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Published On: Mon, Mar 14th, 2016

Eyes on Drug Rehabilitation: An Interview with Per Wickstrom

1) We often hear people refer to addicts as ‘recovering addicts’ even though they have been clean of substance abuse for many years. Why is this? Why aren’t they considered to be ‘recovered?’

Since the birth of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous groups back in the 50’s the idea that “an addict will always be an addict” was born. This was compounded when the medical community adjudicated that addiction was considered a medical condition; a disease. Individuals who fell victim to addiction were and are considered to be suffering from a medical problem for which there is no cure.

Having been enrolled in and completing several drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs myself I was told this many times. During the last program I completed I actually learned something different. This was that addiction was a problem that could be solved. That I didn’t have to be an addict for the rest of my life and that I could consider myself recovered from my problem.

I wholeheartedly believe this but also can acknowledge the medical community and accept how addiction is categorized in our country. There are many who were not as lucky as me, who lost their lives to addiction. There are many others who are still out there struggling without effective treatment.

photo "Tbone" by AB via wikimedia commons

photo “Tbone” by AB via wikimedia commons

2) You have often mentioned being part of an intervention team. What exactly is this, who is on the team and how is it usually structured?

An intervention team is any group of people who gather to help get a loved on or family member into an addiction treatment program. Anyone who knows someone addicted could consider that they are part of an intervention team. It’s the ability to meet with those surrounding the addict,that want to see him or her get the help they need and take action through intervention. This is also something that can be done through a professional interventionist alone or along with family or other loved ones.

3) What happens if a parent has a child, underage, that refuses to get help? Not only is it emotionally hard on the family but there are boundaries that must be set. You can’t just throw a teenager out on the streets so what can you do?

First, I want to say that having a child that doesn’t want help who is addicted is very common. It can put parents into a difficult situation because they absolutely love their child and just want to see them get better. But, the constant strain, and problems he or she causes within the family because of addiction can be too much to bear. So, what to you do? My recommendation is the first thing is to not enable him or her – do not give them money, and go over the boundries very early on in regards to the rules of the family and the home. Encourage them to get treatment and get professionals involved to get them into rehab. Don’t give up.

4) In states where marijuana is legalized as medicine, you often hear people say they are clean and sober for X number of years yet still smoke their ‘medicine.’ Isn’t this the same thing as people popping legal prescription pills? Aren’t they still feeding an addiction?

This is a difficult question and I can answer it by saying that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported findings in September of 2015 that are consistent with marijuana being a gateway drug. I’ve personally experienced many of my clients who started out smoking marijuana and then enroll in treatment, years later, addicted to cocaine or heroin. Many of them have said that they also felt that marijuana was a gateway drug.

Addiction is defined as a physical or psychological need for a habit-forming substance. With physical addiction the body adapts to the substance and develops a tolerance. This means the user needs more and more to achieve the same effect. There is also a period of withdrawal when he or she attempts to quit using. Addiction can occur with drugs like marijuana just as commonly as prescriptions. In fact the National Institute on Drug Abuse in another September 2015 report stating that “9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it.”

5) It is common to hear people try to comfort the loved one of an addict by saying, “They will get clean when they hit bottom.” What happens if that person never hits bottom until it is too late and they die due to an overdose or a drug related crime? How do you explain to the family that this person never hit bottom, never wanted to recover and died because they made the conscious choice to continue using. How can you not feel responsible for telling them there is nothing they can do but wait it out until that person ‘hit bottom?’

In the last 15 years that I’ve worked in the rehabilitation field, I’ve heard this statement over and over again. And, unfortunately, I’ve witnessed many good and loving families who lost their son, daughter, brother, sister or spouse to substance abuse. It’s one of the most devastating and heart-breaking situations I’ve ever seen. Hitting bottom can be different for everyone. For one person, it might be getting arrested. For another, it might be overdosing. But, there are also plan to get high that night not realizing that the drug they’re about to take is going to take their life. These people never get the ‘chance’ to hit bottom and represent more and more of what the addiction crisis is in our country.

According to a CNN article that I read, there are nearly 50,000 people every year who are dying from overdoses. My advice to families is that if you know your loved one is struggling with drugs or alcohol, get them help through an effective rehabilitation program before it’s too late. You don’t know what day will be their last.

Guest Author: Lolita Di

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