Parents, Stop Feeling So Guilty – Maybe We Just Like Being Drunk or High

Addiction and alcoholism are some pretty misunderstood phenomena. Doctors don’t really know what’s going on, addicts themselves are hard pressed to explain just why they act as they do, and loved ones can’t fathom how we could let ourselves get and stay this way. And because the whole mess is just so bewildering, a lot of myths and half-truths supplant reality – myths that make a lot of sense, but that just aren’t true.

For example

It’s a myth that people need to hit bottom before they can benefit from treatment. A whole lot of people do finally get help after experiencing the worst, but they could have probably avoided all that pain by getting help sooner.

Treatment works better when it comes earlier. But most people believe the whole rock bottom thingy – and it’s not helpful. Now, I have to be careful here, because a lot of what’s backing my arguments to come are personal experiences, but I don’t think my path to addiction was so unique, in fact I think it’s a pretty common route.

So here goes…

I think that a popularly held conception has it that alcoholics and drug addicts use or drink as a way to escape from life’s problems or from past trauma or abuse. When someone we love becomes an alcoholic or drug addict, we tend to spend a lot of time searching for the reason why. We wonder what in their life was so traumatic as to cause this; and it can make us crazy, and in a lot cases, for parents especially, it can cause unnecessary and undeserved guilt.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I know that a lot of people do drink or drug to escape past trauma or to self medicate mental health issues – I just think there are also a whole lot of drunks that drink just because they like to drink. I was one of them. Raised by involved, loving and kind parents, given every middle class advantage, reasonably smart, best friends, little league; no unusual and tease-worthy physical defects – I had a fine childhood. And still I spent a decade drinking hard.

I discovered booze in my mid teens, and I loved it, couldn’t believe how much I loved it – loved just about everything about it; and I spent the next many years of my life enjoying it to great excess. I drank because I liked getting drunk too much. It fit just right inside my mind.

Eventually, of course, the drinking got less fun, certainly less exciting, and the negatives of drinking started to weigh heavily on my life and happiness. I knew I had to quit for a long time before I did anything about it. By then of course I was an alcoholic, and by then, quitting wasn’t so easy.

Now, I don’t tell you all this because my story is just so darned interesting – it’s not; but I’ve spent a lot of my life talking with drunks, some still drinking, some not – and as far as I can tell, my story is a pretty common one. In the end, it doesn’t matter how you got yourself addicted, once you are you have a struggle ahead of you, and I don’t think that falling into addiction this way is any "worse" than falling into addiction and abuse for any other reason. Nobody plans to become a desperate drunk, but we are all hardwired to seek out pleasure – and for those of us that seem to get more pleasure out of a drink than others, it’s understandable why we might get ourselves into trouble.

So if you’re tormenting yourself, trying to understand a loved one’s drinking, and just can’t think of any traumatic reason compelling such abuse – maybe there isn’t one – maybe they too just love getting drunk or high. And so maybe you’re being too hard on yourself. If you did something terrible, then you’d know it, probably – and if you can’t think of anything you could have done to cause them to drink or drug in this way – then there probably isn’t anything.

Addiction and alcoholism are some pretty misunderstood phenomena. Doctors don’t really know what’s going on, addicts themselves are hard pressed to explain just why they act as they do, and loved ones can’t fathom how we could let ourselves get and stay this way. And because the whole mess is just so bewildering, a lot of myths and half-truths supplant reality – myths that make a lot of sense, but that just aren’t true.

For example

It’s a myth that people need to hit bottom before they can benefit from treatment. A whole lot of people do finally get help after experiencing the worst, but they could have probably avoided all that pain by getting help sooner.

Treatment works better when it comes earlier. But most people believe the whole rock bottom thingy – and it’s not helpful. Now, I have to be careful here, because a lot of what’s backing my arguments to come are personal experiences, but I don’t think my path to addiction was so unique, in fact I think it’s a pretty common route.

So here goes…

I think that a popularly held conception has it that alcoholics and drug addicts use or drink as a way to escape from life’s problems or from past trauma or abuse. When someone we love becomes an alcoholic or drug addict, we tend to spend a lot of time searching for the reason why. We wonder what in their life was so traumatic as to cause this; and it can make us crazy, and in a lot cases, for parents especially, it can cause unnecessary and undeserved guilt.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I know that a lot of people do drink or drug to escape past trauma or to self medicate mental health issues – I just think there are also a whole lot of drunks that drink just because they like to drink. I was one of them. Raised by involved, loving and kind parents, given every middle class advantage, reasonably smart, best friends, little league; no unusual and tease-worthy physical defects – I had a fine childhood. And still I spent a decade drinking hard.

I discovered booze in my mid teens, and I loved it, couldn’t believe how much I loved it – loved just about everything about it; and I spent the next many years of my life enjoying it to great excess. I drank because I liked getting drunk too much. It fit just right inside my mind.

