When you suspect drug or alcohol abuse
Susan Locke gives some practical tips to help loved ones who may have problems . . .
Some people are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without ever experiencing addiction or negative consequences. Similarly, many people are able to drink socially and never develop problems.
However, for others, substance abuse can cause problems with work, school and relationships. If you’re worried that a family member or coworker has a substance abuse problem, it’s important to know that help is available. The first step is to recognize the warning signs:
• Repeatedly neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school
• Using alcohol in situations where it’s physically dangerous
• Drinking as a way to relax or de-stress. While it is not unusual to have a drink on occasion to relax, when one has to get drunk to deal with stress, it’s a warning sign of abuse.
Alcohol dependence or alcoholism involves all the symptoms of alcohol abuse, but it also involves a physical dependence on alcohol. If one relies on alcohol to function or feels physically compelled to drink, this is a sign of alcohol dependence.
Regarding recreational or prescription drugs, warning signs include:
• Changes in appetite or sleep patterns/sudden weight gain or loss
• Tremors, slurred speech, impaired coordination
• Mood swings, paranoia, periods of hyperactivity
• Deterioration in personal hygiene or physical appearance
For answers on how to help loved ones, I turned to Todd Palumbo, MD, MBA, Lindner Center of HOPE.
What are the first steps to get a loved one into treatment?
First, I recommend a person offer support to the individual. Tell your friend or family member you’re concerned and provide specifics (work problems, isolation, smell of alcohol, etc.). Assure them this is a biological disease for which there are good treatment options and seeking help is not a sign of weakness. The next step is to know what the options are, including the names of counselors, therapists, and physicians who specialize in addiction medicine. Identifying clinicians may require some work before presenting the concerns to the individual in need.
What if the person doesn’t want to address their drug/alcohol problem?
An intervention is always an option for family and friends to consider if a person is reluctant to make a change in their self-destructive behavior. However, the person ultimately has to make the decision to seek help and follow through with the treatment. Family and friends need to make hard decisions on how they show their support for a person who has a drug or alcohol problem. For example, providing financial support for someone who cannot work due to their drug or alcohol use may enable the person to continue to use and not make significant changes.
Does treatment need to be voluntary to be successful?
Acknowledgement that one has a chronic biological disease that requires lifelong awareness and some form of treatment enables a person to be most successful at maintaining their own recovery; more times than not this requires voluntary treatment.
What are the best ways to maintain sobriety after treatment?
Take part in ongoing work with a clinician who specializes in addiction treatment and engagement in self-help groups such as AA/NA, Women for Sobriety, or Celebrate Recovery. This is important to maintaining recovery and preventing relapse. SMART Recovery offers an online community for people. Additionally, Legatus members Mike and Rose Marie Vasquez operate the St. Gregory Retreat Center, specializing in faith-based recovery.
If you would like more information on drug or alcohol treatment options, please call or email Healthnetwork Foundation today.
SUSAN LOCKE, MD, is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.
HEALTHNETWORK is a Legatus membership benefit, a healthcare “concierge service” that provides members and their families access to some of the most respected hospitals in the world. One Call Starts It All: (866) 968-2467 or (440) 893-0830. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org