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Support Groups For Families And Friends

In the previous installment of this series on recovery programs, I discussed some of the reasons why family members, friends and even employers of folks addicted to drugs (including alcohol) may need to seek some support for themselves.  In this one, we'll talk about support groups.

These issues can all be lumped under the term “codependency.” However, the word has become so over-used, both inside and outside the recovery community, that many people tend to blow off discussions about it. That’s a shame, because addiction to alcohol and other drugs affects practically everyone in our society in one way or another. From time to time we all need to deal with an addict “up close and personal,” and most of us have no idea how to go about it. That lack of understanding can do considerable damage, to the addict and ourselves.

I’ve written about enabling several times on this blog, and you can find some of those articles here. The bottom line, however, is simply that “helping” an addict in any way that makes it easier for her to live her life while continuing her addiction is enabling the continuation of the addiction. We addicts are experts at using charm, lies, guilt and anger to influence the people around us. Unless those folks come to understand the way we operate, and the truly effective ways of helping us, they are only helping us down the road to jails, institutions and death.

Effective intervention with an addict or substance abuser, if indicated, requires the help of a professional as a sort of referee, and to assist us in making plans. However, the best guidance for families and others dealing with addicts often comes from other folks who have gone through the same process of learning about their own denial and how to work through it and other codependency issues.

How many times have you tried to open up with a friend, only to get a lot of unwanted advice from a person who clearly has no idea what you’re going through? Or, how many times have you wanted someone to talk to — someone who can understand — and not known where to find one. The support groups for families and friends are a safe source of understanding and useful information about subjects that are often family secrets, unspoken by anyone.

The first such support group was Al-Anon, founded by Lois Wilson and Anne Smith, wives of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Now formally known as Al-Anon Family Groups, and made up of the original Ala-Anon plus Alateen (for kids of alcoholics), it is still the largest and widest-spread fellowship of its kind. Over the 50+ years of its existence, the collective wisdom of the fellowship in how to remain sane while loving a drunk has become enormous — and invaluable.

Other groups, no less important, that have sprouted off of Al-Anon include

  • Nar-Anon for those affected by people addicted to drugs other than alcohol
  • Gam-Anon for people close to compulsive gamblers
  • Codependents Anonymous (CODA), dedicated to developing healthy relationships of all kinds
  • COSA, a recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else's compulsive sexual behavior
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), for adults dealing with family of origin issues

and several dozen others. The list above is for purposes of illustration, and not to imply endorsement of any one program over another.

These groups, along with many others, are easily available by searching for “family+support+(your+issue+here)”. Example: family+support+sex+addict gives us a huge selection of support groups, resources, and even online meetings for people dealing with someone else’s sexual behavior.

By no means should we ignore online supports. Often we are unable to find an appropriate meeting, embarrassed to open up in front of others, or perhaps we are even ashamed to be seen entering one. There are literally hundreds of online support groups for every sort of addiction and families of addicts. Two minutes of searching can turn up the one we need to get started on the road to emotional help, and to the skills needed to deal with our addicted loved ones.  We ought always to keep in mind, however, that sometimes there is nothing like talking face to face, or a warm hug, from someone who truly understands.

Our first responsibility is to ourselves.  We need to find ourselves in order to live our own lives.  We can't help anyone until we face that truth and act on it.    We can make changes only in ourselves.  We may, or may not, be able to influence our addict, but we need to admit to ourselves that the problem is partially ours, let go of our useless attempts to control, and learn to detach with love.

For our own sakes, and theirs.

My thanks to Michele O. Webb CAP, ICADC for her assistance.

 

Families Need Support Too

We always encourage family members to seek counseling, because active addicts, along with inactive ones who are not in recovery (dry drunks), make everyone around them a little bit crazy.  The uncertainty, disappointments, emotional and — often — physical mistreatment, and the other aspects of loving an addict are not the ingredients of good emotional and physical health.  And then there’s the anger.

