Monday, June 30, 2014

Addiction and It's Symptoms: What's the Problem?

22 million people in America are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. That is 10% of the population over the age of 12. But far more people are affected by addiction than just the addict. No doubt the addict feels the effect of addiction most acutely, but it does not go unnoticed that many others also are deeply impacted. The choices an addict makes impacts the family, friends, children, community, workplace, criminal justice system, and healthcare system. When it comes to helping someone with a drug addiction, what is the focus?

More people are falling each day to the substance abuse epidemic and even more people are affected by someone struggling with substance abuse.  As more and more people know someone who has a substance abuse problem, it is time to ask how to respond to someone with addiction. We hate the impact it’s having on our loved ones, our community, our daily living. And most of all, we hate to see our loved one struggling with addiction and the impact it has on their life. What are we doing to help? In an interview, Executive Director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) Robert Lindsey answered questions about the impact addiction has those around the addict and how individuals typically respond to the addict, along with the implication those responses can have. 

Mr. Lindsey explained that often what is taking place is treatment of the symptoms rather than treatment of the problem. When an addict’s symptoms play out physically we treat the physical symptoms: take them to the hospital, put them on more drugs, etc. By this we get them healthy and they continue their addiction. When it comes to their financial symptoms we treat those by giving them money, bailing them out, providing a place for them to live. Again, they are able to continue their addiction. Workplace problems do not fall short and here we may make excuses for them for not showing up. We feel the relational impact most closely and sometimes that takes us to counseling. But if the addiction of the individual is not focused on, our treatment plan is not effective. When it reaches the legal level we again treat the symptoms by paying their bail, and giving them money. We are well intentioned. Despite the hardship our loved one’s addiction brings into our own lives, we help them in these ways because we love them and want nothing more than to see them change and get better. We see each one of these outcomes as the problem and think, “If I take away the problem they won’t need to use drugs anymore.” But this could not be further from the truth. By addressing the symptoms we are covering up the problem instead of dealing with it. We need to ask, “What is the problem?” Are the real problems the physical state of the individual? The financial? The legal? The relational? No, but these are the results of the real problem. These are the symptoms. Addiction is the problem and should be the primary focus of treatment. When we deal with the real problem, everything else will go away.  Without treating the problem the symptoms will only continue to return. 

Does this mean we do not address the physical, financial, legal, and relational symptoms? Helping someone struggling with addiction is not an easy road and does not contain easy answers. Certainly you cannot ignore the symptoms that result from drug addiction, but the major take-away Mr. Lindsey is communicating is that the problem itself must be addressed. Treating addiction must be the priority. 

That leads to the hardest question. "How do I help someone with addiction?" The first place to start is by getting information and learning about addiction. Consider how it affects you, and from there learn what you can do to get help for yourself. These steps should come prior to helping the addict because if you don’t understand addiction and learn how to face it you will not be effective in helping the addict. It is a lack of understanding that causes so many to reach out to addicts by treating the symptoms rather than the problem and in effect what is happening is feeding and enabling the addict to continue in the real problem: Addiction. 

“Our ability to be helpful is rooted in how much we understand about the nature of 
the problem we are dealing with.” –Robert Lindsey

Once we better understand the seriousness of the problem and learn that what we have been doing to help may actually have been feeding the problem, we can then approach helping our loved one in a new way. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be more likely to save their life? Yes!

To view Robert Lindsey's interviews click here. 

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