Hope in Hell
To accept the things you cannot change . . . to change the things you can . . . to know the difference.
—Adapted from the AA motto
This book is different.
You may have picked up this book in desperation, you may be afraid nothing will help, but we are optimistic we can change that.
Maybe your husband’s drinking increased after the kids went to college and you worry it’s only going to get worse. Maybe your grown son doesn’t return calls anymore, seems uninterested in working, and smokes a lot of pot. Maybe your daughter has stopped eating, or maybe she can’t seem to stop. Maybe your elderly mom sounds slurry every time you call her in the evening, but never remembers it the next day. Maybe your brother is back in treatment, again, for methamphetamine abuse. Substance and compulsive behavior problemsI
can take endless shapes and vary in terms of severity, scariness, and heartbreak.
Families come to our program every day with these and many other serious problems. Still we are optimistic. We don’t mean that maybe you’ll be lucky or that it’s no big deal. We are optimistic because we know change is possible. If your own optimism has gotten shaky in recent months or years, we invite you to borrow ours for now. Take this book like a steadying hand. And know that you can make a difference.
As researchers and clinicians,
we’ve seen the evidence over the past forty years that families and friends make a difference in helping someone who struggles with drinking, drugs, eating, or other compulsive behaviors. Often, it is the critical difference.
We also know that people get better, and there are many reasons to be hopeful. However, you’re probably more familiar with the popular notions of intractable character defects and progressive, chronic disease. There’s widespread pessimism about the possibility of real change. Addiction can be terrible—at times life-threatening. But change is possible, and there are clear paths leading to it.
This is why, ten years ago, we created a new treatment program, the Center for Motivation and Change (CMC), in New York City, where we are part of a revolution in addiction treatment based on evidence and on a new model for change.
We built our practice on optimism, not because it made us feel good, though it does, but because it works. We base our optimism, our clinical practice, and now this book on forty years of well-documented research on how substances and other compulsive behaviors affect people, why people use them, and how and why people stop self-destructive behavior and start on paths toward health and happiness. In turn, our experiences with thousands of clients bear out the research findings.
There is in fact
a science of change.
Every day at CMC we see clients put it into practice, using the knowledge, attitudes, and skills you’ll find in this book. It takes time, and it is not usually a straight or smooth path. But it is a better way. Things can and do change. The process already started when you picked up this book.
The Science of Change
It’s been five hundred years since the scientific revolution, and we’ve had modern medicine for at least a century. Yet shockingly, the understanding and treatment of substance use in the United States has been
exempt from scientific standards and separate from mainstream healthcare until quite recently.
Researchers in America only began to collect evidence in earnest in the 1970s. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) was established in 1970, followed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1974. Finally, after years of folk wisdom running the gamut from truly helpful to ineffective to harmful, federal money flowed toward scientific studies of what works, including what family and friends like you can do to help. The increasing number of controlled studies,
including our own, over these forty-odd years, has created a mountain of
evidence—scientists have separated the wheat from the chaff, revealing that
certain approaches and treatment strategies are more successful than others. That’s good news, and we hope that it will help you find your own optimism.
Most people equate treatment with intensive, residential “rehab” and believe rehab is the starting point of all change. In fact, there are many treatment options and substantial evidence that outpatient treatment is at least as effective in most cases and
often a better place to start. Since 1996, the
American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends starting with the least intensive treatment that is safe. Dr. Mark Willenbring, former director of the Treatment and Recovery Research Division of NIAAA, describes how the vast majority of people who could benefit from help don’t get it, in part because the system is designed to treat the most severe problems, while
the culture dictates waiting until someone “hits bottom”—in other words, waiting until problems become severe. Family members and friends are left with few options other than to stand by and watch things get worse, then get their loved one into rehab if they can. This despite strong evidence that
reaching people early, when their problems are less severe and more treatable, leads to better outcomes. Thankfully, the treatment system is starting to change.
The evidence supports many ways to address substance use disorders, as many ways as there are reasons people have them. Treatment is not always necessary; it turns out that
many people get better without ever seeking professional help. There is also clear evidence that certain treatment approaches consistently outperform others.
Cognitive-behavioral and motivational approaches, for example, which treat substance abuse like any other human behavior, are significantly more effective than confrontational approaches aimed to challenge a person’s “denial” about his “disease.”