Anger is a perfectly normal emotion with an essential purpose: it keeps us from becoming incapacitated by fear.  Along with denial, it gives us the energy to work our way past the obstacles that we run across in life.  If we believed every negative thing that was said about us, or if we allowed ourselves to be stymied by the many obstacles that crop up in our day to day existence, we’d never get anything done.  

These things hinder us not only because they’re in our way, but because they bring fear along with them — fear of failure, fear that we’ll look bad, fear that we won’t measure up to our own self-image or the expectations of others, and fear of economic, social, or physical injury.  Anger and its little sisters indignation and annoyance give us the energy to overcome those fears, big and small, real or imagined, and to move onward.  To put it another way, no one functions well when they feel powerless or vulnerable, and anger helps us feel powerful.

Of course when anger gets out of control (rage), or we allow it to become habitual (resentments), it causes problems.  This can happen because we enjoy the feeling of power, or — because one of the characteristics of anger is tunnel-vision — it can help us overlook our own part in things, and make it easier to shift blame to the other party.  Anger depersonalizes our adversaries and makes it easier for us to justify our own behavior toward them.  All of these things have their uses, but they can obviously be seriously misused, as well.  Furthermore, over time, these ways of thinking about individuals and the world can become ingrained, and extremely difficult to change when they are no longer of use.  

Finally — but by no means least important — the physical changes that are produced by unresolved anger (undischarged energy) can be long-lasting and can create physical problems that are often fatal.  Stress-related diseases such as cardiovascular complications, eating disorders, other addictive disorders, diabetes, depression, frequent illness, and non-specific pain issues such as chronic head, neck and back pain can all be results of unresolved anger.

Anger doesn’t go away by itself.  If it isn’t discharged by physical and/or emotional release, or if it isn’t dug out, examined, and allowed to run its course, it will continue to produce stress and make life difficult.  This is especially difficult for family members of alcoholics and other addicts, because it isn’t “nice” to be angry in our culture, especially at family members, and practically never at authority figures lest they discharge some of their own anger issues in our direction.  Children are required to respect older people, for example, even when they have irrevocably proven themselves unworthy.  Talk about powerless…

So, families of addicts almost always have anger issues to address.  There are probably other things as well.  Children, in particular, have a tendency to blame their parents' problems on themselves, and those things need to be addressed.  Emotionally abused family members can add self-esteem issues to their anger, and everyone has resentments: birthdays missed, money misspent, obligations unmet…and on, and on.

It’s imperative that these things be put to rights.  Whether or not the alcoholic/addict stays clean, whether or not the family stays together, every one of the members have their lives irrevocably changed.  Unless the damage of those changes is dealt with, none of them will have the lives they deserve.  In the next article, we’ll discuss some options.

 

Home Groups, Sponsors, Reservations, and Families That Use

This time we’re combining four questions that don’t require long answers into one post.

How soon should I find a home group?

You need to find a group where you feel reasonably at home.  This may change over time, but you need to look for one where you aren't totally uncomfortable.  Don't look for perfection, because it doesn't exist.  Groups are made up of people — all kinds of people.  Again, reasonable comfort is the key.

There’s no set limit.  Generally, it is suggested that we spend a few meetings in each of several groups, then stick with the one that feels best for a while.  When we’ve made that much of a commitment, making a home group decision shouldn’t be difficult.

How long should I wait to get a sponsor?

Generally speaking, the same rule applies to sponsors.  Listen to what people say.  Look for people who are happy in sobriety, and sound like it — consistently.  Look for people who sound honest.  Avoid people who quote the literature constantly, and look for people who make sense when they’re thinking for themselves.  Don’t wait too long, but try to choose based on those ideas.

There is no set rule, but since a sponsor is your guide through the program and the steps, it’s not good to wait too long.  If you’re doing a meeting a day, you should have a pretty good list of candidates in a couple of weeks.  Then ask them to go for a cup of coffee, and spend some time one-one-one.  If that feels good, then ask.  You're not getting married, but you don't want a one-night stand, either.

