Changing the Language of Addiction


When people think or talk about people living with addiction, words often are used that can be pejorative. Names like “crackhead,” “junkie,” “dope fiend” and “lush” are commonly used to label those with substance use disorders. The list goes on ad infinitum. While many of the names used to describe those living with life threatening mental health disorders have a history, and they are often spoken without offense being taken, the use of such monikers only serves to fuel the fiery stigma of addiction.

The Language of Addiction

Both researchers and advocates suggest that if we are to continue breaking down the stigma of addiction, it requires that we change how we talk about the illness, The Boston Globe reports. They are calling for the use of medically accepted terminology when talking about substance use disorders because pejorative words like “abuser” discourage people from reaching out for help.

“The biggest thing we trade in is hope,” said Dr. Barbara Herbert, Massachusetts Chapter President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Our biggest enemy is hopelessness. That’s why I think language matters a lot.”

Standardized Communication About Addiction

For the first time in American history, we have a Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who is himself in recovery. Michael Botticelli would like to do away with words to describe addiction that have negative connotations, and standardize federal communication about addiction, according to the article.

“For a long time, we’ve known that language plays a huge role in how we think about people and how people think about themselves,” said Botticelli. “Words have to change so attitudes change.”

He points out that saying someone is “clean” from drugs, implies that active drug use is dirty, the article reports. He adds that: “We don’t say for a diabetic whose blood sugar spikes that they have a ‘dirty blood sugar.”

Choose Your Words Wisely

Removing stigma can begin with an intervention. Substance abuse interventions are to be carefully planned and facilitated by an interventionist who might also be a licensed counselor or social worker. Typically the meeting is held in a private, neutral location where all family and friends who are participating can feel comfortable sharing their feelings and concerns. The interventionist coaches the group to choose their words wisely and to present a united front in the form of rehearsed, straightforward messages about the facts of the problem and its impact on others. An intervention is not about creating guilt trips or placing blame. It is about being firm and compassionate conveying the consequences that have resulted from addiction and share the group’s desire for the addicted individual to make positive changes.

Promoting positive changes can be the first step in removing stigma!

Learning From WILD The Movie And A Walk Through Opioid History

Schematic overview of course and lands of the ...
Schematic overview of course and lands of the Pacific Crest Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to f–k every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail


Cheryl Strayed sought to reinvent herself by walking 1100 miles

If you haven’t read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail or seen the recently released WILD starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, then you might want to check out either the book or the movie. This past week one of our associates saw the movie and reported that she knew nothing about the book and had only seen previews of the movie. Basically she, like Cheryl, had no idea what she was getting herself into.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Anyone who has ever hiked any part of the Pacific Crest Trail knows what Cheryl was up against, but if you add to the strenuous nature of the trail, unpredictable weather and a woman who’s seeking to “get well” after living through what many have described as a four year bender, then you might come to the conclusion that Cheryl’s memoir is about her intervening in the journey she found herself on after losing her mother to cancer.

Cheryl took a walk on the WILD side…or as one reviewer said she was on an emotional odyssey.

While we learn from movies, we also continue to learn from history

Watching WILD the viewer gets just a glimpse of what opioid use and abuse can dissolve into…heroin addiction. You can read multiple news articles every day how different states, cities, towns, schools of all levels, businesses and families are trying to cope with painkiller abuse. It is often referred to as an epidemic.

The odd thing about all of this is that as a society we seem truly surprised to find ourselves engaged in this battle and with such intensity. Over the holidays we read an article in The New York Times, Painkiller Abuse, a Cyclical Challenge. We hope you will take the time to read the article, it offers some powerful photographs and a timeline that is worth noting.

The author Austin Frakt wants his readers to understand that this is not a new epidemic, but the latest in the cycle. As a society, at least since the late 19th century we have attempted to develop social policy that will deal with the latest onset.

