You don’t get a Get Out of Jail Free card just because addiction is a disease

1254880_shiny_brain_[1]I understand that addiction/alcoholism is a brain disease, but that doesn’t let my beloved addict off the hook or give him excuses like, “I can’t help it!  I’ve got a disease.”  And it doesn’t give me an out either.  If I think, “He can’t help it!  He’s got a disease,” then I am giving him a Get Out of Jail Free card.  I am giving him a reason to keep abusing drugs or alcohol.  I am enabling his  self-destruction, pure and simple.

Yes, my child has a disease, one that he needs to manage as he would diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Here are the rules of the game for those with impaired hearts or bad pancreases or chemically-dependent brains: keep away from the things that are bad for you.  Avoid sugar or fatty meat or – for the chemically dependent – any mood altering substance.  Pot, crack, alcohol, pain pills; these are all the same to the diseased addict/alcoholic brain.  Addicted to one means addicted to all.

As an aside:  I know many parents think, “It’s just pot!  How bad can that be?”  I was one of those naïve parents.  I didn’t know that pot had eight times the THC as in years gone by, or that it was causing psychosis among some users. I didn’t know there were more kids in rehab for pot than for all other drugs combined.  And today’s national landscape makes the picture even murkier: if pot is so dangerous, why is it being legally sold around the country?  That’s a mixed and confusing message for teens and adults alike.

My personal mantra for parental recovery is, “Give your beloved addicts a reason to change.”  The flip side to that is, “Don’t give them an excuse to use.” Don’t let them play the disease card.  Hold them accountable for the choices they make.  We can’t stop them from putting their hand to their mouth or a needle in their arm.  But we can stop making up excuses for them.

“She had so many hopes and dreams. Being an addict wasn’t one of them.”

The  Christmas post every year is dedicated to Tiffany Noel Chapman, a Christmas baby born in December, 1976.  She became addicted to the pain pills that were prescribed when she broke her neck in a high school car accident.  She died when she was 27, her liver destroyed by the pain pills that she had come to depend on.

Many people believe that people “choose” to become drug addicts or alcoholics when they party with drugs or alcohol, but addiction often develops under less voluntary circumstances.   Tiffany’s genetic predisposition for addiction was triggered by the pain meds that she needed to take for intractable pain. Her story, while not uncommon, is an eye-opener to those who had no clue that even doctor-prescribed and doctor-monitored medications can become addictive.

Tiffany’s parents took her home from various ERs after repeated overdoses.  Not once did they receive discharge instructions that shed any light on the brain disease they were fighting.  Not once did they receive counsel about rehab or information about resources.  They didn’t understand the phantom they were fighting in the dark, without tools or weapons.    And they aren’t alone in their not-knowingness:  teen addiction and alcoholism aren’t commonly discussed in today’s parenting books.  In fact, most physicians have little or no training about addiction or alcoholism, especially as a teen issue, and little information to share with struggling parents.

Tiffany’s mother Linda opens her heart when she shares their story in the Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary, reminding all of us to be aware and vigilant because anyone—even the most golden child—can be vulnerable to this deadly disease.

Truth Be Told…what do you say about your child’s addiction?

It’s always dicey trying to figure out how much to reveal to a friend about a child’s substance abuse.  When we were in the hellhole of active addiction, I didn’t show my hand to anyone.  How could I?  I couldn’t even begin to explain it to myself, much less to another person.

You never know how people will react if you reveal that your child struggles with chemical dependency.  Some people are compassionate and supportive, even while admitting that they know very little about the struggle.  Some friends embraced my candor because it enabled them to admit that they, too, have had a child in the same leaky boat.  And others visibly retreated when I mentioned the topic, as if I was sowing the seeds of a communicable disease.

Gradually, as I learned about addiction/alcoholism as a disease of the brain, I became more comfortable gently testing the conversational waters.  I firmly believe that we need to understand, speak about, and treat chemical dependency as a brain disease, just as we view diabetes as a disease of the pancreas.  I want to use my experience to educate others and create awareness about this preventable tsunami of heartbreak. At the same time, I don’t want to disclose my journey to those who will judge me or my son, treat us like pariahs, or discriminate against him.  Wise readers, please share your thoughts on how you walk the fine line between disclosure and privacy.