What is a reservation?

A reservation is an excuse to use that we make in advance.  Here are some examples:

  • I’m an alcoholic and can’t drink, but a little pot can’t hurt.
  • I’m a painkiller addict, but it’s OK to have an occasional drink.
  • I’ll go to meetings and do as I’m told, but it’s hard for me to trust people so I’m not getting a sponsor.
  • I’ll go to meetings, work the steps, and do as I’m told, but I’m sure that after I’ve been clean and sober for a while it will be OK for me to have a drink now and then.
  • I’ll go to meetings and work the steps, but to heck with that one-year thing.  I’m going to have a relationship if one comes along.

To put it another way, a reservation is a recipe for failure.

How often should I see my family members that still use drugs?

How often do you want to be tempted to use drugs yourself?

Talk about pushing buttons!  Our families hard-wired our buttons for us.  They can push them without even meaning to.  In any case, people who are using around you clearly don’t have your best interests on their mind.  Add to that the fact that seeing you clean and sober may make them uncomfortable enough to actively encourage you to use, and the answer is simple: very seldom, and always in the company of a sober companion. (See “reservations.”)

That's it for this time.  Keep on keepin' on!

2016 New York State Record for Overdose Deaths

NY witnessed a new record for overdose deaths, exceeding 1,000 in 2016.

New York closed 2016 with a new record: over 1,000 heroin overdose deaths. This continues an upward trend noted years ago, which has continued to challenge New York residents and their families, as well as policy makers and health care providers.

In June of 2016, New York State issued a report showing 2014 data on heroin abuse and drug overdose deaths. As of 2014, New York was outpacing other states in the growth of heroin use and the number of people seeking treatment for addiction disorders involving heroin.

In 2014, heroin overdose was a contributing cause for 825 deaths.

The 2016 numbers are in and things look much worse. Over 1000 deaths from heroin overdose in 2016, an increase of 17.5 % from 2004 numbers.

While New York had been leading the nation in growth of heroin overdoses for many years, it did not lead in heroin overdose deaths nor prescription opioid overdoses (those attributed to prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other opiate-like synthetic opioids).

In one year (2014) heroin use in New York exceeded the national average rate by 50 per cent!

Upward trends in drug abuse are difficult to stop. New York State agencies are scrambling to provide treatment options, considering expanding the existing Pilgrim State psychiatric facility on Long Island.

Suffolk County, Long Island Drug Addiction and Treatment

Suffolk County on Long Island had the highest death toll from heroin overdose, at 111 dead. That's more deaths from overdose in Suffolk County than the the Bronx and Brooklyn combined.

Suffolk also experience an additional 96 deaths attributed to opioid overdose (non-heroin, which includes prescription pain killers).

 

Life After Narcan

Everyone living in New Jersey these days is aware of the ongoing heroin epidemic. It is impossible to escape the daily news of overdoses, deaths, and crises related to drug use and heroin in our communities, sprinkled with occasional news of actions taken to address the problem.

More Addiction Treatment in New Jersey

Sunrise Detox opened 2 new full-sized treatment centers in New Jersey to help address this epidemic. With medical detox centers in Stirling (Long Hill), Toms River (Ocean County) and Cherry Hill, Sunrise Detox manages 79 beds in New Jersey, helping over ten thousand people per year get needed addiction treatment.

Increasing use of Naloxone (Narcan)

Many New Jersey municipalities were overrun with urgent demands for emergency services related to heroin overdose. They have increased use of naloxone, commonly known as Narcan.

Naloxone is a drug which reverses the effect of narcotic pain killers and heroin. It can save a life if administered in time. While naloxone has been available to emergency medical staff and physicians for over 30 years, until recently it was very tightly regulated under the law. It was not available over the counter, and was illegal to possess by anyone other than those supervised by a physician.

