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HOW CAN I TELL IF I HAVE A PROBLEM?

DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM IN OUR FAMILY?

HOW TO APPROACH AN INTERVENTION

Do We Have a Problem in Our Family?

If so, you are not alone. According to a Gallup poll, one of every four Americans says that drinking has been a problem in his or her home. And that doesn't take into account millions of families affected by drugs other than alcohol -- like cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and prescription drugs.

And it's not just teens. People get very concerned when a child or teenager uses drugs because of the profound damage they can do to their bodies and futures. But substance abuse problems can occur in any family member, including a sibling, spouse, aunt, uncle, cousin, parent -- even a grandparent.


"How do I know for sure that it's addiction or alcoholism?"

It's difficult, but the rule of thumb is this: It's addiction or alcoholism if the person has had negative consequences resulting from his or her substance use -- yet continues to use compulsively anyway. The following are warning signs:

Strained relationships

Legal problems

Money problems

Accidents or DWIs related to substance use

Health problems

School/work problems

Depression/suicide attempts


"It's affecting our whole family!"

It will. Family members of a substance abuser often experience:

Shame

Confusion

Anxiety

Frustration

Arguments

Depression

Distrust

Self-blame

Isolation

Abuse

Guilt

Neglect


"But the problem is so obvious. Why doesn't he/she see it?"

That's a question that's stumped millions of family members through the years, because one of the actual symptoms of chemical dependency is a mental process called "denial." The person is unable to see that his or her substance abuse is a problem -- even while evidence is piling up around him or her.


"If this person really loved us, wouldn't he/she stop?"

Unfortunately, love has nothing to do with it. Drugs that cause addiction change the way our brains work by disrupting the mechanisms by which nerve cells transmit, receive, and process information. After repeated dosings, the affected circuits need more of the drug to function. The person now craves the thing that is ruining his or her life.


"So what can I do?"

Talk to the person, formally or informally, in what's called an "intervention." (See How to Approach an Intervention.) Don't wait for your loved one to "bottom out," have a car crash, or develop some serious health problem before you address it. Remember, addiction is treatable. And there are sensitive, trained healthcare providers who can help you decide how to proceed.
 

-- Donna Boundy
 

This article is an excerpt from the Family Guide for MOYERS ON ADDICTION: CLOSE TO HOME, produced by Thirteen/WNET's Educational Publishing Department. The entire guide is available, free of charge, by downloading it to your computer or requesting a copy by mail.

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