  • In the late 1800s opioid products were not regulated. Heroin was created by Bayer Pharmaceuticals to be used for coughs.
  • In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed and required drug labels to include all of the ingredients to be listed.
  • The 1914 Harrison Narcotics Tax Act took effect with a goal to curb use, by taxing narcotics. Additionally, it was decided with this act that it would be permissible to use opioids to treat pain, but not as part of a maintenance program for addiction.
  • By the 1920s heroin was frequently prescribed for menstrual pain.
  • In 1925 the Supreme Court legalized opioids to be used as maintenance treatment for addiction.
  • In 1935 the Federal Medical Center, located in Lexington, KY, opened. It was dedicated to treat substance use disorders. (It is also known for conducting addiction research and experiments.)
  • Jump ahead to the 1950s with a growing number of overdose deaths as a result of opioid use.
  • In 1961 the United Nations’ declaration that access to pain medication was a human right opened the door to more use and addiction.
  • By 1966 some states and then the federal government enacted laws that would allow addicts to be hospitalized on an involuntary basis.
  • In 1970 the Controlled Substance Act was passed by the 91st Congress and signed into law by President Nixon. The DEA was established. Both actions were supported by a number of intervention studies which pointed to the efficacy of treatment for addiction, including methadone type substances.
  • Of late, the federal government and 49 states have built databases to help control the sale and use of opioids. Such programs track the prescribers and the users of these drugs.
  • Naloxone is being promoted to have available in schools, homes and with first responders to react quickly to save a person who has overdosed.

As we move into the New Year…

It is true…it is important to remember history and to take the time to study history. This applies to family history as well. It is vital to understand that addiction is a family disease. With this understanding spouses and parents should stay alert to signs. If your loved one’s behavior has been slowly changing, ask questions. Are they late for work, do they oversleep, are grades changing, are they dropping off of sports teams, is their circle of friends changing, are they losing weight…the signs are there. Pay attention.

If you need help in starting the conversation, feel free to call us.  Recovery is possible.

Interventions: A Look At Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment

Interventions can happen in so many ways…

This weekend we happened to see The Homesman. This is one of those movies that captures your interest just by reading the cast’s names. You wonder how actors who have won multiple acting awards and nominations find themselves wrapped up in a story about the rescue of three mentally ill women being transported “home” to their families.

Take a few minutes and watch the trailer.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

You learn so much from this film…and for sure every viewer brings their own life experience to this film. Behavioral health professionals will certainly see this film as a powerful example of how interventions dating back more than 100 years were planned to assist those who are suffering from mental illness, depression, anxiety, and the like.

When Meryl Streep’s character Altha Carter inquires of Tommy Lee Jones’ George Briggs, something to the affect, “Have you seen any improvement in their(the mentally ill women) behavior over the weeks that you have traveled with them?” it seemed that Altha Carter knew instinctively that their rescue and their time traveling together and being cared for was, for all intents and purposes, an intervention.

Learning of Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment (CAST)


Interventionists are called upon by family members, friends, co-workers, employers and even the justice system to have a neutral person who is an expert in addiction and recovery intervene upon the addict and their family to bring the addiction and its harmful impacts to the surface so that recovery and healing can begin.

As such, it is imperative that we are constantly learning and staying abreast of new research and studies that are designed to create new modes of intervening.

This week we learned that researchers at Florida State University led by Professor Brad Schmidt were looking for a way to assist veterans and other groups who suffer from high anxiety and whose stress may bring on thoughts of suicide (ideation).

The researchers used Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment (CAST) which is a 45 minute treatment consisting of videos and a true and false questionnaire.

The results of this study were published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Randomized clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of a brief intervention targeting anxiety sensitivity cognitive concerns.

According to Science World Report, the researchers found:

The program works by helping to reduce racing thoughts as well as the inability to concentrate and make sure that others are not a danger to themselves as well as not an implication that something bad is about to happen.
Those who received CAST training saw their anxiety scores drop significantly more than those who just learned about healthy living. Furthermore, the decrease was similar to that seen in many therapy sessions.
Researchers believe that military members could stand to benefit, especially those who may be at an increased risk of suicide or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Looking forward…

Continuing to conduct research for ways to improve the intervention process is critical. People continue to hide their needs…they may suffer from addiction, depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD. But getting help is the most important goal. Sometimes people will be reluctant to seek help for fear that they will jeopardize their relationships both personal and on the job.

