Admittedly, our modern society struggles when it comes to helping people with addiction. For proof of this, pay attention to the next “news” story revealing yet another celebrity who is struggling with drugs or alcohol. Inevitably, an expert will observe that the celebrity “obviously hasn’t hit bottom yet” or uses the metaphor of “train wreck” to describe their situation. To complicate matters, few if any government-funded addiction programs will provide assistance to help families with resistant family members since most government programs already struggle with long wait lists.
As a family member, you may think it has to get worse before it gets better. The good news, however, is that you don’t have to watch helplessly as your loved one continues on his destructive path. Families and partners have the power to begin the process of loosening the grip of addiction.
Don’t be fooled by the advice of allowing a loved one to “hit bottom.” What is “bottom” for your loved one? If you extend this argument to a logical conclusion, it could mean death. Obviously, that’s an outcome you will do everything in your power to avoid. “Hitting bottom” proponents reason that one day, by some sort of miracle, people with addictions will one day wake up and see the light.
While hope is something we all need to pull us through crisis, you must also take action.
If you have a family member or partner that can’t seem to stop using drugs or alcohol, you have the power to influence change. Unfortunately, many of us resort to pleading, nagging, or threats. In return, you have probably discovered that your efforts are falling on deaf ears. As this cycle continues, your loved one may lie, cheat, and steal to continue his addiction. As an addiction progresses, it may appear that your loved one is somehow losing all sense of decency; he’s no longer the person you thought you knew.
If this sounds familiar, you are witnessing addiction first hand. Before we offer an alternative solution to nagging, pleading, and threatening, let’s look at what separates abuse from addiction. As you will see, the key distinction is important when we start talking about a solution.
One of the first orders of business when dealing with the problems of drugs and alcohol use is determining the seriousness of the problem. Some family members will need proof that the behaviour is serious enough for them to intervene. There are many assessment tools available to quantify the severity of a drug or alcohol problem.
Sunshine Coast Health Center uses a simple self-assessment tool called the “3 C Challenge.
The Three C Assessment measures whether a bad habit has become an unhealthy addiction. You can apply it to any person and any bad habit. Try it yourself – everyone has a bad habit (coffee, fast driving, the internet and gaming, etc). The strength of this assessment tool is that it removes moral judgment from defining whether there is a problem. The following are examples of questions you can ask yourself about a family member’s alcohol use.
1. The First C – Control
Does your loved one try to set limits on drinking and then fail to abide by them?
Does he drink and drive?
Does she promise to come home but ends up at the bar?
Does he set out to have a shot of rye and end up finishing the bottle?
Control problems are early indicators of a growing problem.
2. The Second C – Compulsion
Does your loved one spend a lot of their energy around planning and/or engaging in their bad habit?
Would your loved one ever go on a vacation without alcohol?
Is 2 or 3 drinks a dinner ritual?
Is it a big deal if there is no alcohol in the house?
3. The Third C – Consequences
Are problems occurring as a result of your loved one’s bad habit and does he/she continue to engage in the behaviour despite a growing list of negative consequences?
For example, is she starting to have arguments with loved ones around how much she is drinking?
Has she been missing work or making excuses to leave work early?
Has he experienced his first DUI or 24 hour roadside suspension?
In essence, negative events are starting to occur in relation to the bad habit and your loved one cannot seem to associate these problems with their bad habit. Your loved one may blame stress, problems at work, or even your nagging as the real problem.
If all Three Cs apply, then it could be more than just a bad habit, it could be an addiction.
For more addiction self tests refer to the Addiction Test section of this website.
Let’s continue our discussion on consequences in the next topic, “raising the bottom.”
A little known fact about helping loved ones is that you have the power to “raise the bottom.” Raising the bottom refers to the process of having loved ones with addictions face the natural consequences of their addiction. Unwittingly, families often contribute to the problem by doing the exact opposite.
For example, addictions cost money. When your loved one spends all his money on substances, do you pay the rent or the car insurance? If you do, you are keeping your loved one from the realization that he has a problem: consequences. Do you carry on through life ignoring the problem? If so, your loved one will again fail to see the consequences of his actions.
By taking a stand and confronting your loved one’s behaviour head on, you are taking the first steps toward a solution. Your conversation may go something like, “Bill, I realize that this has been going on a long time but I can no longer idly stand by and pretend that I’m happy. You are destroying yourself and I think you need professional help. I can help you find help but if you choose not to then (fill in the blank)…”
Often this is enough to get the ball rolling. If it’s not, however, then you may need to follow through on your plan. The question you must ask yourself at this point is whether you are emotionally strong enough to have this conversation in the first place.
Sounds simple enough, right? Yes, simple, but not easy. Human beings are not machines and so, like bungy jumping from a bridge, we may find ourselves unable to take that small step into the unknown.
This is where we recommend getting support, and lots of it. This means strength in numbers and the leadership of a professional trained in interventions.
If you find that confronting your loved one is too much to pull off by yourself, Sunshine Coast Health Center recommends a family intervention. There is strength in numbers, and others that care about your loved one can join with you in providing a united front. In fact, a united front is critical not only for creating confidence in the group but it also shows the addicted family member the gravity of the situation (“boy, this must be bad if all of these people are here”) and the hopelessness of resisting this act of compassion (“oh, even Granny is here and he usually bails me out when I get in trouble”).
However, while having all of the family there together is a good idea, coordinating a group of people, especially family members, is not always easy. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- do I know how to perform a family intervention?
- do I know what everyone is going to say?
- is everyone going to be organized?
- am I going to be able to organize this without letting the cat out of the bag?
- what am I going to do if it doesn’t work?
- what am I going to do if it does work?
If you conclude that you may not be able to pull this off, consider hiring an interventionist. Interventionists are trained for these situations and have the emotional detachment that you or anyone else in your group may lack.
Although having an interventionist is going to cost you money, it may cost you less than you think. Also, consider the expense in time and money that it might take to get your family together: airfare, hotels, long distance calls, time off work, etc.
The importance of this event and what is at stake for your addicted family member may warrant professional guidance.
To learn more about the intervention process and the various intervention models in use visit the Family Intervention section.
Sunshine Coast Health Center can recommend an interventionist in your area. Due to the limited number of interventionists in Canada, you may need to consider going outside your city or province to find a professional.