Health Talk: Carevention: Helping a loved one suffering from addiction

 By Thomas D. Stuber, President, CEO

I receive multiple calls every week from families who are struggling and wanting to help a loved one caught in the throes of addiction.  They have tried everything and nothing appears to work.
And yet there are answers and ways that the family can come together and help their loved one make the changes necessary to again become the person he or she was prior to the onset of addiction.
The first step is to help the family come to understand that this is a chronic illness which requires that the loved one learn how to manage their illness. Individuals must practice certain things in order to remain stable in recovery.
The only difference between one chronic illness and another is which organ it attacks. If the individual had diabetes this disease attacks the pancreas. If they have asthma this disease attacks the lungs. Addiction is the disease that attacks the brain.
When I speak of managing the illness, I use the analogy of diabetes. We know that certain things must happen for the individual to stay stable with their diabetes:  they must take their medication; they must exercise; and they must follow a specific diet.  Likewise with addiction, we know that they must remain abstinent, must engage in recovery supports and they must practice a healthy lifestyle.
With diabetes, if I decide that I will take my medication and that I will exercise but I really don’t want to practice the diet the way I was told, very soon I will end up in another diabetic crisis. With an addiction, if they don’t remain abstinent, if they don’t utilize recovery supports, or if they don’t practice a healthy lifestyle it isn’t long before they are again in an addiction crisis.
The process of Carevention is where concerned others come together to present the reality of the situation in a receivable way to a person who is out of touch with reality or is deluding themselves about the seriousness of their condition. Often the addicted loved one’s view of the world doesn’t match the family’s view of the world.  In other words, the consequences they see are often played down by the addict as being unimportant or not as serious. Or they state they are able to handle the problem without treatment. And they make promises.  Families want to believe these things but they continue to see their loved one continue to struggle and promises broken. It is important that families not question their perception of what is happening.
The intervention must be done in a way that clearly portrays the team’s care and concern for the loved one. There is a difference between pleading, begging and threatening versus setting appropriate boundaries in a caring way. Boundaries must clearly portray the family’s expectations that they manage their illness. It helps the family learn the behaviors that are necessary to support and requires their addicted loved one to live a life of recovery. They reach a point that it is no longer acceptable for them to compromise the management of this very serious and life-threatening illness.
Enabling is often a part of families where addiction has become a problem. After all, we are all raised to be enablers. The problem is that in the disease of Addiction often times that enabling becomes a problem because it only allows them to continue their behaviors that have become very destructive and helps the individual avoid the consequences of their actions and therefore they have no reason to change.