The holidays are here. Be vigilant with your loved ones; don’t overlook a cry for help. Celebrate the holidays and celebrate life. Recovery is the best gift.

Interventions Are Key To Ongoing Scientific Research

Curiosity and determination inspire scientific research studies…

It’s true! Scientific research and studies that involve human physiology and behavior are most often provoked by a certain determination and enough curiosity to seek answers to problems that are impacting our society. Over the past two years our blog posts have often discussed the results of a new study; we share this information with our readers to spark their own curiosity and prompt them to seek more information on the intervention process should their family circumstances demand it.

The KNICK television drama weaves a story with history, medical research and addiction

The KNICK takes place in New York City’s Knickerbocker Hospital in the early 1900s. One could ask “what’s so captivating about this time and place?” This is a series that offers the viewer an inside view of what not only life in New York City was about in 1900, but also a candid view of how medical research and new inventions were developed “hands on.”  And yes, drug addiction is part of The KNICK’s storyline, as well as the concept of doing an intervention and getting someone to treatment.

Here you can watch a snippet of the season finale, Episode #10…

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Two new research projects are worth noting…

If you have ever worked in a hospital emergency department (ED or ER), then chances are you’ve noted that a good percentage of the patients presenting (non-trauma) have either a primary or secondary issue tied to substance abuse. These patients arrive at the ER due to an accidental overdose, accidental injuries due to substance abuse (auto accidents, slips, falls, fights), chronic diseases due to substance abuse (pancreatitis, hepatitis, liver failure) or physical detox / withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens. This being the case it would stand to reason that when a patient comes to an ED and admits to or exhibits signs of substance abuse this could be the perfect time for the medical professionals to intervene beyond treating the acute symptoms. But what intervention protocol works best in these situations?

Michael Bogenschutz. MD, chief of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science is indeed looking for answers to how best manage the opportunity to intervene when patients present with substance abuse symptoms.

According to UNM Health Science Center News Beat, Dr. Bogenschutz is focusing on how well screenings, interventions and referrals work by conducting two studies:

  • Bogenshutz is leading a five-year study of opioid-addicted patients who visit the ER. Past research, including his own, has shown that brief ER interventions had little or no effect on heavy drug users, so the current study takes a more active approach. Case managers follow up with patients to steer them toward addiction treatment and to assist with other needs, like housing or legal representation. 
  • In a second study, Bogenschutz focuses on older adult alcoholics. Researchers in Denmark, Germany and New Mexico will compare patients who receive four motivational counseling sessions with those receiving the four sessions, plus an additional eight weeks of more active therapy focused on finding rewarding alternatives to drinking.


Looking to the future…

We understand that substance use disorder is a chronic disease; however, with intervention, treatment and aftercare, remission is possible and long term sobriety is achievable. Ongoing research about addiction serves to validate these processes that promote health and wellness.

Is An Intervention Ever Too Early?

Let’s talk about interventions

The word intervention is often used when speaking of political, financial, commerce, legal and medical situations. Basically it means to come between disputing people or groups to intercede or mediate in an effort to change the course of events.

When it comes to health, particularly mental and behavioral health we define an intervention as:

An orchestrated attempt by one or many people – usually family and friends – to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction or some kind of traumatic event or crisis, or other serious problem. The term intervention is most often used when the traumatic event involves addiction to drugs or other items.

The process of this type of intervention was introduced in the 1960s by Dr.Vernon Johnson who was a recovering alcoholic and an Episcopal priest. He promoted what he referred to as “early intervention” to interrupt the disease of alcoholism before the process of the disease destroyed one’s life.

Johnson’s concept is key to what many family members ask themselves everyday…”should we have noticed earlier what was coming, could we have prevented the escalation of the disease of addiction…should we have intervened earlier?”