Research has demonstrated that the popular belief that if someone “just stops” using a substance, then the rest of his problems will take care of themselves is simplistic and untrue. Substance problems are complex and multidetermined, often driven by underlying psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or attention deficit disorders that require specialized attention over and beyond just treating the substance problem. In other words,
good treatment often includes psychiatric care, which has historically been overlooked or even discouraged in some drug and alcohol treatment settings.
Science has also given us a better understanding of the brain’s role in substance use and compulsive behaviors. With that science, there are new
medications that reduce cravings and compulsivity, block drug effects, ease withdrawal, and treat underlying issues.
Neuroimaging research provides new insights into the effects of substances on the brain; and recent discoveries in neuroscience have shown
the power of neuroplasticity in the brain’s healing itself.
And science has revealed that teenagers are not simply grown-ups who text a lot; they are neurologically, psychologically, socially, and legally different from adults, and they have different treatment needs. Until about fifteen years ago, most of the services available for adolescents were barely modified adult treatments. Clinical trials have shown us that
teenagers respond well to appropriate treatment and just as with adults, some treatments are considerably more effective than others. You might be surprised to learn that they all involve parents as active treatment participants (and often siblings, peers, and school systems).II
Finally, research has shown how you can play a role in change. Our work with families and friends of people with substance problems is
informed by CRAFT—Community Reinforcement and Family Training—a scientifically supported, evidence-based, clinically proven approach to helping families of substance abusers. CRAFT grew out of treatment innovations that began in the 1970s. A group of researchers in Illinois, led by behavioral psychologist Nathan Azrin, developed what is still
the most effective behavioral treatment for substance users, and called it the Community Reinforcement Approach, or CRA. In the process, they discovered that
family involvement was a crucial factor in successful change. Robert J. Meyers, PhD (one of the original Illinois group), expanded the CRA approach to work with families when their loved one refused help, and called it CRAFT. After moving to the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions (CASAA) at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Meyers conducted further research and clinical trials (teaming with Jane Ellen Smith, PhD), and they and others investigating CRAFT have given us robust evidence that given the right tools, families can effect change.
CRAFT has three goals: 1.) to teach you skills to take care of yourself; 2.) to teach you skills you can use to help your loved one change; and 3.) to reduce substance use, period, whether your loved one gets formal treatment or not. CRAFT is behavioral in that it employs strategies for real-world, observable change. CRAFT is also motivational, drawing its strength from collaboration and kindness rather than confrontation and conflict. This motivational and behavioral approach is the core of our work with families, the substance of the helping strategies in this book, and an opportunity for profound change.
Drs. Meyers and Smith and other research groups have studied CRAFT with family members from a variety of socioeconomic, ethnic, and age groups struggling with a range of different substances, with the following results:
Two-thirds of people using substances who had been initially resistant to treatment agreed to go to treatment (typically after family members had around five sessions of CRAFT).
• The majority of participating spouses and parents reported being happier, less depressed, less angry, and having more family cohesion and less family conflict than prior to their CRAFT sessions, whether or not their loved one engaged in treatment.
• CRAFT’s effectiveness in engaging substance users and improving family functioning is found across substance types, relationship types, and ethnicities.
Good News: Things get better with CRAFT. Families feel better, substance use often decreases, and people with substance problems usually enter treatment when a family member uses CRAFT.
CRAFT works, first, because it understands substance problems holistically, in the context of family, community, and work. People do not use substances in a vacuum. Their relationships impact their substance use just as their substance use impacts their relationships. CRAFT recognizes that most family members and friends, for their part, have good intentions, good instincts, and a healthy desire to help. CRAFT treats the problems families face as a deficit of skills rather than as a disease of codependence. These skills can be learned.
Second, CRAFT recognizes that “just stopping” is not a sustainable long-term solution. While change depends at first on stopping (or reducing), the $64,000 question is what promotes staying stopped. CRAFT asks
you to see what makes substance use rewarding to your loved one, so that you can introduce the “competition”—more constructive activities that serve the same needs—into her world. To this end, CRAFT will feel strange at first. If you have been viewing her substance problem as the cause of all other problems for some time, you may wonder what taking her bike in for a tune-up could have to do with anything. Plenty, as we’ll see.
What We Offer
First, we offer a new perspective on why your loved one does what he does. “Why” is a key to change. Second, we will teach you skills: positive communication, reinforcement strategies, and problem-solving skills to transform your relationship with your loved one and your life. Third, we will help you navigate what is often a one-toned, ideologically tinged treatment system, because there are treatment approaches and settings, medications, and knowledge available that you run a high risk of never encountering through traditional channels. Fourth, we will show you how to take better care of yourself so you’ll have the energy to keep going, keep changing, keep helping. Finally, we will teach you skills to make peace with the things you cannot change.
