I receive daily questions from confused and often heartbroken parents, friends and loved-ones who are all concerned how to help someone who is using and abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Here are a few of my replies to them:
What do you think about serving non-alcoholic wine and beer to my guests who are in recovery?
Is this a good idea or not?
This is a tough question. I know a few people in recovery who drink these types of beverages. Most do not and here's why.
Even though these beverages are alcohol-free (be careful, some are not totally alcohol-free), they still smell and taste like the real thing. The smell and taste can trigger the memories of how it used to make me feel. This is not a good thing.
Personally, I would suggest erring on the side of caution. Keep a good selection of other beverages to offer a person in recovery.
How do I explain my spouse's substance abuse problem to our children?
Much depends on your children's ages and level of maturity. As best you can, try to explain it in terms of a compulsion or illness. Describe it as something that is difficult to control or quit. Be optimistic in how you talk about the future and that things will change.
This is another area where being part of a good Alanon group could be important. Many mothers and fathers have had to deal with this question. Listen to what others have to say and learn what has worked best for others and what hasn't. Find someone else who has been through this (a combat veteran, so to speak).
Lately, I've seen stories on TV and have read about medications that are supposed to cure or end a person's addiction. Do they really work?
Great question. I've seen some of these shows myself. 60 Minutes recently aired one. Do they help? Can they cure addiction? Some of these drugs can be helpful with the initial craving people experience in the early stages of recovery.
Can they cure or end addiction? No. To stop using alcohol or drugs is only the beginning. Recovery is a process that takes time and effort. People who begin the journey of recovery, like I once did, will usually (among other things) have many amends to make. Quitting and recovering are two completely different processes. To begin to recover and admit defeat is a humbling event.
Recovery takes time but is obviously well worth the time and effort, especially when you consider the alternative.
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My husband's drinking problem has caused so much strife within our family. Why can't he see what's happening? We may lose our house as well.
Alcohol and drug dependency is an insidious problem. It is often so gradual that most do not realize what's happening until it has become a major issue!
Admitting that one is powerless to control using is a very humbling experience. Men, especially hate to admit failure in any area of their life. Sadly, this just gets worse over time and even more difficult to control or to admit defeat.
You should seek help and confront your husband. Prepare in advance, anticipate his objections and denial--and stay firm. Think of ultimatums that you will give him if he will not seek help and stick with them. People do change and painful consequences are often the best teacher. Find some emotional support for yourself as well. Keep hoping and praying for a good outcome. Hope is free.
My spouse came back from treatment but wont go to AA. Is there some other support group he can attend?
Yes. There are other groups. Outpatient groups that are facilitated by an addiction counselor, religious groups such as Celebrate Recovery and one-on-one counsel from a professional are some other options.
I myself, was not excited about attending AA--especially at first. Anything new like this will feel awkward in the beginning. Ask your husband/wife to please give it a try--to commit to four or five meetings. The reality is that most people in AA did not want to go at first.
After a while a camaraderie will develop that will produce huge benefits in the long run. It's extremely rare for a person to make it on their own for very long.
I'm in my 30s and most weeknights I have a couple of glasses of wine around dinnertime. On weekend nights I usually go out with friends and may have three or four drinks. Do you see any problem with this?
The only problem is that I wish I could do the same! What you have described is social drinking. An alcoholic will rarely, if ever, stop at a couple of drinks. One of the classic signs of dependency is a loss of control. I must add though, that if this were to escalate very much from the levels you mentioned above, it could become a problem.
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Q: I'm in a realationship right now with an alcoholic. I love him dearly. I've never even had a drink before, so this is very foreign to me. My heart aches when he would rather spend his last dollar on beer than pay a bill or buy his children Christmas presents. I'm at a loss and don't know what to do. Please help.
A: Your question reminds me of a comment by Michael Connelly that is on our companion DVD. Michael compares alcohol and drug dependency to relationships we have with people in our lives (but for the addict/alcoholic the drug has become the "most important relationship in their world").
It didn't start out this way. The user never intended for it to happen. The process was so gradual, they never saw it coming and now their relationship with alcohol is like a bad marriage. The drug and the person using it are so deeply committed to each other that they can't imagine life without using, in spite of all the problems and consequences that go with the disease.