Research results examines the outcome of early intervention in children

It was 1991 when the Fast-Track Project study began. This was a collaborative study including researchers from Duke University, Pennsylvania State, Vanderbilt and the University of Washington. They screened nearly 10,000 five year-old children who lived in Durham, Nashville, Seattle and rural sections of Pennsylvania. Of these 10,000 the researchers identified 891 who were at high risk. Half of these were selected as a control group and the other half were assigned to participate in the Fast Track intervention. Here is an overview of the Fast Track Project as provided on the website:

Fast Track is a comprehensive intervention project designed to look at how children develop across their lives by providing academic tutoring and lessons in developing social skills and regulating their behaviors. Selection began when the participants entered kindergarten and children were placed either in the intervention group or the control group. The intervention was guided by a developmental theory stating the interaction of multiple influences on the development of behavior. There can be multiple stressors and influences on children and families that increase their risk levels. In such contexts, some families that experience marital conflict and instability can cause inconsistent and ineffective parenting. These children can sometimes enter school poorly prepared for the social, emotional, and cognitive demands of this setting. Often the child will then attend a school with a high number of other children who are similarly unprepared and are negatively influenced by disruptive classroom situations and punitive teacher practices. Over time, children in these circumstances tend to demonstrate particular behaviors, are rejected by families and peers, and tend to receive less support from teachers, further increasing aggressive exchanges and academic difficulties.

As youth get older, their risk for these behaviors increase due to peer influences, academic difficulties, and their personal identity development. The Fast Track project is thus based on the hypothesis that improving child competencies, parenting effectiveness, school context and school-home communications will, over time, contribute to preventing certain behaviors across the period from early childhood through adolescence.

The study was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

The study’s findings…

The study was to cover 10 years and over those years the researchers published numerous progress reports. Most recently Kenneth A. Dodge, Ph.D. at Duke University (who headed the original project and secured the original sponsorship of the NIMH) worked with researchers from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Alabama, Tufts University and Simon Fraser University. The goal was to reach out to the original subjects and determine how they were doing some eight years after the program had ended. The full results are published on-line in the American Journal of Psychiatry: Impact of Early Intervention on Psychopathology, Crime, and Well-Being at Age 25.

This study showed modest improvements in psychological markers that predict long-term antisocial behavior and criminality and according to a Los Angeles Times article.  

Program graduates had fewer legal problems, substance abuse issues and risky sexual behaviors. The data suggest that intervention can work, and effects can persist over many years. Overall, the likelihood of psychological, criminal, sexual and behavioral problems dropped by about 9 percentage points from those of nonparticipants, the study found.

Dr. Dodge is quick to point out: “It’s not miracles; it’s not huge impacts. We weren’t successful with every child, but on average we have been able to prevent some of those [negative] outcomes.”

Some closing thoughts…

Being a member of a family is a journey that we all take. We travel through good times and difficult times that include financial hardships, illness, and emotional trials that if not recognized early can impact many members of the core family group and beyond. Often parents will notice signs, but are reluctant to ask questions and seek answers. Even spouses will look the other way and hope for a positive outcome. It is always best not to look away, but to reach out for help when you realize that your loved one is experiencing mental health issues and/or addiction.

Correctly guiding ourselves through life is challenging enough and trying to help a loved one who is suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction can seem impossible.

Often, the person in active addiction has difficulty managing their own lives and as time goes by it seems to get worse. The impact of their addiction on their lives are evident through loss of things like jobs, relationships and self-care. Perhaps several attempts and conversations have been initiated to help them without success. This is because the person trying to help is often too close and doesn’t have the professional background to be both emotionally neutral and aware of resources that match the needs of the addict. Such addiction professionals can help via home interventions or through recommending applicable treatment for the addict who is suffering.

Bottom line: It is never too early to consider an intervention!

New Study Examines Interventions For Drug Abuse VS Alcohol Abuse

Do you feed a fever and starve a cold or vice versa?


Brief interventions deemed ‘inadequate’ for unhealthy drug abuse…

There is this old adage:  “Starve a cold, feed a fever”…many of us have heard our parents of grandparents offer this advice and when you drill them with a few questions it turns out that nobody is really sure what works best for treating a fever versus a cold. It happens that way in the medical field…everyone makes a call based on their experience.

