Too many myths persist around addiction and substance abuse that would be reprehensible if applied to other chronic diseases. The idea that we should wait for a loved one struggling with chemical dependency or addiction to “hit bottom” before they can be helped, or inferring or stating that there is "no hope" are perilous statements. Why don’t we change the conversation about drug addiction or substance use disorder?
Substance Abuse Treatment Doesn't Require a Bottom
To stress the point about how ridiculous and disastrous are these myths, we've compared a few of them to five other chronic diseases below. It would be unconscionable to assert that these suffering individuals must jeopardize their lives and others to hit a bottom - literally erode their life to a point where things are so utterly hopeless, filled with despair, self-hatred, and terror - before obtaining treatment. That is exactly the point. It, too, is absurd to suggest an addicted individual hit a "rock bottom" in their life before offering help.
1. Cancer. A treatment specialist or physician asserts, “There is a new approach that has been well received and very well could save your child’s life.” Dad’s response, “well, we’ve already tried a few other options, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and those didn’t work, so we aren’t paying another cent – he can figure out a way to kick it on his own.” Pretty sure you wouldn’t say this if your child had cancer. However, when it comes to treatment for drug abuse, addiction, and dual diagnosis, all too often parents remain discouraged about prior failed treatment attempts. Let’s consider that the addicted loved one and their family may not have received the appropriate individualized approach to effectively treat their issue in the first place, not that the person is untreatable.
2. Heart disease. The spouse utters, “He knows he has high blood pressure so it’s not my place to get involved or try to help. He just doesn’t connect the dots around ways to improve his health so I’m not wasting my time. Let’s wait until he’s had a stroke and maybe then he will listen.” Ridiculous. No cardiologist or family member would make such a statement when it comes to the heart. Why do so many take this approach with alcoholism?
3. Diabetes. The siblings say, “I don’t really think she is diabetic, it’s probably just a phase. One day she will snap out of it and take care of herself.” Similar to diabetes, substance use disorder is common, life threatening, and can be a very costly disease to treat effectively – not a phase that someone will just “get over”. For someone with diabetes or a substance use disorder to live a fully functional life requires an individualized holistic treatment plan implemented consistently over time to create a new healthy lifestyle.
4. Alzheimer's disease. The adult children contemplate, “His behavior has changed. He seems to be forgetting a lot and his judgment is impaired. Let’s wait and see how bad it gets before doing anything.” Similar to Alzheimer’s, alcoholism is a progressive condition where symptoms usually get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Why would you wait to see how bad it gets before intervening? You wouldn’t.
5. Depression. The parents and physician are discussing the child, "He seems to be withdrawing. It’s time he starts to deal with his problem, once he’s suffered enough and hit bottom, we will know because he will have attempted suicide and then will be ready for help." Seriously? Certainly this would be a reckless and egregious stance to take.
Change the Conversation
Obviously, these are tough to hear, which is exactly why we now must change the conversation when it comes to treating those who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. People with alcohol and drug problems also tend to have co-occurring mental-health issues at a higher than average rate. To actually assume that they will be able to sink to a severe bottom on their own and then ask for help is a very risky roll of the dice that results in too many lives lost.
At The Plahn Group we are changing the conversation on addiction and substance use disorders. We work with families and addicted individuals (especially those in denial and resistant to accepting help) to bring lasting recovery to the entire family system. Contact us now if you or a loved one is in need of help for mental health and/or substance abuse issues. It is never too early; don’t wait until it’s too late.