Tag Addiction

Helping Someone Who Drinks Too Much

alcohol abuseIt’s very common for families to deal with alcohol related problems. For example, research has indicated that 38% of Americans have a positive history for alcoholism. Moreover, the National Association of Children of Alcoholics report, “Seventy six million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family…(and) Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.” The costs to individuals and families can be devastating. The purpose of this entry is to respond to three common questions asked by those who have a family member struggling with problem drinking.

What makes it so hard for the person who is abusing alcohol to stop?

It is almost like the person you are thinking about is a character in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in that he or she has an internal enemy. Stephen King said it well: “Monsters are real,, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” Alcoholism convinces its victim that neither relaxation nor fun are possible without it. Crazy sounding I know, but that’s the core message. Imagine you were being asked to give up all significant stress management and fun? This is what a victim of alcoholism often hears, and initially feels, in the request to stop drinking. It’s as if the alcoholism declares to the person, “sure, you can play bingo in your church hall without me, but you’re never going to Vegas again! Without me you are going to feel like a monk barely surviving in a cold, concrete, lonely and windy mansion, allowed to consume only water and rice cakes!” The addiction also views anyone or anything that challenges it as a threat.

As has been stated so well in the AA Big Book, people who are alcohol addiction monsterdependent have a response to alcohol that leaves craving more, together with a mental obsession for alcohol. If someone has an allergic response to nuts that person will usually avoid them, but that sort of allergy doesn’t include the obsession of the mind. When you add that mental component, very irrational choices seem rational to the suffering person. It is only when the alcohol victim has experienced enough misery (called “hitting bottom”) that s/he can recognize his or her powerless over this internal enemy

What are some things to avoid doing?

If you’ve been dealing with this for a while on your own, you may be enabling the drinking in ways that you are not aware of. These are some behaviors that can enable addiction:

• Protecting your loved one from experiencing the consequences of his or her drinking.

• Lying to others in order to protect the illusion that all is well.

• Walking on egg shells so as to not upset your loved one or encouraging others to do the same.

• Bargaining with your loved one as s/he lobbies for you to be okay with certain doses of drinking.

• Easing your loved one’s access to alcohol.

• Disagreeing with your loved one’s intermittent statements that s/he has a problem.

• Accepting blame from your loved one that you are responsible for his or her anger or dour moods

• Offering, or stepping forward to be responsible for, or to monitor, your loved one’s drinking.

How can I help my loved one who is suffering from disordered drinking?

There are really a variety of ways of thinking about this and approaching it. I’ll offer my favorite half dozen tips:

1. Recognize that you can’t get your loved one to stop drinking or convince him or her that the cessation of drinking is the only rational choice. You are as powerless over these outcomes as your loved one is over his or her drinking

2. Attend meetings of Al-Anon. This (generally) highly supportive and wise community can be very, very helpful.

3. Become familiar with the AA Big Book and use the allergy language when discussing drinking with your loved one. This language, IMHO, is not only clinically accurate but it discourages shame (i.e., shame is one of the internal enemy’s favorite weapons).

4. In a loving but firm and clear way, communicate with your loved one about how his or her drinking, and it’s associated problems, affects you. This can also be done through formal interventions; but, if you want to go this route, I would involve an experienced and trained addictions counselor

5. Work the 12 steps yourself. I love the book Breathing Under Water, by Richard Rohr. In this book Rohr argues that everyone experiences powerlessness in some way and that many kinds of psychiatric problems emerge when anyone tries to exert control when one is powerless (i.e., the antithesis of the Serenity Prayer). Rohr suggests that the 12 steps are the solution for this ubiquitous problem.

6. Educate yourself and others about alcohol dependence and it’s hope signconsequences. For example, other resources I like are the YouTube videos by Michael Mark (e.g., his review of the first three steps in AA) and the Joe and Charlie Tapes–AA Big Book Study.

Few things are tougher than this nut. But, the outcomes of those who recover well can be quite phenomenal and life giving. Good luck!


“States Are Saying Pot is Okay, So Leave Me Alone About It!”

war with teenLast month the National Institutes of Health released results of a large national survey indicating that 6.5% of high school students report smoking marijuana daily. Moreover, nearly one out of four seniors report having smoked it in the past month, with only 39.5% of them viewing regular marijuana use as being harmful. These survey data match my clinical experience: more and more teens seem to be arguing that pot usage is harmless as states have begun to legalize it’s use. This blog entry is for parents who wish to have some counterarguments at the ready.

• No state that has legalized marijuana use for adults has done so for minors. Teens who smoke pot risk facing legal consequences in every state. For instance, in Pennsylvania, where I live, teens caught with marijuana are at risk to loose their driver’s license, among other consequences.

• What’s legal ≠ what’s healthy. It’s legal to eat a 24/7 diet of ice cream. No one in law enforcement will try to stop someone from doing that. However, does anyone believe that that’s advisable?

• What’s legal ≠ what’s moral. It’s legal for consenting adults to have sex with as "not okay"many of their neighbors as they’d like, regardless of marital status or other competing commitments. One doesn’t get arrested for that or for many other kinds of immoral activity.

• To say that pot smoking is advisable for an otherwise healthy adult is a scientifically dubious claim. Concerns about an increase risk of lung cancer, drops in motivation and concentration and the development of other symptoms are each germane.

• Human brains continue to develop into early to mid twenties. And, the part of the brain that develops last is responsible for the most sophisticated and higher order brain functions. I know of no reputable scientist or clinician who would argue that it is advisable to introduce any psychoactive agent into a developing brain unless there is a compelling and well thought out need to treat a well diagnosed condition. Teen life is challenging and complex enough without adding such a wildcard.

• There is evidence that people with genetic predispositions to certain disorders can have them activated by significant marijuana abuse (e.g., schizophrenia).

Teen girlReaders of this blog, or my parenting book, know that monitoring is one of the most important resilience promoting activities that a parent can offer (e.g., entering the search term “monitor” in this blog or see Chapter Three of my book). In summation, we want to know: whom s/he is with, what they are doing and what responsible adult is in charge of making sure that the teens are safe, even if that is from a distance. In most instances, our firm and uncompromising stance is that sexual intercourse and substance use are not okay.

In my clinical experience synergy of one of two types is going on in most households where teens reside. The more resilience factors are in play the more that synergy is positive and the less the teen is pulled towards risky behaviors (e.g., there is positive one-on-one time each week between each parent and each teen, adaptive rituals are done regularly, a teen knows his or her areas of competence and has regular access to such, discipline is effective). The more resilience factors are not in play, the more the opposite is often the case.

Let me close with a bottom line regarding marijuana use among teens: parents therapy with teenshould not allow teens to smoke pot. (If you’d like a tight review of the relevant science, click here or here.) If your teen is putting up a significant fight along these lines, and maybe winning some of the battles, then I would highly recommend that you seek out the services of a qualified mental health professional. For a referral, click here.

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