Myths Surrounding Addiction and Intervention

Dr. Ellis discusses the danger of waiting for an addict to “want to go to treatment.” A Hazelden Betty Ford Addiction Center interview of recovering addicts and alcoholics asked them “what set you on the road to recovery?” 77% said a friend or family member cared enough to intervene. A caring intervention harnesses the incredible and divine power of love to help the addict become willing to get well.

Centuries ago people thought the earth was flat and that it stood in the center of the universe. A little over a century ago some people believed flight was impossible. Twenty years ago most believed video calls were impractical.

Each one of these once-impossible things were grounded in a myth of impossibility. When people believe something can't happen, then that conviction becomes paralyzing. Now it's somewhat amusing to think about the comfortable fog of ignorance that kept us earthbound, for example, but the myths surrounding addiction can be literally dangerous.

You're probably reading this right now because you know there's a problem with someone you care about. You’ve suspected addiction, and that growing, gnawing fear has kept you up at night and creates confusion and aggravation during the day.

Yet you have been slow to take action. Ironically, you're dealing with your own form of denial hoping that things would get better and that you would not have to get involved. Chances are even now you have some misconceptions about addiction, intervention, and recovery that have immobilized you. Let's take a look at those.

If you find the content on the website helpful, please take a minute to like my Facebook page. I also encourage you to post your stories or give me feedback.

Myth #1 The alcoholic must hit bottom first before help is effective

This myth is dangerous, for it allows the disease to progress, further damaging the health of the alcoholic and his or her family and friends. We would not sit back and wait for a desperately ill cancer patient to get treatment. We would urge action.

We do the same for the alcoholic. An intervention is an organized and loving way of helping the alcoholic take steps to get better. Intervention is a necessary and available tool for healing.

Waiting for someone to hit bottom, ironically, may be a way of avoiding discomfort on your part. Even though you are enormously uncomfortable with the status quo, your fear of an intervention prolongs and deepens that discomfort. We don't wait for the sickest person in this system to initiate healing. A family member, friend, or employer needs to take the step in beginning the process of healing.

An intervention "raises the bottom." Your person of concern does not have to fall any further. You do not have to wait until consequences are catastrophic.

Myth #2 The alcoholic has to want to get better before treatment will be effective.

While the desire to get better would be wonderful, it is not normally the prevailing motive for an alcoholic. My main drive prior to treatment was guarding my freedom to drink and desperately wanting everyone else to leave me alone. Fortunately, when someone came to me and said, "We need to get you well," there was enough of a sliver of my better nature to realize that I was not well and wanted to get better.

Seldom does an alcoholic wake up one morning and decide to go to treatment. The denial is usually so strong, the ability to recognize and avoid risk is so compromised by the disease, and the drive to keep drinking is so overwhelming that the alcoholic ignores or minimizes the seriousness of the problem. The alcoholic cannot see clearly what is unacceptable. One aim of the intervention is to reestablish the line between acceptable and unacceptable by citing instances of harmful conduct and urging action to change the status quo.

Also, don't underestimate what will take place in treatment. The recommended treatment centers excel in breaking down denial and helping the alcoholic to get to the point where they can think clearly. A person in addiction does not think clearly. They suffer from brain damage-like symptoms, and some healing needs to take place before they can want to do anything that is in their best interest.

Myth #3 Bad things don't happen every time he or she drinks, so maybe I'm overreacting.

This is classic enabling doublespeak on your part. Obviously, some consequences have become alarmingly bad for that's why you're this site. You're willing to overlook the heartbreaking episodes and vainly hope that things will get better based on a few good days.

Look at it from the alcoholic's point of view. He or she will often point to their accomplishments, former or even present, as proof everything is fine, or that drinking too much is only an occasional problem. They present you with a snapshot of good behavior to divert you from the growing evidence of an unmanageable life. They may swear off alcohol successfully for a few days, weeks, or even much longer and point to that as proof they don't have a problem. What they're basically trying to do is convince you that YOU have a problem. This is simply part of the whirlwind of confusion surrounding addiction.

Alcoholism is basically an unhealthy relationship with alcohol combined with the inability to end the relationship. Alcoholism is progressive. It will get worse. The disease does not slink away. It simply lies in wait for the next opportunity to assert its control, and you likely know it will.

An intervention is a caring way to interrupt the spiraling cycle.

Myth #4 Alcoholism is simply a matter of willpower.

If you're still struggling with this one, go back and look again at the information on addiction and the brain. Alcoholism disrupts and incapacitates a person's ability to deal with reality. It has a genetic and biological dimension that must be acknowledged then treated.

The myth of willpower fails on the evidence. An alcoholic may have been able to exert tremendous willpower in many areas of their lives. They may be well-educated, accomplished, and even admired in their community. Yet in this one area they simply cannot seem to control what is clearly destructive. You are witnessing addiction first-hand. It has compromised the person's normally effective will to succeed.

An alcoholic is not only the guy in the greasy raincoat, sleeping under the bridge or on a park bench. The disease cuts through all demographics, disabling the will of even the most accomplished people in our society. Helping a person into rehabilitation through an intervention will restore the true freedom to choose and reestablish willpower.

Myth #5 I don't need to get involved because it's not my problem.

Addiction impacts the individual at the mental, emotional, biological, and spiritual level. But the harm does not stop there. Addition impacts the family and the community, and until it is arrested and treated it will continue to wreak havoc on everyone involved.

In fact, the entire family needs healing. A related myth is that we can send him/her off to treatment, get them fixed, then they come home, and all is well. This is simply not true. If affected family members don't get help the emotional wounds continue to bleed. Also, the risk of relapse increases.

An important part of the services of of any interventionist is connecting family members to counseling services and support groups like Al-Anon. It's time for you to get well too. As hard as it is right now to believe, those wounds you have will heal. They will become scars that tell others of the hope that you have found.

Myth #6 We can't afford for him/her to enter treatment

A common fear involves finances. The vain hope is that the alcoholic will just get better and stop causing so much damage and wasting so much money. Stop and ask yourself a question, "How has that strategy worked so far?"

The truth is the costs of addiction are piling up at an alarming rate already. The drug itself, lost jobs or productivity, legal costs, property damage, etc. have exacted a heavy financial toll already. Getting well does cost money but staying sick is much more expensive.

An interventionist will help you navigate the tricky waters of treatment by understanding the resources you can bring to the task. Even if your loved one is uninsured and you have no money to pay toward treatment, or if you have drawn a boundary and are unwilling to devote any more to costs of treatment, there are plenty of good treatment centers that take Medicaid.

Myth #7 A change of ______ is all that is needed.

This myth takes many forms. It's the idea that if the addict had a good job then they wouldn't feel the need to drink. Or the right spouse. Or lived in a different state. Or went to church. Or lost weight. Or finished school. Or had a bill paid. Etc.

This myth would be true is addiction was simply a function of circumstances, but it is not. Addiction is a brain dysfunction. A spiral has started, and no amount of rearranging circumstances will stop the spiral. The treatment for addiction requires a professional array of services offered by reputable treatment centers. An intervention initiates this healing.