Questions You Might Have
Here are the primary questions from families who come to us. While there is no quick fix, we do have some answers.
Can I really help him if he doesn’t want to change?
Yes! This is perhaps the best question you could ask, and really the heart of the matter. With a motivational approach,
part of helping people change is helping them want to change. You, the one at his side, worried, distraught, and horrified, don’t have to stand by in detachment or go ballistic as your only alternatives (though you might do these things sometimes anyway). If you give people the right encouragement, stay connected to them, provide good options (not ultimatums), respect their right to be part of the solution, and keep your balance by taking care of yourself and setting healthy limits, things get better. Change doesn’t always happen as quickly as we want and it can be messy, but it happens.
Even when people say repeatedly that they don’t want to or simply can’t change, they do so all the time—even in the face of long odds. Why? Because change becomes worth it to them. The balance shifts enough for
them to say, “Enough! Let me try another way.” The pain of continuing what they are doing and the benefits of changing begin to seem to them to outweigh the benefits of continuing to use and the pain of changing. The little-known but well-documented secret of our field is that
many people change on their own, including recovering from terrible substance problems, because change becomes worth it.
The reality is that people by nature have a self-righting mechanism—but you don’t need to wait passively for this righting mechanism to kick in. Your involvement can help bring about an internal shift in your loved one toward positive change. Most people do not need to “hit rock bottom” and “admit they are addicts” for real change to occur. Though some people change this way,
it’s not the only way. In fact, when people use these phrases to describe how they changed, they are expressing their versions of exactly what we mean—something shifted to make it worth it to them. What you will learn here is how to help your loved one make this shift, without stepping away from him, and sooner rather than later. This book will help you trust and influence the process of change.
What if I feel as though I’ve already tried everything?
Depending on what has transpired by the time you picked up this book, some skepticism at the idea of doing more is understandable. It’s also natural for you to despair sometimes, but this doesn’t mean your situation is actually hopeless. At some level you know this: you’re reading this book because even if you feel as though you’ve tried everything, you’re still trying! It can be hard to feel hopeful when change doesn’t seem to be happening, despite best intentions and major investments of time, money, and emotions. However, we know that you haven’t tried everything, though you may feel like you have. How do we know? Because at this point
only a few treatment providers in North America share our approach for working with families and friends. The system is starting to change, but for now we can be pretty sure you’ll find something new here.
You’ll discover, for instance, that how you communicate has a major impact on your loved one’s attitude toward change, her willingness to take more responsibility for herself, the atmosphere in your home, and how you feel when your head meets your pillow at night. While many of us feel like we can communicate well enough, when it comes to stressed interactions with our loved one, communication typically breaks down. Stepping away from the fight and using new communication skills will make a difference.
You’ll see that lapses and relapses—commonly seen as crises—are a natural part of getting better for most people. They are not failures to
change but opportunities to learn. Most people go through many stages of change—resistance, willingness, learning and progress, frustrations and setbacks, more resistance, more willingness, more learning and progress. Understandably, your loved one’s setbacks may try your patience and equanimity. With new understanding, resilience, and skills to tolerate the downs with the ups, you won’t have to feel as though your life is on hold (or coming apart) until she gets it perfectly.
You’ll learn that you can help by seeing your loved one’s point of view; by knowing your full range of options; by understanding how change works. You can help by treating her with kindness and respect; by learning how to problem-solve; by learning how to have patience. You can help her navigate the treatment system and you can support her aftercare plan. You can let her understand that while you may be upset sometimes, you’re on her side. You can help by getting out of the way to let her realize the consequences of her behavior. You can help by taking care of yourself. There are many ways you can help your loved one change. We will show you how.
And, what about me? How can I begin to feel better?
In other words, how can you help yourself? You may feel exhausted from helping so much and you may doubt whether you can help any more. At the same time, you may believe that putting your needs last is the hallmark of a good helper. But the captain doesn’t help by going down with the ship (however heroic it seems); taking care of yourself is a skill you can’t afford to ignore.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably been living for some time—for many people it’s been years—with a toxic combination of fear, anger, and wishing that there weren’t really a problem or that the problem would just go away.
