When A Loved One Is Addicted

Dear Kim,

I am writing to ask for help about my son who is using marijuana heavily in college and it is ruining his life. He has dropped out of school and is not motivated for friends or anything else that he used to enjoy. His personality is completely different and he refuses to come home for the summer. His dad and I feel hopeless with him being so far away.  I know that I am not helping by giving him money every time he asks for something, as my brother keeps telling me that I need to stop this. We cannot continue to keep paying for this bad life that he is leading because of drugs. Can you recommend a treatment center for marijuana abuse and how can we get this started. We keep getting weak and he yells and hangs up the phone on me when I try to talk to him. I'm so desperate, can't sleep and cry all the time. I'm a complete mess.

Thanks for any help, (SK Westchester, NY)

Sometimes parents are in the tough, and also ideal position of having the leverage and resources to intervene. In response to this mom, I agree that they can not continue to support his habit, pay his rent, etc., and mom needed to take care of herself and make her own health a priority, otherwise she will be of little help to anyone. Mom made a plan to take better care of herself by returning to exercise and yoga, finding a support group and therapist and she also decided to ask her doctor for short-term medication so that she can sleep again, which will help her cope better in the many areas of her life. I learned in the phone consultation that her brother has a good relationship with the boy and may be a good resource for them.

Parents and loved ones often feel shame and get blamed and pained in the addiction community for "enabling" behaviors, which are really done out of love, sheer terror and other complicated reasons -- but not helpful for the user. Learning the difference between helpful, supportive behaviors and efforts that reinforce the problem is a crucial educational piece in the process of helping someone recover. The hardest thing to have to do is cut-off funds for substance abusers in an effort to protect them and reel them in. This bold move of using that as leverage is not for sissies. But we know that the use of therapeutic leverage or pressure, can be a very effective tool to get someone into treatment and help them remain compliant with the recommendations of their rehab or treatment team. Using therapeutic leverage may include limiting access to funds, but may also involve using things the addicted person values, such as relationships, activities, employment or other resources. The fundamental concept is about using external motivation for period of time until an individual develops their own internal motivation to turn their lives around. That goal often happens with a sustained period of abstinence and the discovery that life is better without the habit.

In the same way that someone with a medical disease needs resourced, informed and supportive people to take charge of the situation and run the show, the person in the grip of an addiction, needs the same smart help. It might mean trying something different -- no more desperate pleads -- but something really different and aimed at making treatment feel like the only solution. It's also important to be prepared for step two, which is having a good treatment center, rehab or detox facility researched and prepared for his or her entrance.

This article might be helpful for anyone concerned about a loved one's substance abuse or behavioral addiction. The Horror of Addiction: When it becomes personal by Heather Edwards, published by Mark Banschick, M.D. in Psychology Today provides helpful information about denial, confronting the problem, enabling behaviors, types of treatment and support for family members. One addition resource that many find helpful is a book called Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening by Robert J. Meyers and Brenda L. Wolfe. It offers help for the trickiest part of the matter which is often getting through to someone and suggests techniques to make treatment more attractive to the substance user called Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT). This alternative method to confrontation uses evidence-based behavioral principles to reduce substance use in the individual and increase motivation, with the goal of getting them engaged in treatment. Additionally, this book focuses on concerned significant others or (CSO's) and addresses their need for support and self-care by providing solutions to reduce stress and increase or restore the once meaningful activities back to their lives. Behavior therapy or positive reinforcement is used in the book as well as an alternative to just "letting go" which is offered by important to many support groups like Al-Anon. In my opinion, the before mentioned approach leaves concerned others feeling helpless, whereas the CRAFT approach offers CSO's an active and more engaged process, which in the end, may be more helpful. Learn more about CRAFT (it's a good read!), and even though it mostly targets alcoholism, the approach can be used for other addictions and problem behaviors.

I enjoy working and supporting people in all stages of recovery as well as family members struggling with the stress of addiction that hits home. Helping them move from a place of powerlessness and helplessness to success and empowerment. I support the recovery process by using EMDR therapy, relaxation techniques, DBT skills and Mindfulness approaches.

Additional resources (and they are all different): SMART Recovery, CRAFT, AA, Al-Anon & Alateen 

Kim Seelbrede is a former Miss USA and a New York City psychotherapist, coach, consultant and EMDR therapist who specializes in a holistic approach to therapy and coaching, working with adults, adolescents and couples. Kimberly is trained to collaborate with you in developing the insight and coping skills to address many concerns including: relationships, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, self-esteem, self-harm, ADD, ADHD, social difficulties, adolescent challenges, family issues, underachievement, perfectionism, identity and sexuality concerns, addictions, compulsions, OCD, binge eating, PTSD, trauma, transitions, life purpose, spirituality, health concerns, weight management, stress management, performance problems, life balance, meditation and mindfulness support.  Please email her to arrange a consultation in her Manhattan office or online via Skype. 

Kim completed her graduate studies at New York University and has advanced post-graduate psychotherapy training and also holds an advanced certificate to practice EMDR therapy as well as specialized training in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), DBT skills, Non-Violent Communication (NVC), and applies the work of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and her training with The Gottman Institute in her work with couples. She Is a registered yoga therapist (200 + 500 RYT) trained with the Urban Zen Foundation.

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