Realistic optimism about addiction may seem like an oxymoron to those who are being personally affected by someone with an active problem. Many people, never having had previous experience dealing with addiction, take initial steps to help that are caring and intuitive but unsuccessful, which leads to discouragement and anger. Sadly, some well-intentioned interventions can actually aggravate or perpetuate the problem – a scenario known as “enabling.”
Clinicians can be helpful to family and friends in a variety of ways beyond providing traditional therapy. In a recent post, I discussed the importance of reliable information, such as is available at the Dick Prodey Lecture Series. Another helpful resource to which we can direct patients is support groups, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Gam-Anon. At meetings sponsored by these organizations, newcomers can learn about effective, sometimes counterintuitive interventions that have been developed by people who are themselves struggling with similar problems and are very willing to share their knowledge and experience.
One of the first steps is to adopt a mindset that builds a foundation for future action. One concise summary is the “3 Cs”:
- I didn’t cause
- I can’t control
- I can’t cure
Coming to accept the accuracy of these insights can help people disentangle from some of the paralyzing psychological misconceptions that interfere with effective interventions.
Working with family members and friends have always been an integral part of the treatment program at Kolmac as it is in most modern programs. (This aspect of treatment had been neglected or actually discouraged by some of the earliest treatment programs.) One of the most difficult tasks in this process is helping family and friends focus on taking care of themselves instead of focusing so intensively on the addict. Working on this in a group setting can reduce the painful feelings of shame, isolation, and hopelessness.
Family and friends returning to a state of better psychological health does not guarantee the addict’s recovery, but the odds are significantly improved. Importantly, even when recovery does not occur, the damage active addiction does to others is reduced. This is the power of realistic optimism.