Before the Detox, the 28 Day Drug Rehab, the Long Term Residential Addiction Treatment,  and the Sober House

The entire maze of drug and alcohol addiction resources and choices – the intervention, detox, 28 day program, long term residential drug rehab, sober house, recovery coaching option, and outpatient treatment  – can be overwhelming for families. To guide parents through that maze, leading medical centers such as Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) now offer help in making sense of substance misuse treatment options, while at the same time educating us about cutting edge approaches to addiction treatment for our child.

From the experts at MGH a new approach to addiction intervention has emerged, and it asks much from those of us who love a drug addict.

First, it asks us to adopt a counter-intuitive, stigma-challenging, informed attitude toward addiction as a “disease of the brain, much like Alzheimer’s disease or a brain tumor.”  This science-based concept of addiction as brain disease isn’t exclusive to MGH; the National Institute for Drug Abuse and the American Society for Addiction Medicine, among other researchers and addiction professionals, tell us that addiction is not just a disease of the brain, but a chronic, life-long condition much like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and asthma.

But MGH goes a bit further, telling us to shape our attitude and actions as a result of the current science:

There is no reason to feel guilt, shame or resentment towards a person’s addiction, even if it has caused them to do or say unlikeable things. Rather, it is important to understand addiction for the medical condition that it is. Therefore, people with substance-related problems should actually receive sympathy, rather than anger or blame, just as they would if they had any other medical condition.

A New Model of Intervention that Empowers Parents

Besides asking us to shape our attitude around science, addiction specialists at MGH actually ask parents not to talk about drugs, alcohol, and substance abuse with our suffering child.

(That’s a ‘whoa, wait a minute’ moment.)

In a moving, deeply human, terrifying, humbling, and open-hearted call-to-action, MGH’s Addiction Resource Management Services (ARMS) advises parents to initiate an intervention by not talking about drugs or alcohol.

PLEASE watch as Dr. Kane of ARMS explains the approach in three short clips.  In the “First Step” clip about connecting emotionally with our child, Dr. Kane encourages parents to create open communication channels around positive, shared experiences – without talking about drugs.  In the “Three Steps” clip, she suggests using conversation to understand our child’s point of view, to accept and acknowledge our parental responsibility, and to offer our assistance with problems that seem to challenge our child.  The goal is to establish a warm, non-judgmental environment, all without talking about drugs.  In the clip “Concerned Your Child Is Using?” she offers very specific strategies for creating a conversation in which we can express our concerns, make inquiries about the observations that give us concern, and ask our child’s assistance in helping us to understand.

What Dr. Kane is asking of us as parents doesn’t seem fair, it isn’t immediately gratifying, it isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and it sets an almost impossibly high bar for parents to act like parents.  But it makes a lot of sense and lays out directions for finding our way back to our child.

A Traditional Model of Intervention

The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence defines intervention as

a professionally directed education process resulting in a face to face meeting of family members, friends and/or employer with the person in trouble with alcohol or drugs.  Intervention helps the person make the connection between their use of alcohol and drugs and the problems in their life.  The goal of intervention is for them to accept help.

The NCADD goes on to claim that when intervention is done “with a person who is trained and successfully experienced as an interventionist, over 90% of people make a commitment to get help.”  In other words, intervention should cost money and should be initiated only under professional guidance.

Almost every traditional intervention expert or authority advises that the first step in finding help for the addict we love is to get over our own denial.  I’m not a fan of that “you’re standing in the way of help” approach, particularly when it’s addressed to an audience already reading about intervention.

While the science and understanding of addiction as a medical condition slowly minimizes the stigma attached to drug and alcohol dependence, attitudes toward family still have a long way to go.  The patient is due empathy and sympathy, but an undercurrent of judgment and criticism toward family still prevails in much of the addiction literature.  The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence cautions that

Most of us approach alcohol and drug problems from a common sense understanding of what we think might help.  In fact, we often make the problem worse for us and the person we are concerned about.

Thank you for that empathetic and encouraging tone of support, NCADD.

Intervention is a moldy tool, developed in the 1970s to help families — under the supervision of a professional — address alcoholism.  NCADD and many other experts in the field of addiction still hold to that model, with its subtle foundational premise that family is part of the problem and that family isn’t qualified to get the job done. In complete contrast, the addiction experts at Mass General have revolutionized the concept of intervention, putting it squarely in the hands of parents, championing parents as ultimately qualified to get the job done, while acknowledging and honoring the sacred bond between parent and child.

Finally, someone is on our side.

Republished with permission from “When We Love An Addict: The Cost of Addiction”

Copyright 2014 Kay Ryan www.whenweloveanaddict.com