Chronic worrying affects your physical and mental health. It can disrupt your sleep, interfere with your concentration, and play havoc with your moods. It wears on your heart, figuratively and physiologically. You may have gotten to the point where the only way you show love toward this person is by worrying. You may not have noticed the effect worry is having on you because you’ve been so busy worrying about someone else. This book will help you change too.
And, finally: What can I DO right now?
First, change the way you think about substance use, compulsive behavior, and change. This is important: thinking is doing. How you think about a problem is the first step to a solution and the first thing you can change. To help you do this, we’ve distilled the ten most revolutionary discoveries
by scientists and clinicians in our field over the past forty years—ten evidence-based reasons to have hope.
1. You can help.
We can’t emphasize enough that you can help.
The research evidence is clear:
involving family and friends in helping a loved one struggling with substances significantly increases the odds of improvement and helps maintain positive changes.
Family influence is a commonly cited reason for seeking treatment for substance use problems. In other words, you have an impact and you have leverage.
The opposite has been said too often, that the best way to help is not to help. You have probably run into terms like “tough love,” “enabling,” “codependency,” and “detach with love.” They’re everywhere, so it’s no wonder so many people are confused—maybe even feeling guilty and blamed.
Our clients who have read books on codependency worry about doing anything nice for their loved ones for fear that it might be “enabling” their destructive behavior. One client asked if it was okay to make waffles for his daughter on Sunday morning. He knew she still smoked pot sometimes, and he was scared of inadvertently encouraging the behavior by being nice. Of course it’s okay to make your loved one breakfast. We will teach you how to take care of your loved one without condoning or supporting the behavior you don’t want.
Conversely, when frustrations and disappointments mount, you may, understandably, want to get “tough”—yell or turn your back. But when you yell at your loved one to stop drinking, are you straightening her out, or giving her more reason to drink? When you don’t yell at your loved one to stop drinking, are you sending the message that it’s not important to you?
These are all good questions. Our answers may surprise you. We’ll show you how to extricate yourself from negative patterns, not by “detaching” but by encouraging positive, nonusing behaviors instead.
2. Helping yourself helps.
It’s not either/or. You don’t have to choose between your self-preservation and his. The evidence is clear about this too. You might feel distant; you might feel like you hardly know him anymore, but you and your loved one are on parallel paths. When you help yourself, you help your loved one.
Your emotional resilience, physical health, social supports, and perspective on change can contribute to his. First, you will be setting an example. Second, you need internal resources to do what is most helpful for your loved one.
As you read this book you’ll notice that what we will ask of you will be similar to what you will ask of your loved one. We want you to feel better about you and learn how to take care of you. We want you to feel hopeful about your life and remember how to have fun. We want you to notice what’s not working for you, try something different, and practice, practice, practice.
To paraphrase the classic airplane safety announcement: you both need oxygen; we want you to put on your oxygen mask first.
3. Your loved one isn’t crazy.
Nor is your loved one a bad person. From your perspective, her behavior may seem to lie somewhere on a spectrum between ill-advised and demonic. From her perspective, it makes a certain kind of sense—and her perspective matters. People don’t use substances because they’re crazy. People don’t use substances because they’re bad people. People use substances because they get something they like out of it.
Maybe it makes socializing easier, or makes business doable, or makes sex possible, or makes depression go away. Maybe it’s fun (one of the hardest reasons to accept when the downsides are so apparent to you). The reasons are different for different people. You wouldn’t be reading this if there weren’t a serious downside to the way your loved one uses substances, and the suggestion that you try to understand her point of view may seem galling to you. But understanding—not condoning—why people do what they do gives us a much better chance of helping.
It may seem like a leap, but most people, including people with substance problems, are capable of making rational decisions. Studies have found repeatedly that
most people stop abusing substances on their own, without formal treatment or intervention. If you believe, however, that a person is incapable of honesty, reasoning, and constructive collaboration with you, there will be no chance of engaging on these terms. And probably she will live down to your expectations. Research has shown that
the more you criticize someone, presumably (and understandably) in the hopes of “getting through” to her, the more defensive she’ll become—which is often taken for “denial.” This book offers strategies based on respect and optimism that are proven to lower defenses and get you on the same side, working together against the problem.
You may feel you have lost touch completely with your loved one’s good qualities. That’s a sad place to be, but understandable. One of our hopes in writing this book is to help you find the good again.