It turns out that experts in the field of substance use disorder are still trying to determine how best to intervene when a patient presents with unhealthy drug use as opposed to unhealthy alcohol use. Should the medical provider offer the same course of treatment for both or do we have to look closer at the specific disorder?

New study conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health

In the August 6, 2014, edition of JAMA – The Journal of the American Medical Association the results of a new study were published: Screening and Brief Intervention for Drug Use in Primary Care, The ASPIRE Randomized Clinical Trial. The objective of this study was:

To test the efficacy of 2 brief counseling interventions for unhealthy drug use (any illicit drug use or prescription drug misuse)—a brief negotiated interview (BNI) and an adaptation of motivational interviewing (MOTIV)—compared with no brief intervention.

The lead researcher Dr. Richard Saitz is quoted in a statement:

…despite the potential for benefit with a brief intervention, drug use differs from unhealthy alcohol use in that it is often illegal and socially unacceptable, and is diverse—from occasional marijuana use, which was illegal during this study, to numerous daily heroin injections. “Prescription drug misuse is particularly complex, with diagnostic confusion between misuse for symptoms (e.g., pain, anxiety), euphoria-seeking, and drug diversion. Brief counseling may simply be inadequate to address these complexities, even as an initial strategy.”

Meet Dr. Saitz…

The JAMA Network offers a video interview with Dr. Saitz which explains the study and the results the researchers were able to verify. Take a few minutes to get a clearer understanding of the study’s parameters and results.  Medical Daily quotes both Dr. Ralph Higinson from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Dr. Wilson Compton of the National Institute on Drug Abuse who offered editorial comments:

“Although these studies offer no direct evidence of effectiveness for universal drug screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment in primary care settings, exploring drug use with patients should remain a priority in primary care. The goal for clinical research is to develop and test new interventions with potential for benefiting patients,” Dr. Ralph Higinson from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Dr. Wilson Compton from the National Institute on Drug Abuse said in an accompanying editorial. “If brief interventions are insufficient, then easily accessible treatment services with long-term follow-up may be needed, as will development of efficient primary care referral approaches to address risky substance use and related physical and mental comorbidities.”

Some closing thoughts…

This study is what you might call a “conversation starter.” The observations provided by the researchers might well serve to be the jumping off point to discover new and more efficient ways to intervene when a patient presents and admits to using both legal and illegal substances, not just alcohol.

Family members know all too well how difficult it can be to talk to and interact with their loved one who is an alcoholic or drug addict. Working with a primary care physician may be the first step and perhaps down the road the services of a professional interventionist may be required.

“Interventions” Happen On MAD MEN, Too!

Mad Men
Mad Men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you a fan of MAD MEN?

This might sound like a strange question, but if you are a regular viewer, then you know that alcoholism and sobriety play a major role in this television drama. Mad Men premiered in July 2007 and its final season will air in 2015. If you didn’t work on Madison Avenue in the advertising industry in the 1950s and 1960s, then there is a pretty good chance you needed to learn that the name mad men was a nickname or slang for those who did work in advertising on Madison Avenue.

So why all this talk about Mad Men on a blog that generally deals with interventions? Well, it occurred to us that in today’s society many people have come to believe that interventions are of a fairly recent origin when in fact for centuries family members have often tried to convince their loved one to seek treatment for addiction and just as often reached out to a professional person of faith or a medical professional to intervene with their loved one.

It should not be surprising that often one’s employer forces the issue and place the addict or alcoholic employee on a “leave of absence.”  Even Don Draper (Mad Men’s focal character) was faced with a “leave of absence” at the end of the 6th season (please excuse the included advertisements).