Eventually, of course, the drinking got less fun, certainly less exciting, and the negatives of drinking started to weigh heavily on my life and happiness. I knew I had to quit for a long time before I did anything about it. By then of course I was an alcoholic, and by then, quitting wasn’t so easy.

Now, I don’t tell you all this because my story is just so darned interesting – it’s not; but I’ve spent a lot of my life talking with drunks, some still drinking, some not – and as far as I can tell, my story is a pretty common one. In the end, it doesn’t matter how you got yourself addicted, once you are you have a struggle ahead of you, and I don’t think that falling into addiction this way is any "worse" than falling into addiction and abuse for any other reason. Nobody plans to become a desperate drunk, but we are all hardwired to seek out pleasure – and for those of us that seem to get more pleasure out of a drink than others, it’s understandable why we might get ourselves into trouble.

So if you’re tormenting yourself, trying to understand a loved one’s drinking, and just can’t think of any traumatic reason compelling such abuse – maybe there isn’t one – maybe they too just love getting drunk or high. And so maybe you’re being too hard on yourself. If you did something terrible, then you’d know it, probably – and if you can’t think of anything you could have done to cause them to drink or drug in this way – then there probably isn’t anything.

Inaction is Enabling. Why Doing Nothing Doesn’t Help.

Curtailing enabling behaviors does not require complete inaction on our part.

We often confuse doing anything for enabling, while what enabling covers are only those actions of ours that make it easier for an alcoholic or addict to continue using.

  • We do not enable when we take steps towards getting someone into treatment.
  • Running an intervention is not enabling, it is a proactive and positive step towards a solution.

We are told that the alcoholic needs to come to terms with their own addiction, needs to decide for themselves when and where to turn for help.

Baloney!

Waiting for an addict to decide for themselves to get help is nothing more than inactive enabling. The addict wants to be left alone to drink or drug, they want nothing more than that! Which would be fine, of course, if that was their decision alone, if we didn’t care for them, and if their actions did not have profound and negative implications for our own quality of life.

But we do love them, we live with them, and when they abuse drugs or alcohol, even if they consider it a matter of personal choice, they harm those that must live with them in deep and sometimes lasting ways. Does an alcoholic have the right to subject children in a household to drunkenness, poor role modeling, drunk driving, abuse etc.? Does their personal decision to drink affect them alone?

Family has a right to get involved, inaction is enabling.

Curtailing enabling behaviors does not require complete inaction on our part.

We often confuse doing anything for enabling, while what enabling covers are only those actions of ours that make it easier for an alcoholic or addict to continue using.

  • We do not enable when we take steps towards getting someone into treatment.
  • Running an intervention is not enabling, it is a proactive and positive step towards a solution.

We are told that the alcoholic needs to come to terms with their own addiction, needs to decide for themselves when and where to turn for help.

Baloney!

Waiting for an addict to decide for themselves to get help is nothing more than inactive enabling. The addict wants to be left alone to drink or drug, they want nothing more than that! Which would be fine, of course, if that was their decision alone, if we didn’t care for them, and if their actions did not have profound and negative implications for our own quality of life.

But we do love them, we live with them, and when they abuse drugs or alcohol, even if they consider it a matter of personal choice, they harm those that must live with them in deep and sometimes lasting ways. Does an alcoholic have the right to subject children in a household to drunkenness, poor role modeling, drunk driving, abuse etc.? Does their personal decision to drink affect them alone?

Family has a right to get involved, inaction is enabling.

Confirmation Bias – Understanding Addicted Thinking – or – Why They Don’t Stop

Why can’t they see what their drinking or drugging is doing to them, and to us?

For family, few things frustrate like the seeming inability of the addict or alcoholic to recognize the extent of their self destructive behaviors. What seems so obvious to us seems not to register with them, and if losing a job, career, family or health won’t convince a using addict to change their ways – what possibly can?

Addiction changes the mind, it is complex and pervasive, and no single phenomenon fully explains the influence it exerts over thoughts and behaviors; but understanding confirmation bias takes us a step closer to understanding the realities of addicted thinking.

Confirmation Bias and the Addictd Mind

Confirmation bias refers to a cognitive process in which we selectively and unconsciously assign more weight to stimuli, information or events that seem to confirm our preconceptions or world-view. We all unconsciously use confirmation bias; it is simply a psychological streamlining for informational processing.

When we read a political editorial that matches our world-view, it resonates more profoundly and influentially than when we read an editorial that opposes our notion of the world – even if both are factually accurate. We are the choir – and we like to be preached to!

Addicts unconsciously use conformational bias as a way to preserve activities (drinking or drugging) that are important to them. It is conformational bias that allows addicts to disregard or minimize negative information that might force them to question their behaviors, and over-emphasize positive information that convinces them to continue their use behaviors.

