If you have experienced addiction firsthand – or if you have watched someone you know and love experience addiction firsthand – you know just how insidious and devastating this particular disease can be. Those who suffer at the hands of a substance abuse disorder of any severity will completely lose themselves over time. They will become hollow, obsessive shells of the vibrant human beings they once were. If you are watching a loved one fall deeper and deeper into the pit of addiction, it might be like watching a gruesome transformation take place right before your own eyes. Your best friend, your sister, your brother, your mother, your father, your son, your daughter… Someone you know thoroughly and love with all of your heart transforms mutates into a substance-hungry monster in a short matter of weeks.
The Disease Model of Addiction
First off, when dealing with an addicted loved one it is important to fully grasp the disease model of addiction. Because addiction is such a controversial and widely misunderstood disease, it is easy for individuals to confuse it with a matter of weak moral standing or failed character. Instead, addiction is far from a matter of choice. However, it is such a complex condition that it is not always easy to define. The American Society of Medicine and the American Medical Association both define addiction as a brain disease. (1) Just like more commonly accepted diseases like diabetes and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of factors, including environmental factors, behavioral factors, pre-existing psychological conditions and genetic predisposition. Years of scientific research have pointed towards the fact that addiction is a highly hereditary disease – in fact, genetic predisposition accounts for roughly half of the probability that an individual develops a substance abuse disorder. When a chemical substance is repeatedly introduced to the system, the chemistry of the brain begins to change in order to adapt. When we satisfy our basic human needs – hunger, thirst, and the need for sexual intimacy, for example – we feel a sense of pleasure. Certain “feel good” chemicals are released into the brain when we satisfy these needs, chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Most habit-forming chemical substances (drugs and alcohol) have a similar effect on brain chemistry. They make us feel good. Our brains tell us, “Hey, we want to feel good again. Let’s get some more of that booze (or dope, or whatever).” Over time, brain systems involved in basic functions like memory, reward and motivation are drastically altered. We can no longer complete these functions on our own – we come to rely on chemical substances to do so for us.
There are many additional factors at play – factors that, when combined, make it exceptionally difficult to overcome addiction without intensive professional help. For example, there are many interpersonal consequences that go hand-in-hand with addiction. Those who suffer from substance abuse long-term often struggle financially, face legal issues, experience a poor performance and related consequences at work or at school and struggle with interpersonal issues in their close relationships. Rather than acknowledge these issues and attempt to make them right, individuals who have already fallen victim to alcohol or drug abuse simply amp up their dose. Ignoring the issues until they go away (which of course, they never do and never will).
There are many resources available to help you better grasp the disease model of addiction – including peer led support groups specifically designed for the friends and family members of individuals who suffer from active addiction. For more information or for a comprehensive list of available resources in your specific area, reach out to Intrepid Detox Residential today.
Helping an Addicted Loved One
So, you have a loved one who has been suffering at the hands of active addiction, and you have a fairly good grasp on the brain disease model. You understand that professional treatment is necessary – what now? How do you convince your loved one to enter into a long-term treatment program when he or she seems so perfectly content with rapidly ruining his or her life? Many people will tell you that the addict or alcoholic has to become willing in order for treatment to be effective. Ultimately, this is true. However, because addiction is a disease of denial and because it can rapidly become life-threatening, it is not always a good idea to wait around for this willingness to show up. You will also hear some people say that in order for an addict or alcoholic to get or stay clean, he or she must hit rock bottom. This is not true. For many, rock bottom is death. If you have a loved one who has been suffering at the hands of a severe heroin abuse disorder, for example, waiting around for the third or fourth overdose to take place and instigate change is probably not the best idea. In cases like these, the most effective step to take is staging a professionally facilitated intervention.
What is an Intervention – and How Do I Stage One?
According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic, “An intervention is a carefully planned process that may be done by family and friends, in consultation with a doctor or professional such as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor or directed by an intervention professional (interventionist). It sometimes involves a member of your loved one’s faith or others who care about the person struggling with addiction. During the intervention, these people gather together to confront your loved one about the consequences of addiction and ask him or her to accept treatment.” (2) If you have ever watched a movie or seen a television show, there is a good chance that you have seen a mainstream media interpretation of an intervention – weepy family members and friends gather together in a big circle and confront an equally-as-weepy loved one, who acknowledges that his or her addictive disorder has been destroying the lives of everyone involved, and who ultimately agrees to seek treatment after apologizing profusely and giving everyone in attendance a great big hug. Things might unfold somewhat similarly, but it is important that you set yourself up for reality.
Once you hire a professional interventionist (Intrepid Detox Residential will gladly set you up with one, all you need to do is give us a call and we will point you in the right direction), the interventionist will take the reins and help you through every additional step. The intervention group will be formed, letters will be written, a time and a place will be set and a treatment center (usually a medical detox center and inpatient rehab) will be decided upon. Your loved one will be confronted, and treatment options will be gently presented. Ultimatums will be set and personal boundaries will be explained and maintained. Of course, because (again) addiction is a disease of denial, there is a good chance that your loved one will book it out the door and never look back. The real goal is to plant a seed – let your loved one know that recovery is an option. As boundaries are maintained, your loved one will (hopefully) begin to realize that recovery is, in fact, the best option – maybe the only option.
Intrepid Detox Residential and Intervention Services
At Intrepid Detox Residential, we offer professional intervention services for those in need. We work closely with numerous experienced and compassionate interventionists, understanding that oftentimes, individuals who have been suffering from a moderate or severe substance abuse disorder need a gentle push in the right direction. For more information or to be put in touch with one of our professional interventionists, give us a call today.