In 2013 the NJ Overdose Protection Act (S2082) was passed to allow even citizen first responders to administer naloxone in an emergency. In 2014 Sunrise Detox worked closely with the Ocean County Prosecutor to bring a Narcan pilot program into Ocean and Monmouth counties, greatly increasing availability of naloxone in those counties.

The pilot was a great success. Over 200 overdose reversals were recorded in the first 7 months in just those two counties.

Naloxone availability has since expanded throughout the state, driven by the need to respond to thousands of overdoses. But a significant problem remains : people continue to die.

Narcan is an emergency response tool, but not an answer to heroin addiction. Overdosing addicts saved by emergency use of Narcan are still dying after they return to their lives, often just days after being saved.

They need addiction treatment.

Life After Narcan — Understanding Addiction

Sunrise Detox collaborated with the Narcan pilot program to provide expertise and professional addiction education to the entire team, and by dedicating treatment center beds to the program for those saved by Narcan.

Sunrise Detox representatives worked closely with the entire team while the pilot program provided medical detox and addiction treatment to those saved by administration of naloxone, at several facilities serving Ocean and Monmouth counties.

Narcan is a great way to prevent an overdose death, but effective addiction treatment is the only way to save the lives lost to addiction, including the deaths from overdose that cannot be saved by naloxone.

If there is to be Life After Narcan, that life must include addiction treatment. It is essential to get individuals into a treatment program immediately, at the moment they are willing to accept help, and before withdrawal sickness drives them to resume using drugs.

Understanding Addiction Treatment

After treating over 70,000 individuals and their families in New Jersey, Atlanta, and Florida, we have learned that a respectful, comfortable medical detox under the care of an experienced addiction treatment team is the absolute best start to a successful recovery. We now want to help all New Jersey stakeholders understand what that entails, and how to best prepare for success addressing the addiction epidemic hurting our communities, beyond the improved emergency response.

Please watch the websites for Sunrise Detox in Stirling/Long Hill, Toms River, and Cherry Hill for a series of informational articles and blog posts in a new category labeled “Life After Narcan“.

We are dedicating this effort to raising awareness of the important issues that must be addressed as we continue to make progress in the battle against addiction in New Jersey, including the use of naloxone.

If you would like to contribute, or have additional questions, please contact us by phone or an email address setup specifically for this activity : AfterNarcan @ SunriseDetoxTomsRiver.com

Opening Camden County Drug Treatment Center ASAP

heroin deaths Camden County, NJ

The Camden County regional heroin addiction reatment center will open ASAP, as Camden County leads the State for heroin overdose deaths. New Jersey is now experiencing 3 TIMES the national rate for heroin overdose deaths.

Cherry Hill Detox Center : Open House Next Week!

Sunrise Detox is opening in Cherry Hill, New Jersey to help serve the growing demand for heroin addiction treatment services in New Jersey and Philadelphia. The timing is helpful, as today the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released data showing that Americans are increasingly choosing to engage with heroin, and the dangerous, addicting drug is taking a serious toll : death  rates from heroin overdose have increased 4 fold over the past ten years.

As noted on the Cherry Hill Detox blog, an even more alarming statistic is the relative number for the State of New Jersey : 3 times HIGHER than the national average!

The Cherry Hill Open House and Networking Event is July 15 at the new Cherry Hill detox center. Please RSVP.

Camden County among the Hardest Hit

Camden County, situated between the Pine Lands and the Delaware River/City of Philadelphia, is aligned with a major traffic corridor between Philadelphia and the southern Jersey Shore. Cherry Hill is itself a transportation corridor for Northern New Jersey and the northestern US to the west. Close to the central government districts in Trenton, and convenient to both the Jersey Shore and urban cultural areas, Camden County is home to professionals, suburban families, and the full spectrum of New Jersey residents.