An addict or alcoholic might process information on a night’s events such as this:

  • Pros: HAD A GREAT TIME LAUGHING WITH BUDDIES GOT A PHONE NUMBER FROM THAT CUTE/HANDSOME BARTENDER
  • Cons: Vomited in the bar bathroom Was asked to leave Performed badly at work the next day, and was noticed for being hung-over

Alcoholic thinking=A good night’s fun.

Most of us would call such an evening a lesson against excessive drinking, but an alcoholic will assign much more weight to the positive parts of the evening, and gloss over any negative aspects that don’t align with alcoholic thinking.

Alcoholics maintain denial through unconscious conformation bias internalization; thinking that keeps them sure that although drinking may cause a few minor headaches…on the whole it brings more happiness than pain. Addicts are not purposefully obtuse when they fail to recognize how much their use hurts them, it’s a psychological process, and one an addiction hijacked brain makes full use of in defense of its consumptions.

Eventually, if it gets bad enough, most alcoholics and addicts will concede that they have a problem – but it can take a long while and some pretty overwhelming (and often tragic) evidence. Understanding why addicts and alcoholics continue to drink or drug even as things get bad helps family and friends to enact better and more successful interventions – Helps them to realize that just letting an addict see the problems abuse causes won’t necessarily be enough to induce change.

Rock bottom can motivate, but rock bottom is sad; and there is no need for it. Although an addict may not come to an internal conclusion of a need for change, family and friends can help them along, and can help to change their thinking. Interventions work, and they can get some pretty reluctant addicts into treatment. You can wait for an addict to see it on their own, but with conformational bias…it may take a long, long time.

Why can’t they see what their drinking or drugging is doing to them, and to us?

For family, few things frustrate like the seeming inability of the addict or alcoholic to recognize the extent of their self destructive behaviors. What seems so obvious to us seems not to register with them, and if losing a job, career, family or health won’t convince a using addict to change their ways – what possibly can?

Addiction changes the mind, it is complex and pervasive, and no single phenomenon fully explains the influence it exerts over thoughts and behaviors; but understanding confirmation bias takes us a step closer to understanding the realities of addicted thinking.

Confirmation Bias and the Addictd Mind

Confirmation bias refers to a cognitive process in which we selectively and unconsciously assign more weight to stimuli, information or events that seem to confirm our preconceptions or world-view. We all unconsciously use confirmation bias; it is simply a psychological streamlining for informational processing.

When we read a political editorial that matches our world-view, it resonates more profoundly and influentially than when we read an editorial that opposes our notion of the world – even if both are factually accurate. We are the choir – and we like to be preached to!

Addicts unconsciously use conformational bias as a way to preserve activities (drinking or drugging) that are important to them. It is conformational bias that allows addicts to disregard or minimize negative information that might force them to question their behaviors, and over-emphasize positive information that convinces them to continue their use behaviors.

An addict or alcoholic might process information on a night’s events such as this:

  • Pros: HAD A GREAT TIME LAUGHING WITH BUDDIES GOT A PHONE NUMBER FROM THAT CUTE/HANDSOME BARTENDER
  • Cons: Vomited in the bar bathroom Was asked to leave Performed badly at work the next day, and was noticed for being hung-over

Alcoholic thinking=A good night’s fun.

Most of us would call such an evening a lesson against excessive drinking, but an alcoholic will assign much more weight to the positive parts of the evening, and gloss over any negative aspects that don’t align with alcoholic thinking.

Alcoholics maintain denial through unconscious conformation bias internalization; thinking that keeps them sure that although drinking may cause a few minor headaches…on the whole it brings more happiness than pain. Addicts are not purposefully obtuse when they fail to recognize how much their use hurts them, it’s a psychological process, and one an addiction hijacked brain makes full use of in defense of its consumptions.

Eventually, if it gets bad enough, most alcoholics and addicts will concede that they have a problem – but it can take a long while and some pretty overwhelming (and often tragic) evidence. Understanding why addicts and alcoholics continue to drink or drug even as things get bad helps family and friends to enact better and more successful interventions – Helps them to realize that just letting an addict see the problems abuse causes won’t necessarily be enough to induce change.

Rock bottom can motivate, but rock bottom is sad; and there is no need for it. Although an addict may not come to an internal conclusion of a need for change, family and friends can help them along, and can help to change their thinking. Interventions work, and they can get some pretty reluctant addicts into treatment. You can wait for an addict to see it on their own, but with conformational bias…it may take a long, long time.

No More Rock Bottom!

A survey done by Hazeldean (One of the nation’s most respected drug and alcohol rehabs and source of addictions research) reveals that 70% of all alcoholics in recovery got help initially at the urging or intervention of a friend, family member or employer.