4. The world isn’t black-and-white.
Traditional notions of addiction give you two, and only two, options. People are said to be addicts or not. Addicts are said to be ready to change or not. They’re either recovering or they’re in denial, “with the program” or not. (In the black-and-white view, there’s only one program.) Treatment is rehab or nothing. Success or failure. Healthy or sick. “Clean” or dirty. Abstinent or relapsing. And for friends and family: “intervening” or “enabling.” The good news? It’s not true!
The truth is, problems with substances vary; and individual differences matter.
The current scientific evidence supports an explanatory model involving psychological, biological, and social factors. And, while you might fantasize about a lever you can pull that will send your loved one straight to rehab and he will come back cured, that’s black-and-white thinking, too. The truth is that
people are more likely to make big changes and continue with those changes if they are given time and help to choose among reasonable alternatives.
Black-and-white thinking is not just a philosophical problem; it’s a barrier to change.
5. Labels do more harm than good.
Studies have shown repeatedly that one of the major impediments to seeking help for substance problems is stigma.
Many people don’t seek help because they expect to be offered only one way to get it—accepting a label of alcoholic or addict.
Black-and-white thinking naturally leads to labeling, which involves an us-and-them mentality that divides people into “addicts” and “the rest of us.” In fact, by branding more than 20 million Americans with a single label and treating them according to that label, the media and parts of the treatment community have given people the wrong idea, that everyone struggling with these problems is basically the same.
You may not be sure whether your loved one is an addict. Or you may be sure, and you’re wasting a lot of energy trying to argue her into agreeing with you. We recommend you to put aside the question of whether someone is an “addict” or “alcoholic.”
The label simply doesn’t matter.
What matters is what matters to you and to her: What effect is the substance use having in her life and in yours? What will motivate your loved one to change? The answers will be based on how well you know your loved one as an individual and the particular ways you matter to each other.
Rather than reach for a label, save your energy for the more constructive work of problem solving.
6. Different people need different options.
Inpatient, outpatient. Group therapy, individual therapy. Outpatient once a week, twice a week, every day. Anticraving medications, medications for symptoms of withdrawal. Treatment for co-occurring disorders like depression or attention deficit. Extended care facilities. Sober companions. Self-help support groups. Cognitive-behavioral therapy. “90 in 90.” Talking with a rabbi or priest. Starting to exercise. There are many therapeutic options—some not as widely available as others; some approaches better supported by evidence than others. The most important things to bear in mind are 1.) no single size fits all, and 2.) having a choice among treatment plans and plans for change in general predicts positive outcomes. On these points the evidence is crystal clear.
Giving people options helps them get invested in the resulting plan.
Backing people into a corner and telling them what they should do—the “rehab or else” approach—might get them into rehab. But rehab might not be the best option for them, and
coercion may kill their motivation to even participate while in treatment, and may also undermine their motivation to continue making changes afterward. (If there is a moment of truth in rehab, it’s not when people enter, it’s when they leave.) Then again, an ultimatum might not get them into rehab at all and only succeed in increasing their defensiveness.
For more than half a century, high-confrontation addiction treatment in this country has aimed at “breaking through” an addict’s supposed “denial” or resistance to treatment. Some of us in the field now have recognized—and studies have proven—that
this kind of confrontation increases resistance. The evidence-based treatments we describe give you the option—many options, in fact—to opt out of the awful, self-fulfilling prophecy of confrontation and resistance. The point is not to force your loved one into just any treatment. It’s more helpful to find the best kinds of treatment for her particular problems, and engage her motivation to be part of the plan.
We will lay out the considerations that go into good treatment planning and describe the major evidence-based treatment approaches. We will help you ask questions that help you assess the nature and quality of prospective treatment providers, including how (or if) they would individualize a plan for your loved one.
7. Treatment isn’t the be-all and end-all.
You can make significant changes in your life, including your relationship, whether or not your loved one enters treatment. You might have been relieved to learn there’s a good chance that he may even get better without treatment.
One national survey found that 24 percent of people diagnosed with alcohol dependence (the most severe category of alcohol problem) recovered on their own within a year.
Remember, CRAFT results in better communication and relationship satisfaction, increased happiness on the part of the family member or friend, and reduced substance use even when the loved one doesn’t enter treatment. In other words, you can be a positive influence and your loved one can get better, all without ever crossing the threshold of a treatment center or self-help group.
We recommend that you think less about getting your loved one to admit to an addiction and more about what it takes to build a better life. For you, that might entail reaching out to friends, treatment for depression, more exercise, kinder self-talk, starting a morning meditation routine, revisiting an old hobby. For your loved one, it might mean talking to her pastor, talking to her mom, revisiting an old hobby, being more honest. People get better in a variety of ways—so many ways that we don’t know them all. Our clients surprise us and your loved one may surprise you. And if your loved one does enter treatment, or is already in treatment, we will help you support that process, during and after.
