After watching Charlie Sheen on CNN last night, I felt I should write something about addictions. Mr. Sheen’s interview was a disgrace to families everywhere dealing with an addictive relative. He was disrespectful to every Alcohol and Drug (AOD) professional, the 12 step program and yes, he is in major denial. Sure some addicts have been able to stay off the wagon on their own for periods of time. It is pretty rare that a person can be found who did it all alone and gave up the habit forever. So if you are reading this and are an addict or you are a family member and know someone, don’t buy a word he said.
Addicts are good con artists. Once a con, always a con. I’ve known people who were clean for over a decade and still pulling a con one way or another. Lying comes easy when you are good at it. In order to score on the streets, in very dangerous neighborhoods, where your life is in danger on a daily basis, you lie for your life. If you are still alive, than you have become quite good at it.
Since I am not an AOD professional, I want to speak to the family. There are some things you need to know about your addict.
1. It runs in the family. Your child or relative is not the first one to start using. It either came from the maternal or paternal side. Addiction of one thing or another, it is biological.
2. As a family member you need to disappear from the addicts life. They need to be so stranded and isolated from any form of family until they learn to stand up for themselves. Of all the successful recovering addicts I have heard from, when there was no one there in their life to con money from, steal from, or depend on, this was when they finally hit bottom and began to recover. This doesn’t mean you can’t take a phone call, email, or even Skype BUT only if you are strong enough to say NO to money, housing, borrowing, visiting, anything. If not, you are back to square one. Don’t be the loser who ends up with no house, car, bankrupt, because you were trying to show your love. Love does not mean enabling the addict. No one will respect a family member for allowing an addict to take them to the cleaners. Even if they are a relative.
3. Join a support group. There is Al-Anon (this link is for an online web community, they can hook you up with a local group in your city, state). You won’t feel so alone when you are talking to other relatives who are dealing with the same thing.
4. Recovery Programs – don’t get hooked into paying for recovery programs. If you pay, they won’t do the work. They are continuing to con you out of money. It’s a way of “pulling your chain” so to speak. If they want to get clean, they have to do it on their own. This is their adult lesson in life. It is their lesson forever because once an addict you are always an addict. The only difference is that when you are not using, you are called a recovering addict but the weakness is still there and the client will still confront it every day of their life until they die. Unless they worked to accomplish the task of sobriety, they won’t respect it.
5. Jesus/Mohammed – Just like in prison, suddenly finding the Lord or Allah or whomever is the family belief, it is all a game. Especially if religion is important in your family and they know it is crucial to winning you back. If they have religion say, “Good for you, I will see you in church/temple, on Sunday,” or “I guess I will see you at the next religious meeting.” Don’t offer them a ride, don’t take them home. Any one on one time you have with them is their time to invest in conning you. A spiritual journey is one that must be taken alone. If it is a serious journey, they will find God/Allah or their guru no matter where they are in the world. They won’t need a ride to get to this place. If they are working on sobriety, than they will have a sponsor and plenty of people who can give them rides or support through a 12-step program. If they are behind bars, they will bring the spiritual teacher to them.
The bottom line here is that the fix is all that is important to the addict. When they see you, family member, all they see is $$$$ for the drug or alcohol that they are using. This is how important using is to them. They aren’t thinking love, they are thinking fix. You are not giving them love, you are hurting them even more by not being strong enough to push them away. The further along they are, the harder it is to crash and come back to reality. The longer you buy into their beliefs, to anything they say, the longer they will be on the drugs/alcohol. It isn’t your fault for making them an addict but it is your fault for allowing them to continue, if you are enabling them.
When should you believe an addict? All of these items below:
1. When you see a complete turnaround from your addict relative and they have at least 2-3 years of sobriety under their belt. Even then you should be wary but as the years climb and they have recovered longer, you will begin to see a difference and will begin to trust a little more.
2. When they are no longer asking and are beginning to give. And I mean they ask for NOTHING. Take the gifts with a grain of salt. Don’t get too excited or too hooked into the present. Say “Thank you, I am proud of you.” but do so with a very stern voice and a tight smile. You can’t ever let your guard down. You have to be a strong relative that never goes back to the same vulnerable relative you once were.
3. You do not see them with ANY kind of substance other than coffee and cigarettes. They are legal and generally what addicts live off of when they get clean. If they say, “Oh, its just pot and I can’t give up pot.” Or when they say, “Oh, I just have a few beers, at least I am not using heroin anymore.” This means they are still an addict. Personally, I feel that even coffee and cigarettes should be weaned off of as well, they are still bad for your health and contribute to personality issues. It is also an addiction as well. However, if your addict is only doing coffee and cigarettes, it is different. They probably won’t lose their job over it.
4. When the addict is working, going to school, living independently, with self or others and is beginning to take responsibility for life. Again, don’t get hooked on it just smile and say they are doing a great job.
5. When the addict is involved in a 12 step program, AOD professional and psychotherapy. As I said before, no addict can do this on their own. AOD professionals concentrate on helping them rebuild their life (they are found at clinics usually but also at Veteran’s Administration or through their insurance company – if they still have one). The addict needs to make the choice to go through these professionals as it is a way of taking responsibility for the problem. The psychotherapist is key to unlocking where all this addiction came from, how it effected the client as a child, when their own behaviors began and why. Sometimes addicts are self-medicating because they have a mental illness. When a psychotherapist is able to figure this out, the client will be sent to a psychiatrist/psychologist for a medication evaluation, with the understanding that the client is an addict. It doesn’t mean they will be put on medications but they will be properly assessed and given recommendations.
Addictions is a mental health issue. Like any other mental illness, it must be treated properly and with advice from experts who have specializations in this field. I am not just a professional writing about this, but like you, I have a relative in my own family and I have made many of the mistakes above. My relative got this addiction from the paternal side of their family and unfortunately the maternal side did not know anything about addictions. We’ve learned from experience, though some of my family still continues to hang on and the relative continues to saddle up to their side, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Take charge and don’t make your family a victim. This is just as hard for you, as the relative, as it is for the addict. You have to be the stronger one though and enforce tough love. Whatever the consequences to your addict relative, it is not your fault (earlier I said it was if you enabled them, now I am talking about something else). By this I mean, if they end up having overdosed, in jail/prison, taking their life, losing an organ, none of this is your fault. Addictions come with a price and when you use, you must pay the piper.
If an addict succeeds in finding their path toward recovery, they MUST do it on their own, or they will never respect the process.