The consequences of an addiction are great. Getting help and addiction treatment can help someone get back on track in living a healthy lifestyle. To help understand the impact of an addiction, the types of addiction treatment that are available to an addict and what friends and family can do to help, I have interviewed therapist Lauren Carter.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I have worked with addicted people and their families for 28 years ‘ after entering recovery myself for alcohol dependence in 1980. I was greatly helped by a clinical social worker whose expertise was in addictions. Two years after entering recovery I was hired as a counselor for people who had received DUI convictions. In those days, the people successful at working with addicts were mostly in recovery themselves so I fit right in. (For the most part, the mental health field was not adept at treating addictions, because it wasn’t seen as a primary disease, but a result of underlying problems- so the birth of the Addictions Treatment field as a specialized field came to the fore.) Anyway it became clear to me over time that my training in addictions issues was leading me to want more formal education in the helping professions so I entered graduate school in Social Work at the University of Maryland in 1988, to round out my knowledge base. I also wanted to understand a person’s addiction problem in the context of his or her life, and be able to help with the other problems that addicts bring to treatment when they walk in the door. Anyway, since 1982 I have worked with addicts and their family members individually and in groups. I retired from my agency job this past March and am now in private practice working with people who need recovery support, ACOA issues, codependency problems, or seeking family intervention.
What type of impact can addiction have on a person’s life?
Addiction to a substance can be subtle or dramatic ‘and everything in between. On the subtle end, a person may function in her job but go to several different doctors to obtain pain medicine and show no signs of trouble until she runs out of doctors and goes into withdrawal which is a physiological response to the absence of the drug that is uncomfortable and often protracted. A high school or college student who smokes marijuana daily but still able to pass his courses won’t necessarily see himself as addicted to marijuana but may meet the criteria for Dependence according to the DSM IV. That means he uses it when he doesn’t intend to, has had adverse consequences (caught for possession, gets a C instead of an A, drops Engineering- his life’s ambition- for an easier track), spends a lot of time obtaining and using it, has tried to quit to name a few. Although most people are probably familiar with the “dramatic” effect of addiction ‘” Hollywood-style depiction of withdrawal, for instance, a different dramatic result would be multiple marriages, financial troubles, and out-of-control children because of the family’s dysfunction. Obviously, fires, falls, car crashes, homicides, domestic abuse fall on the dramatic end of the continuum ‘which is one reason why addicts deny they have the problem, if they don’t have those particular effects from their substance use.
Nevertheless, they may have severe health problems: gastrointestinal, anorexia, high blood pressure, lung, liver, pancreatic problems and the like. Addiction is potentially fatal if left untreated. However, it is rarely on the death certificate: instead of Alcohol Dependence it will say died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Instead of prescription drug dependence, it will say: Car Crash, or Accidental Overdose. The people who use substances in a dependent manner throughout their adulthood have been impacted negatively by the choices they made in living their lives under the influence. Who knows what choices would have been available to them had they been substance-free?
What type of treatment is available for someone who is addicted?
Treatment has come a long way since 1980. It is useful to think of it going from self-help, i.e.'”Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous ‘ to Outpatient Counseling in a private setting, community agency, or hospital-based program. On an inpatient basis, there are publicly funded 30-60-90+ day programs, depending on medical need, and private for-profit, and private not-for-profit centers for treatment. There are Driving Offender programs that can be either offered through a State agency, or, for-profit programs. The most important criteria in my opinion are whether the staff is credentialed in Addictions treatment specifically as it is a specialized field of treatment that requires a specialized body of knowledge. Most states require addiction treatment professionals to demonstrate competence in addictions treatment and are either Board or State certified.
What can family and friends do to be support the addiction treatment?
Family and friends can be either effective advocates — or enablers in continuing the problem. Addicts need to experience the consequences of their behavior and the pain from their addiction otherwise they have no motive to change their behavior. It is not helpful to come to the addict’s rescue in any way! Learning about addiction as a disease process is important. Arm yourself with knowledge from the experts in the field. Joseph Califono’s Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse out of Columbia University is a wonderful resource, as is the National Council of Alcohol and Drug Dependence both on the Web. Al-anon Family Groups and Nar-Anon are groups where family members can get support when a friend or family member is addicted and give local resources on the Web for meetings. Therapy and Counseling for Codependency and Adult Children of Alcoholics, and for family members seeking help for themselves is available, but be sure to establish that the counselor has credible experience with addictions issues. Again, as a specialty, it is important to find someone who has the credentials in addressing addictions issues specifically.
What advice would you like to leave for someone who is considering addiction treatment?
My advice is that addiction always gets worse if left untreated, and as they say in AA If not now, when?There’s never a better time to seek help than today. Start by checking out an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. Keep going for 6 or 8 meetings. You are not required to talk, unless you want to. If you find you would like to get more support in a program, try the phone book and look for the credentialed providers in your area. If you also want individual therapy, the credentialed agency has knowledge of the private practitioners in your area who have an addictions background.
Thank you Lauren for doing the interview on addiction treatment. For more information on Lauren Carter of her work you can check out her website on www.oakcreekcounseling.net.
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