We’re not saying this will be easy or that there is one sure thing that will make all the difference. We’re saying that the way people sustain ongoing, long-term change is through building a better life in ways that matter to them as individuals.
8. Ambivalence is normal.
When a person is motivated in two opposing directions at the same time, that’s ambivalence. Ambivalence is a defining feature not just of struggles with substance use, but of change in general. How can people define a goal for change when they’re pulled in two directions? That pull is a big part of relapsing to old behaviors (“I don’t want to, but I also do”).
Psychological theories of motivation explain how working with ambivalence is critical to helping someone change. Unfortunately, traditional treatment has not handled ambivalence particularly well, shutting out people who can’t commit unequivocally to abstinence up front, and kicking out the very people who need treatment most when they lapse. The assumption
has been that people can’t be helped until they are willing to never use again. That assumption is wrong.
Empirical evidence indicates that people can be helped long before they’re that certain, if they ever are. The data about how people really behave and change contradicts the view that a commitment to absolute, lifelong abstinence is the only legitimate option. One major clinical study found that
believing lifelong abstinence to be a requirement of change predicted higher rates of relapse. For most people, use falls somewhere along a continuum of unproblematic, problematic in varying ways and degrees, and destructive. For many people, change is gradual, a process of weighing costs and benefits and experimenting to find out what works. Change often happens incrementally, rarely in a straight line, and continues until the problem has improved to the satisfaction of the one making changes.
At the time they enter treatment, many people need to abstain from using a substance to eliminate its negative effects and establish a steady path. As providers, we support their efforts and teach them the skills to be successful. The evidence suggests, however, that for others,
moderation is a reasonable and viable goal. Moderation can be a terrifying concept for families and friends when they’ve witnessed someone repeatedly lose control; but it has been demonstrated in research and in everyday life to work for some people.
Perhaps more important is the revelation that
more people may find their way to abstinence when given a choice. Some of our outpatient clients start with moderation as their goal and wind up with abstinence based on their own experience. Even in inpatient settings, where abstinence is the goal, it’s not uncommon for people to express concerns about staying sober forever. Working with ambivalence, we help people realize what it is they want to do and how to do it, and weigh benefits and costs and make positive choices that make sense to them. Over time, our clients discover for themselves what works, knowing that the advice they are getting from us is geared toward helping them, not forcing or condemning them. They feel respected and in turn gain self-respect. “I never thought I would want to stop drinking altogether,” they say. If we had told them in the beginning, “You must stop drinking,” they would never have gotten there. By understanding their ambivalence, people can better internalize their own profound and lasting reasons to change.
9. People can be helped at any time.
Motivation for change can occur whenever the costs of a behavior perceptibly outweigh the benefits. Sometimes external factors influence
motivation. For example, as public awareness of the health costs of smoking cigarettes increased, many people quit. Internal factors can also move a person to change. If a person who used to drag herself into a job she hated gets a new job that she likes very much, she may start to consider whether the mild hangover she has every morning from drinking three glasses of wine at night interferes with her work. Instead of rolling her hangovers into her overall resentment of her job, she may start to feel that they are getting in the way of her enjoyment.
We can’t stress this enough: what looks like unwillingness to change is often a defensive reaction. People with substance problems respond with significantly
less resistance to kindness and respectful treatment (as do the rest of us). So don’t wait for your loved one to “hit bottom”—it can be dangerous, and problems are more treatable the sooner they are caught. And don’t lose hope in the face of resistance from your loved one. Resistance is subject to change.
The positive communication skills you’ll learn will help lower defenses. You’ll also find strategies for increasing the costs and decreasing the benefits of your loved one’s substance use. You’ll learn how to recognize, reward, invite, and support turns for the better. You will begin to allow the natural, negative consequences of your loved one’s use to weigh in (on him, not you!). The questions we recommend you ask of prospective treatment providers are designed to help you home in on those who will meet your situation respectfully and tailor treatment to particular needs, hopes, and goals.