Is there financial assistance to pay for rehab for alcoholics or addicts?

house historicYour Question:  My son was denied rehab from every facility we went to this year; our insurance company basically said if he is not suicidal, we can’t accept him. Insane! So, we self-paid over $30,000 and almost lost our house. The good news: he was clean for 6 months…the bad news: he is no longer sober. After a very good friend recently passed away, he spiraled downward and turned to drugs to cope. We can no longer afford health insurance and really, what would be the reason to purchase again as every door was closed with it?! I spoke to someone who indicated that some rehabs offer grants or pro-bono type cases, etc. Are any of you familiar with this?

Should I call every rehab and just ask or do you think this is just a waste of my time? It is so sad that we live in United States and we can’t help our children and young adults (ours just turned 20). It’s even sadder when this person wants the help which is such a huge step. Any insight on where I can go… where maybe a door would open would be most appreciated. In the meantime, we will continue to hold him prisoner the best we can and watch out the window for a possible car pulling up to the house. Again thank you all for your time.

ANSWER FROM EXPERT KENT MORRISON: Yes there are programs out there that do help find scholarship monies to send people to rehab. Some places like Hazelden Center for Youth and Families (HCYF) have patient aid money awarded depending on need. Making a phone call to their intake department would be the best way to start. A financial case manager would contact the family and do a needs-assessment and award money depending on the assessment.

Also, there is an organization which is designed to help addicts get to rehab. H.E.A.R.T , which stands for Helping Every Alcohol/Addict Receive Treatment. H.E.A.R.T. has been doing this sort of thing for a long time and they have established many relationships with treatment facilities. I would suggest looking more into their website and making contact with one of their representatives. I hope this helps, Kent Morrison, MA, LAADC-r, CADC II

Photo of Ricki TownsendANSWER FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: The best way I could possibly answer this question is to first say, “I so agree with you” regarding the way those of us in addiction are treated by Insurance companies. I would have to say also my vision for the future – that we are treated with dignity and deep concern. This is a DISEASE of the brain.

Yes, some treatment centers offer scholarships. I travel and am involved with many around the United States and a lot of treatment centers bring Interventionists out, at their cost, to see these treatment centers.  Some will do a scholarship a year, some a month.

Yes, you can call centers and ask if they offer a scholarship, or if they have any ideas for you. They can be extremely helpful, and kind. What about in your county? Are there programs he can do free, or at a small cost? What about Salvation Army? Be prepared to hear they have a waiting list.

What I would respectfully like to ask though, “What is he doing at this moment for himself?”

What are you doing to care for you? We women have a difficult time self-soothing and giving ourselves time. Are you putting more work into this then your son is? One question we ask in Al-Anon as well as in my field of intervention is :Are you wanting this treatment more than he is?” I know this is hard, believe me, I too am a mom with a loved one in active addiction.

A task I would give you,if you were to accept it, is to write a journal every day for one week. This will be a time journal to actually record where your time is going in every hour from your waking moment and until you go to bed. Put it in your purse, take it out when you get home and have it with you every moment for a week. This is one way of seeing where you are putting your time.

I wish you the best,

Ricki Townsend

 

“She had so many hopes and dreams…being an addict wasn’t one of them”

My Christmas posting every year is dedicated to Tiffany Noel Chapman, a Christmas baby born in December, 1976.  She became addicted to the pain pills that were prescribed when she broke her neck in a high school car accident.  She died when she was 27, her liver destroyed by the pain pills that her body and brain demanded.

Many people believe that teens “choose” to become drug addicts or alcoholics when they party with drugs or alcohol, but addiction often develops under less voluntary circumstances.   Tiffany’s genetic predisposition for addiction was triggered by the pain meds that she needed to take for intractable pain.  Her story, while not uncommon, is an eye-opener to those (including me) who had no clue that even doctor-prescribed and doctor-monitored medications can become addictive.

Tiffany’s parents took her home from various ERs after repeated overdoses.  Not once did they receive discharge instructions that shed any light on the brain disease they were fighting.  Not once did they receive counsel about rehab or information about resources.  They didn’t understand the phantom they were fighting in the dark, without tools or weapons.    And they aren’t alone in their not-knowingness:  teen addiction and alcoholism aren’t commonly discussed in today’s parenting books.  In fact, most physicians have little or no training about addiction or alcoholism, especially as a teen issue, and little information to share with struggling parents.

Tiffany’s mother Linda opens her heart when she shares their story in the Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic, reminding all of us to be aware and vigilant because  anyone—even the most golden child—can be vulnerable to this deadly disease.