So what now? What can I do to stop this insanity? When it gets to this point it is often consequences and more pain that makes the difference. Pain is a wonderful teacher. We learn things through pain that we often cannot learn in any other way. Don't get in the way of consequences. Let them pile up.
At some point you should simply say that he must quit or you will leave the relationship. Then stick with your decision. Remember that addiction is progressive and even fatal. We've heard it said that "you can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink", which is true , but the consequences can be the salt that makes him thirsty.
Life is way too short to live very long with an active alcoholic. Keep in mind that your friend is either in denial or unaware of his problem. Whichever it may be is unimportant at this point. He is lucky to have someone like yourself to force the issue. People can and do change all the time. More often than not, it's because someone who cares did the right thing. Force the issue!
Q: My husband and I can't seem to agree on what we should do about our son's drinking and drug problem. Sam, (not his real name), has been experimenting with alcohol, marijuana and probably other things as well for the past four years. He's eighteen and is in trouble at school and with the police on a regular basis. Ideas?
M.S., Brooklyn, NY
A: If it's any comfort, let me first say that your story is VERY COMMON. Millions of parents all across America are asking the same thing.
My wife and I went through a similar experience. From the sound of your son's activity he hasn't yet committed the "crime of the century" and probably won't. Most teens will get through this and do fine in life. But in the here and now, I'm sure this is very stressful. I'm a firm believer in the tough love approach.
Don't rescue him. Many young men learn things the hard way. Read about substance use and abuse, talk with counselors, and also read about this stage of life called adolescence. This is a tough time for most young people to negotiate. I don't know about you but for me, one trip through adolescence was enough.
Concerning agreement on how you and your husband handle this--it is important to be in agreement. My wife and I sought out some wise counsel because we too were struggling and didn't always agree. Keep in mind now that I am a "counselor guy" myself.
Often, men are more in favor of the tough love approach and mothers tend to lean the other way. I think this is due to something in our DNA so there's not much hope for this to change anytime soon. I "moved" some and so did she. We found solutions that worked for us. I'll never forget what I heard at the end of one those long boring seminars on "How to Raise Your Teen." Right at the close, the instructor said "Sometimes it's simply a matter of getting them from here to there." The serenity prayer is good to remember at times like this.
Q: I think my spouse may be addicted to his pain medication. He had knee replacement surgery several months ago and has gone back to work, but says he still needs to take pain pills. I think he is actually taking more now than he did right after the surgery. I'm not sure about all of this, and I don't know what or how to say something. His dad is a recovering alcoholic. I'm worried.
F.A., Miami, FL
A: This is a tough question. The fact that you're concerned and also the mention of his Dad being in recovery does look like a red flag. Pain medications that are prescribed today are often strong narcotics. These drugs are real life-savers in many cases (when used for short periods of time). At the same time, they do have the potential for abuse. In fact, prescription pain-killers like Vicodin and Oxyconton have become the most abused of all prescription medications.
These drugs do two things: they relieve pain AND create a euphoric high, of sorts. Some people find they like the way the medication makes them "feel" and that is why these drugs have such a high potential for abuse. At some point the body will begin to develop a tolerance--and more of the medication will be needed to get the same effect. At this point it can become difficult to tell if the person is in genuine pain or just the pain of withdrawal. All they may know is, if I take some more pills I feel better. This is not a good thing.
I would talk to your husband about your concerns. If the situation persists seek some professional advice--sooner rather than later.
If you have a question for Joe, please email it to:
MORE ASK JOE:
> Is a relapse—failure?
> If someone can stop using drugs or alcohol for weeks at a time, they “aren’t an addict—correct?
>Chronic Pain Management & Pain Pill Addiction: What to do?
>How can I know if my addicted friend or loved one is telling the truth?
>”I need help because I’m not able to deal with my live-in Fiance’s need to get drunk every night.”
>Should my husband “back off?”
>Gambling vs. Drug Addiction? What is your opinion?
>How can I tell if someone is an addict/alcoholic or just a heavy user?
>What is Methadone? What is Harm Reduction?
> Self-Tests: Codependence
> Self-Tests: Alcohol and Drug Addiction
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