10. Life is a series of experiments.
Try thinking like a scientist. This doesn’t mean having all the answers or being overly analytical; it means adopting an open-ended questioning, experimental approach to life. Observe, try, notice what works and what doesn’t, and adjust your strategies accordingly. Be proactive instead of reactive. As difficult as it is when your buttons have been pushed and you’re impatient for change, try to stay calm. Think of Copernicus, who was open-minded enough to recognize something as counterintuitive as the Earth revolving around the sun. Think of Gandhi, observing people to understand them, acting according to his reason as well as his heart. Be yourself, but be as willing to change as you want your loved one to be. And try not to take things personally; behavior is the issue here, not character. Behavior can change. Try to temper your emotions enough to observe how things are going and how you affect them—not because your feelings aren’t valid, but because a calm, clear-eyed approach gets better results. Easier said than done, yes, but the tools are available to help you do it.
In short, you can hope for change, and you can do something about it. Not all at once, because change takes time, and effort, and practice. It is more a process than an end result. This is actually good news, because it means change starts here and now; it is not something that happens later. Reading this book is an opportunity to think about changes you would like to make, on your own and with your loved one. Throughout this book you’ll find examples to spark your imagination, and skills and strategies to help you implement change. (All the clinical examples in this book are based on composites.)
Some Things Our Clients Have Changed
A nineteen-year-old college student started taking OxyContin, an opioid painkiller, for headaches and found that some of her friends used it at parties. Over time, she ended up taking it daily for pain and a little extra for fun on the weekends. At home she tried not to use the drug but then she’d feel sweaty and sick. Ashamed and confused about what was happening to her, she tried to hide it from her parents when she returned home for the summer. She struggled with this for a while until she couldn’t stand it and asked her parents for help.
Her mother, Alice, dedicated herself to helping her daughter. She attended an Al-Anon support group and returned to therapy, stayed in touch with her daughter’s doctors, read books about addiction, and worried. From many of these sources she gathered that there wasn’t much she could do to help. But “detaching” went against her instincts and sense of responsibility as a mother. It made her furious, actually. She fought with her husband because he didn’t seem to worry enough. She took her anger out on her daughter as well. In turn, her daughter almost stopped talking to her altogether, which seemed to confirm that there was nothing she could do.
Alice did not tell anyone what was going on in her family. She had a close network of girlfriends and two sisters, but she didn’t want to burden them, knowing it was a difficult time for the family for other reasons. She also wanted to protect her daughter’s reputation. Finally, Alice felt deeply ashamed and blamed herself for her daughter’s problems, which seemed much more frightening than her friends’ children’s problems.
Alice came to CMC initially to find out how to support her daughter’s treatment. Her CMC therapist quickly recognized the bind Alice was in: she desperately wanted to help her daughter but feared anything she did would only “enable” drug use, as people had warned her. Her support group had told her to “get honest” with her sisters and everyone else,
but she felt she had good reasons to keep things to herself. The therapist assured Alice she could help her daughter, by starting to feel better and less angry herself. They talked about how important it was to have the support of people who cared about her, but that she didn’t need to go around telling everyone everything. They brainstormed together and Alice decided whom she felt safe confiding in and how much. Still it was hard. She had been covering up so much that she now felt ashamed of this too. With her therapist, they role-played how to tell her sisters over and over again until she was ready to do it.
When she did talk to her sisters, it was a profound relief. They had been worried about her anyway; now they could help. One sister took on a bigger share of caring for their mother; the other reached out to her niece about her own struggle with drugs in college. As Alice’s mood improved, she found it easier to talk to her daughter without yelling. At the suggestion of her CMC therapist, she began going on weekly dates with her husband and remembered what it was like to not be angry with him all the time. These changes emboldened her to open up more, which led to more support, help, and communication with her daughter and to constructive involvement with her treatment. She also learned to trust herself to figure out when to make sacrifices and when to set limits, as well as which parts of her daughter’s struggle were hers to help with and which were her daughter’s to solve for herself. Perhaps most rewarding of all, she regained her confidence as a mother.
• • •
Kim was a woman in her early thirties who came to us for help after discovering that her husband had been hiding his heavy drinking for years. With two children under the age of three, her own full-time job, her husband finishing his doctorate, and now his drinking problem revealed, the stresses on their marriage had skyrocketed. Her husband seemed to have changed from a thoughtful, fun, smart partner to a distracted, brooding guy who didn’t care about her anymore and, even worse, had apparently lost interest in their children.
Working with her CMC therapist, Kim began to understand that many of her husband’s distressing habits—terrible snoring and disrupted sleep, chronic lateness, not remembering discussions they’d had at night, indifference to the babies, and their worsening sex life—were alcohol-related behaviors. This helped her to understand what was happening and to take it less personally, which made it easier for her to practice yelling at him less and taking care of herself more.
