Help for a Loved One Addicted to Cocaine
There’s a problem… How do we know if someone is addicted to cocaine?
Seeing the tell-tale signs of white powder around the nostrils or a constantly runny nose or frequent nosebleeds should be obvious. Shouldn’t it? Well yes – but there could – just possibly – be other explanations for those signs. And we want to be sure that we don’t accuse or label someone inappropriately… But what will we do if the person simply gets angry and denies there’s anything serious going on?
And then, at the times when things seem to be ticking over well enough for the people we’re concerned about, we feel both relieved and confused. We may doubt our own judgement. And that’s the problem.
If addiction progressed in a straight line downwards, getting progressively worse over the weeks, months and years, it would be easy to see it.
But it doesn’t. And it isn’t. There are times when things really are getting better. Or not getting significantly worse. So we reassure ourselves… until the next time when everything goes pear-shaped.
In due course these crises become more intense and more frequent. That’s what we have to observe. Look at the progression of the crises. And then stick to our guns when we list demonstrable facts rather than give opinions.
Addiction is a chronic illness. Families don’t want to hear that. Addicts themselves deny it and resent it. Doctors and other healthcare workers are disappointed by learning their wise words won’t heal for ever. And politicians ignore it because they know there are no votes in doing anything other than repeat the same old platitudes about education being the solution to everything. They look for change in the environment. Anything to make it look as if they are doing something while expressing serious concern for families and for the community at large. They don’t know what else to do.
All personal and professional helpers of one kind or another dread the idea that addiction goes with the person… until it’s so severe and obvious and seemingly beyond all hope and care.
Then they say that these dreadful addicts must have problems with self-esteem or that they were badly brought up and got in with a bad crowd.
I’ve worked personally with over 5,000 addicts of one kind or another. Many of them were grandiose, came from good homes and had very posh friends. All those features can be particularly true of cocaine addicts. They’re the fun people. And often very much loved.
Then in comes the tried and trusted explanation yet again… Their education was at fault. They didn’t know. They didn’t understand. They took silly risks without seeing what they were doing. And the same old recommendation comes in as well… what they really need is love, education and punishment.
Well, the addicts I know – from all levels of society – have often been very much loved in their childhoods and since. Often they were given more time and attention than their less challenging siblings and friends. But that didn’t change their addictive behaviour. Love is fine. But it doesn’t help an addictive tendency any more than it would help appendicitis.
And addicts have often been very well educated. I’ve treated addicts from some of the finest schools in the country as well as some of the worst.
I’ve given talks in many schools. I don’t tell the children about particular illegal drugs. They may know more about them than I do. I tell them I know I can’t influence them that way. But I know something they don’t know. I know how to get clean and stay clean. I know a lot more about addiction and recovery than they do. That makes them curious… and I’m in with a chance of changing their viewpoints.
University students are more difficult to reach. They’re too clever. They know everything. They couldn’t possibly have addiction problems. They’re just having fun and exerting their rights to freedom.
Doctors, psychologists and other healthcare professionals are impossible to reach. They like intellectual approaches – like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – and they believe in the effectiveness of mood-altering pharmaceutical drugs. I don’t. I’ve seen too much damage caused by those approaches. And too many wasted opportunities to do something more positive and beneficial.
Paradoxically, the three things that work in helping addicts to turn their lives around are love, education and punishment.
The love that works is the love of one addict reaching out to help another to get well. The one who does the loving is the one who benefits.
The education that works is the necessary understanding of addictive disease. As for many clinical conditions, some people have it and others don’t. Those of us who are addicts by nature need to know about it. But there’s no need to tell absolutely everybody all about it – any more than they need to know everything about cancer, heart disease, diabetes and infections of one kind or another. They need to know the basics, nothing more.
The people who need to know allabout addiction are the addicts themselves. But they don’t listen. They don’t believe any of this stuff applies to them. And they may not care even if it does.
But addicts can be helped if they learn about addictive disease in a non-judgemental way. I feel guilty about many things I’ve done but I’m not ashamed of being an addict. That’s like being short-sighted. It’s just the way I am.
The punishment that works is the punishment we addicts give ourselves when we finally recognise how dreadfully damaging our behaviour has been to ourselves and to others.
We learn through pain. Family members, doctors, social workers, politicians and other people who take away our pain will perpetuate our illness and all our problems. They make us worse, not better.
That’s a very difficult message for anyone to hear. But it’s the truth. I got into recovery when I was 47. At last my pain was sufficient for me to realise that I had to change. Or lose everything and everybody I loved. Or maybe die.
I had to recognise that my illness is chronic and therefore my treatment, as for any addict, has to be continued indefinitely on a day-to-day basis.
This is perhaps the most unpopular concept of all. People – family members in particular but also many healthcare professionals as well as the addicts themselves – prefer to believe that abstinence, after a short period of detoxification, is the only intervention required. Once we’re clean we’re clean. And that’s it. We’re not addicts any more. Ha! I wish.
The most constant feature of addiction is recurrent relapse – particularly if the ‘treatment’ given is substitute medication. That’s just another addiction – a stronger one.
The most effective intervention is to say to the addict:
- I love you (or I’m concerned about you)
- AND (not‘but’ – because that would cancel out the love).
- I observe… list 3 facts that cannot be denied. Give no opinions.
- I recommend… Give a clear statement that gives no alternative choice. Otherwise addicts will duck and dive, choosing their own advisors and therapeutic approaches.
- If you do not agree, I shall… (Never make a threat that you are not fully prepared to carry out.)
In my out-patient rehab I find there are only two factors that significantly influence outcome:
- Dealing with all addictive outlets, as revealed on my questionnaires – they’re on this website – and, in particular, giving up smoking. Sorry about that. I know just how unpopular that suggestion is – and I know I can’t make rules for other people – but quitting smoking is a major beneficial influence. Twice as many smokers relapse as non-smokers.
- Family members attending family group sessions. That’s tough too because families don’t reckon they have a problem. Of any kind. But they do. They often enable the addicts to continue their addictive behaviour. And the family members themselves get all the pain.
Generally, friends and families hope the addict’s problems will go away and then they’ll wise up. They don’t. The compulsion to use cocaine and other addictive substances and processes is stronger than the love of family and friends.
That’s very difficult for friends and families to understand. And it’s very difficult for the addicts themselves to understand. So I ask them where they spend their time and money. That shows them their true loyalties. And that loyalty is not to family and friends.
Increased use of drugs leads to even more denial. That’s the tie up between the chemical and psychological effects. The result is that we can’t fight an enemy we don’t see or understand. Therefore we have to learn to see ourselves reflected in the mirror of other recovering addicts.
That’s what I do. I’m an addict. I see that in other addicts and they see it in me. But I know how to stay clean and be happy. If you want a bit of that for yourself, or for a family member or friend, call me on 07540381820 and we’ll talk.