Heroin Addiction following Pain Pill Abuse

Heroin is an opiate, very similar to the prescription pain killers (Percocet, Vicodin) found in almost every medicine cabinet in America. The synthetic pharmaceutical versions may be derived from the same natural sources as heroin (known as opiates) or created as manufactured molecules with similar chemical structure, causing almost identical effects (opioids).For dependent users of these drugs, there is little difference between clean heroin and prescription pain killers.

Unfortunately, there is very little “clean” heroin. Virtually all street heroin is tainted with other chemicals, and very often those chemicals are dangerous and often deadly. Even if there was a “clean” heroin, however, the addiction process does not stop and rarely slows down. Opiate abuse leads to more opiate abuse almost always, with no end in sight. The only way for an addict to avoid painful and possible deadly sickness, is to keep using, and to kep using more.

In many cases, prescription drugs are optimal combinations of opiates and opioids, designed specifically to impact the brain the same way heroin does – by activating a reward cycle that encourages addiction, and leading to a physical dependency which deters quitting. If a heroin user stops using, they start to feel sick. The more advanced the addiction, the stronger that sickness will be, moving from discomfort like and queasyness to including paranoia and serious mental disorders.

Heroin addiction, as America is learning, is more than irresponsible recreational drug use out of control. Today's heroin addiction is advanced prescription drug addiction, which is now out of control for many, many people.

Heroin Addiction Treatment vs Substance Abuse Treatment

Heroin addiction must be treated the way other drug addictions are treated – individually. Each person has a unique set of physical, emotional, mental, and social conditions supporting an addiction disorder. While the chemicals abused may be the same, the circumstances surrounding any given addiction are unique. There is no single “solution” to drug addiction, but instead there is a process of rehabilitation and recovery which leads to a hopeful life worth living, without addicting substances.

That rehab process always starts with a medical detox, which can last from 3 to 10 or more days, depending on physical and mental status, chemical dependency, and history of drug use. During detox the medical and professional staff prevent and manage the sickness that would come from withdrawal and the co-ocurring mental, physical, and emotional issues that may be unmasked as the substances are cleared from the body. They provide a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment that is technically designed specifically to support the detox process, and encourage recovery. The detox experts beging the process of educating, training, and supporting each individual as needed, while securing appropriate medical or psychological support as needed, and help the guest find an appropriate rehab for after care.

Sunrise Detox will even help make sure every guest gets to that rehab, following successful detox.

A Visit to the DEA Museum & DEA Foundation in Washington, DC

John F. Moriarty III from Surnise Detox, with Bill Alden, Director of the DEA Foundation.

John F. Moriarty III from Surnise Detox, with Bill Alden, Director of the DEA Foundation.

Recently I had the honor of visiting with Bill Alden, Director of the DEA Foundation. Bill is a former DEA agent (Drug Enforcement Administration). He served us for 45 years, including the entire “War on Drugs” era. Now Director of the DEA Foundation, Bill Alden is helping spread the word about the importance of awareness and prevention, not just enforcement, and the critical role education plays in that effort.

Bill and I share a great deal of perspective on the War on Drug Addiction, especially on the importance of increasing the efforts to bring treatment providers and youngsters into the conversation. Enforcement of laws is not enough.

Many people (including young kids), are not aware of the importance and often direct connections between illegal and illicit drugs, addiction, and wellness. Prevention is more than “Just Say No”, and education is an essential ingredient in the fight. The DEA has estimated the cost to US society at $180 billion dollars per year. I find that cost to be an underestimate. I don't know how to put a dollar value on families and individual lives lost to addiction, but I suggest it's higher than that.

It was a privilege to visit with Bill Alden. He gave me a tour of the DEA Museum, which is part of the Visitor's Center, and one piece of an extensive effort to help raise awareness about the efforts to protect our nation from the harm brought by the illicit and illegal drug trades. I will be posting more about some of the specific informational programs they have produced on this blog.