After Kim had been coming to CMC for a few months, her husband
began his own treatment with an addiction psychiatrist to help him drink less. Eventually he succeeded in stopping drinking for months at a time. Kim’s next challenge was to understand that though her husband’s not drinking was a relief, abstinence would come, at first, with its own distressing behaviors. During periods of abstinence, he became irritable, short-tempered, and even more disengaged than when he drank. Appreciating that he was sober was not her first thought when he’d just snapped at her over dinner. It took effort on her part and support from her friends, family, and therapist to put aside her reactions to his sober moodiness and go ahead with her strategies to encourage abstinence anyway.
Toward the end of her husband’s treatment, Kim began to recognize the person she remembered, who was sober and sweet at the same time. And although he struggled with relapses several times over the next year, he became increasingly more communicative and engaged with the family. Kim regained her trust that his good mood didn’t mean he was drinking. Their relationship improved so much that he felt he could tell her directly when he lapsed and ask for her help to get back on track. Together they knew that the worst was behind them, as the process of change became increasingly rewarding for both of them.
• • •
Because people change for different reasons and in different ways, there can be no perfect example, but we will share many more stories throughout this book to show you how things actually work, and to inspire you. Hopefully you will recognize something in each example, and feel less alone.
How to Use This Book
Whether or not you realize it, things started to change when you picked up this book, and they will continue to change as you read and think about your situation in light of what we’re saying. In research we call this “measurement reactivity,” meaning the therapeutic effect of simply answering questions.
As you have seen, the changes we address involve more than your loved one’s behavior. This is your change process too, and it has already begun.
In the four sections of this book you’ll find four profound possibilities: understanding, coping, helping, and thriving. Each chapter will help you develop the attitudes and learn the facts, skills, and strategies that make understanding, coping, helping, and thriving possible.
Throughout the book we will prompt you to skip around, depending on what feels most helpful to you. The chapter order follows a certain logic,
but we made sure each chapter and even parts of chapters work on their own. If you left your bookmark in the chapter on treatment options but you’ve had three big fights in the last week, maybe it’s a good time to go back to the positive communication chapter. If you get there and realize you’re too emotional to do what it’s asking, return to the self-care section. If you’re worried it might be an emergency, see “When Is It an Emergency?” Making these choices will help develop your awareness, and awareness will empower you to customize your own path through the book.
We do recommend that you often take the “You Are Here” self-awareness questionnaire at the end of chapter 4. And you can do them in any order you want, but do the exercises. Practice the skills. Change has already started, and it will only continue with practice.
Words of Encouragement
Our hope—and challenge—is to encourage you to take off your black-and-white glasses and try to see the many shades of your situation. We encourage you to step back and think through what might be effective (a kind word), not just what would feel justified (a loud shout). We encourage you to care for yourself as much as you care for your loved one. We encourage you to listen: to your loved one, because what he or she thinks, feels, and wants matters and needs to be understood; and to yourself, because the same holds true for you.
We know these encouragements are hard to take in at times, and that the simpler world of labels and ultimatums beckons. It takes courage to be encouraged. We encourage you to copy a pocket-size version of the ten reasons to have hope, listed below, and carry it around, stick it to your bathroom mirror, and generally let these concepts lead you toward a more loving, trusting, and satisfying relationship with the person you’re worried about.
You can help.
Helping yourself helps.
Your loved one isn’t crazy.
The world isn’t black-and-white.
Labels do more harm than good.
Different people need different options.
Treatment isn’t the be-all and end-all.
Ambivalence is normal.
People can be helped at any time.
Life is a series of experiments.
Now we come full circle: we’re optimistic because the evidence supports many ways to help, and we’re optimistic because there’s plenty of evidence that
optimism helps. People don’t try what they don’t think they can do. This book is about what you can do. I.
From this point, we use “substance use” or “substance problems” as shorthand for addictive disorders and compulsive behaviors. The principles and strategies in this book apply to any kind of compulsive behavior problem, from drugs and alcohol to binge eating, shopping, gambling, and Internet pornography. II.
The parent-child relationship is different from other relationships, too, even when the “child” is an adult. This book is for everyone, parents included. However, we recognize that parenting comes with unique challenges, responsibilities, and feelings, and so we partnered with the Partnership at Drugfree.org
to offer a supplementary guide for parents. You can download it from our website at http://www.the20minuteguide.com