STARTING THE CONVERSATION

October 21, 2019

STARTING THE CONVERSATION

ThedaCare Providers Encourage Helping Loved Ones Abusing Drugs or Alcohol

MENASHA, Wis. – In this second article in our series for National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, we will discuss how family members and friends can play a role in helping someone who is struggling with an addiction.

“Addiction is a highly treatable disease,” said Nicole Hooley, clinical substance abuse counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health. “Addiction is not a moral failure or a personality flaw. Recovering from addiction focuses on managing the symptoms of the disease and regulating the addictive behavior.”

Hooley explained that when approaching a loved one whom you believe may be abusing a substance, whether it is alcohol, prescription medicines or illegal drugs, one of the most important things is to address the individual’s behavioral changes and how those are affecting their lives.

“Family members and friends should not attempt to diagnose the substance use disorder; rather they should focus on the person’s behavior,” she said. “Addiction is an isolating disease as people try to hide their behavior. Having someone reach out to show concern to the person struggling can help. It offers the opportunity for the person struggling to realize someone cares about them and their well-being. This can be an important step in someone realizing they may need help.”

She cautioned that the potential substance abuser may be resistant to help.

“Early on, someone who is struggling may not be able to identify that their substance abuse is problematic,” she said. “That stage of change and mindset is called precontemplation. They believe the problem is everyone else’s and not their use.”

Hooley recommends that family members or friends who are affected by someone struggling with addiction seek support through groups like Al-Anon, Alateen, a local National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) group or through the ThedaCare Behavioral Health Affected Family Program.

“All of these programs will help family members and friends understand what addiction is, what it looks like, how it progresses, how to avoid enabling behavior and how to communicate with the person who is struggling,” she said. “For family members to help the person who’s struggling, they have to take care of themselves. I remind people that you can’t pour from an empty tank. They need to make sure they are eating healthily, getting good sleep, managing their own stress and enjoying their own hobbies and interests. You can’t help someone else if you’re not well mentally and physically.”

Until the potential substance abuser recognizes they need help, family and friends are limited in what they can do.

“It’s important to keep the conversation going as much as possible, focusing on the perceived destructive behavior, but forcing treatment or offering ultimatums doesn’t help someone recover,” she explained. “It only continues to build resentment and can encourage further antisocial behavior.”

Hooley noted that an important aspect to keep in mind is that if someone’s behavior is creating an immediate risk to their safety or life or that of others, then it’s important to take them to the local emergency room, especially if alcohol is involved because that withdrawal can be fatal.

“Once a person decides they want to change their behavior, then family and friends can become more involved,” Hooley said. “That opens the door for the family/friends to ask the person who is struggling what they need. Maybe they need a safe place to stay for a while or someone to have dinner with. Emotional support is important; acknowledge that they are struggling and ask how you might help; ask them what coping skills they are learning and using. Every story is going to be a little different; every relationship is different. It’s important that loved ones reach out in a nonjudgmental way that feels comfortable to both parties. That’s the best help family and friends can give to someone who is working toward recovery.”

In early 2018, ThedaCare launched the opioid awareness campaign developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “It only takes a little to lose a lot”. The public will see different forms of campaign presence, including billboards, medication take back boxes, social media and public service announcements across the nine county service area. Goals of the campaign include fewer prescriptions written for opioids, more people accessing addiction and recovery services and ultimately lower rates of hospitalizations, emergency department visits and deaths due to opioid overdose.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact a treatment service such as the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline through 2-1-1 or ThedaCare Behavioral Health. A list of services and contact information can be found by visiting the ThedaCare opioid resource page.

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.

For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.