow up with stats - but let's just say the recovery rates are in the very low percentages.
Here's what I've seen in my own family: my mother recovered from alcoholism and was sober the last 15 years of her life - yeah mom - but she died from cancer caused by smoking. My aunt has been sober 30 years and quit smoking and is thriving at 79. My son has been sober for 20+ years, my cousin has relapsed and is using Oxycontin (very very bad drug) that is overprescribed for pain relief, my daughter is just coming out of treatment and if she does what she needs to she'll be fine - and now Lane, my sweet sis has died from alcoholism.
Moving Through Loss: Breathe, journal, stay present to your feelings - it's ok - you'll get through this - talk to friends who will listen, not judge, check out Alanon, Co-DA groups, ACA groups or AA. Blocking feelings leads to stress and more anxiety. If necessary get professional help from a substance abuse or addiction counselor in your community.
Stay tuned: Next blog about medications that support sobriety, calm cravings, and can actually help repair the brain.