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Additional frequently asked questions about addiction.


Note: This is the third of three columns on coping with an alcohol or drug abuser. The gender identifications in the following are a matter of convenience, rather than an indication that one sex is more prone to addiction than the other. Both men and women succumb all too frequently and all too readily. Other troubling addictions include gambling and sex.


How can one person intervene effectively? To be effective, it is important to learn to be objective in your interactions with the addict.

The following question-and-answer series is typical of numerous discussions I've had with individuals who are searching for ways to engage with a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs.

¶ Q: I'm the only one who seems to be concerned about my wife's drinking. I feel I'm the only one willing to speak up. How can I have an impact all by myself?

A: First, obtain help for yourself.


¶ Q: You seem to think I have a problem. Why do I need help? I'm not the one who is drinking to excess.

A: You need help because you are struggling -- without success -- to cope with an important issue in your life. It is one of the more difficult issues anyone ever has to face, one which most of us are not equipped to handle effectively without help.


¶ Q: What kinds of help do I need?

A: You'll find several kinds that will probably prove meaningful:

  1. It is important to understand how to avoid supporting the alcohol or drug user's illusion that their use is not a problem.

  2. It is important to know how to avoid seeming to accept the alcohol or drug user's habit as OK through providing inappropriate "help."

  3. And it is important to learn to be objective and caring in your discussions, which means avoiding judgemental observations and accusations.

These require understanding and practice. They aren't readily developed on one's own. So it is a good idea for you to get counseling, join a support group such as Al-Anon, or both.


¶ Q: Why do I need help in being objective? I know what she's doing wrong.

A: Knowing what the other person is doing wrong is not the issue. When we are angry and distressed by a situation, we often vent those feelings in ways that are readily interpreted as attacks and accusations. Unfortunately, these usually make matters worse.

Very few people distinguish between being judgemental and being objective:

To say, "Your drinking is causing problems" is judgemental, opinionated and accusative. It attempts to establish that there is something wrong with the other person, or their behavior.

On the other hand, to say, "You got off the bus at Broadway last Thursday when you planned to ride to Main Street" is objective and descriptive. The person who abuses alcohol or drugs can deal with objective information far better than with lectures.

The important thing is to learn how to say things in a way that will not allow the other person to feel attacked. That is the way to be heard.


¶ Q: Why is she so sullen?

A: Anyone who uses alcohol or drugs to excess is probably hurting. They are not apt to open up unless you are willing to be accepting, understanding and sympathetic. It is important -- and difficult -- to listen accurately and with understanding. Listening without arguing and without seeming to agree is a special kind of activity. So is accepting the fact that the other person is hurting without condoning use of alcohol or drugs. You will probably need help in learning how to respond constructively -- and you will probably need practice at it in order to do it consistently.

Beyond this, it is important for you to have clear guidelines regarding what you will do and what you won't do in the way of providing support. Learning how to be a willing participant in genuine problem solving without becoming a patsy or a victim will probably require the help of people who know more than you know about dealing with someone who consumes alcohol or drugs to excess.


¶ Q: You make it sound involved and difficult.

A: Though it may not be easy to get results, look at the positive side. Getting results can well be worth all the effort. Get professional help to obtain guidance in your endeavor to bring about change. If that seems out of the question, call Al-Anon. You will find Al-Anon in the Yellow Pages under "Alcoholism Treatment Centers." (In NYC, 212-254-7230.) They'll tell you the locations and times of meetings near where you live and near where you work.


If you'd like to look at the earlier columns on alcohol and drug abuse, you can switch to one of them here:

Is Someone You Love Hooked on Alchohol or Drugs? #1...questions and answers about alcohol and drug abuse.

Is Someone You Love Hooked? #2...what to do for yourself -- includes questions and answers about an organized intervention.



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