So much for the theory of rock bottom…

No one ever needs to hit rock bottom, and really, where’s the bottom anyways? Alcoholism and addiction are progressive and ultimately fatal diseases, and for too many the only bottom is death.

There’s no need for it and it’s a tragedy that this myth of rock bottom continues to pervade our pop culture consciousness.

There are few easy answers, and fewer guarantees. Addiction is powerful, cunning and baffling (to borrow an old AA phrase) and what works for one may not work for another. Yet amongst all this uncertainty, one facet of treatment has been shown over and over again to have incredible efficacy, at getting people into treatment at the very least.

The Intervention

Interventions work; they work wonders, and a well run, non confrontational and caring intervention almost always breaks down the walls of denial, and gets a loved one into treatment.

Addiction is rarely intuitive or logical, and as such it makes perverse sense then that research shows that a person’s motivation at the outset for seeking help has no bearing whatsoever on eventual success and sobriety rates. Walking through that treatment center front door, or pushed in kicking and screaming…the only thing that matters is that you get into treatment, and start learning how to do better.

Never wait for rock bottom, by then it may be too late. Why waste years of precious life, why let the disease entrench ever further?

The sooner an addict or alcoholic gets help, the better the treatment prognosis. Family can make a difference, family can save a life. Learn about what works, learn about interventions, and take a stand against addiction and pain.

A survey done by Hazeldean (One of the nation’s most respected drug and alcohol rehabs and source of addictions research) reveals that 70% of all alcoholics in recovery got help initially at the urging or intervention of a friend, family member or employer.

So much for the theory of rock bottom…

No one ever needs to hit rock bottom, and really, where’s the bottom anyways? Alcoholism and addiction are progressive and ultimately fatal diseases, and for too many the only bottom is death.

There’s no need for it and it’s a tragedy that this myth of rock bottom continues to pervade our pop culture consciousness.

There are few easy answers, and fewer guarantees. Addiction is powerful, cunning and baffling (to borrow an old AA phrase) and what works for one may not work for another. Yet amongst all this uncertainty, one facet of treatment has been shown over and over again to have incredible efficacy, at getting people into treatment at the very least.

The Intervention

Interventions work; they work wonders, and a well run, non confrontational and caring intervention almost always breaks down the walls of denial, and gets a loved one into treatment.

Addiction is rarely intuitive or logical, and as such it makes perverse sense then that research shows that a person’s motivation at the outset for seeking help has no bearing whatsoever on eventual success and sobriety rates. Walking through that treatment center front door, or pushed in kicking and screaming…the only thing that matters is that you get into treatment, and start learning how to do better.

Never wait for rock bottom, by then it may be too late. Why waste years of precious life, why let the disease entrench ever further?

The sooner an addict or alcoholic gets help, the better the treatment prognosis. Family can make a difference, family can save a life. Learn about what works, learn about interventions, and take a stand against addiction and pain.

Eat Together as a Family. Save Your Kids From Drugs?

Photo: SuziJaneResearch by the National Center on Addiction and Substance abuse compared the drug and alcohol consumption patterns of teens that ate family dinners 5 or more times per week, with those that ate them 2 or less times per week, and the difference revealed is dramatic. Families that don’t often eat together have teen children that are:

300% more likely to smoke marijuana 250% more likely to smoke cigarettes 150% more likely to drink alcohol

Wow! What an easy way to make a real difference, in your teen’s life, and for the family as a whole. The study authors state that although the simple act of eating together as a family seems most important, the experience can be enhanced with conversation and by ensuring the TV is turned off throughout the meal.

Research continually demonstrates the influence of family and parental involvement on the likelihood of teens avoiding the troubles of drugs and alcohol. And this recent study shows just how easily parents can ensure they exert that influence. Make it fun for all, order a pizza if that’s what it takes, and sit down as a family, at the table. It’s worth it.

Photo: SuziJaneResearch by the National Center on Addiction and Substance abuse compared the drug and alcohol consumption patterns of teens that ate family dinners 5 or more times per week, with those that ate them 2 or less times per week, and the difference revealed is dramatic. Families that don’t often eat together have teen children that are:

300% more likely to smoke marijuana 250% more likely to smoke cigarettes 150% more likely to drink alcohol

Wow! What an easy way to make a real difference, in your teen’s life, and for the family as a whole. The study authors state that although the simple act of eating together as a family seems most important, the experience can be enhanced with conversation and by ensuring the TV is turned off throughout the meal.

Research continually demonstrates the influence of family and parental involvement on the likelihood of teens avoiding the troubles of drugs and alcohol. And this recent study shows just how easily parents can ensure they exert that influence. Make it fun for all, order a pizza if that’s what it takes, and sit down as a family, at the table. It’s worth it.