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Look closely, as Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner turns the lens on alcoholism

There is a very large story being told in the Mad Men series. For the generations who were not in the corporate world at that time it is shocking to see people smoking in their office, drinking alcohol in some offices, not to mention the covert and overt adultery and sexism. Regarding the portrayal of alcoholism Wikipedia sums it up succinctly:

ABC News noted that “as the show’s time frame progressed into the 1960s, series creator Matthew Weiner didn’t hold back in depicting a world of liquor-stocked offices, boozy lunches and alcohol-soaked dinners.” One incident in Season 2 finds advertising executive Freddy Rumsen being sent to rehab after urinating on himself. Don, Betty, Herman ‘Duck’ Phillips, and Roger Sterling were singled out by television reporters for their excessive drinking. During the fourth season Don Draper starts to realize he has a major drinking problem. ABC News quoted an addiction specialist who said that “over the last ten years, alcoholism has been more fully understood as a disease. But in the sixties, bad behavior resulting from heavy drinking could be considered ‘macho’ and even romantic, rather than as a compulsive use of alcohol despite adverse consequences.” One reviewer called the fourth season a “sobering tale of drunken excess” as the Don Draper character struggled with his addiction to alcohol.

Last week Don, back after his leave of absence, had an incident in the office and his long time co-worker Freddy Rumsen steps in to talk him through the episode…you can watch it here with Matthew Weiner commenting.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here starting at 4:03.

Some closing thoughts…

Every person doesn’t have a Freddy who can step in to guide them towards getting sober, counseling them to “do the work.” Not every family member knows what to do or how to ask for help when their loved one is suffering from the disease of addiction. Sometimes we learn by reading a news story, or a novel, or watching a movie or even a television series.

When there have been several attempts at trying to help the addicted loved one to no avail, intervention services are often necessary. Call us 800-631-7753.

Honesty: The First Step In Addiction Intervention

Are you always honest with your doctor?

There have been a number of news articles lately that deal with how honest the average patient is with their primary care physician (PCP).  For whatever reason, many news agencies are now quoting results of a survey conducted in 2010 by General Electric, the Cleveland Clinic and Ochsner Health System which highlights that 28% of Americans admit that they lie to their physician. Of course, many of the lies may very well be those of omission. For example, if the doctor does not probe about the number of alcoholic drinks the patient has over the course of one week, then the patient might omit this information altogether. According to a recent CBS Morning News Saturday feature “patients’ most dangerous lies involve taking medications and herbal remedies, smoking, drinking, dieting and exercising.”

Lying to your doctor could be dangerous to your already fragile physical or emotional condition

This past week CBS News medical contributor, Dr. Holly Phillips appeared on CBS Morning News Saturday to discuss in more detail as to why we are not always honest with our health care providers.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

How does honesty impact an alcoholism or addiction intervention?

Many studies have shown that the key reason people lie to their physicians is that they don’t want to be judged and they don’t want to hear a sermon. More often than not a person who suffers from the disease of addiction also avoids being honest with their family members, their co-workers, their employer, their attorney, the court system, because they are afraid of being judged. For that matter, many of the addict’s closest significant family members are afraid to seek help for their loved one, because they, too, are afraid of being judged.

Taking that first step in getting honest can be the most important step. Seeking help for someone with an addiction is one of the healthiest
decisions you can make for yourself and for your loved one. Like many
challenges in life, you were not meant to face this alone – an intervention is a
road map to how you can spark help and hope for you and the one suffering
from alcoholism and addiction through initiating an intervention and
drug treatment.

The Interventionist Insures Empathy Is Part Of The Intervention Process

“Empathy” is different than “sympathy”

It’s true; there is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Let’s look at the basic definitions of these two words.

Empathy is the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

Sympathy is the sharing of another’s emotions, especially of sorrow or anguish; pity; compassion.”

The difference is subtle. A person can feel empathy when they are able to identify with the life experience of another, while a person can feel sympathy when they find themselves sharing in another’s sorrow or anguish. Let’s take the case of a good friend whose parent dies suddenly. You can sympathize with your friend’s loss; however, if you have never experienced the loss of a parent you cannot empathize with such a loss as you have never felt this pain.

An interventionist brings empathy to the intervention process

If you have a family member who suffers from the disease of addiction, then chances are you have considered an intervention. Often family members feel frustration when dealing with their loved one, as they cannot understand why they just can’t quit. The truth is addiction is a family disease, but it is not unusual for this disease to “skip” a generation or two, which means that parents and grandparents of the addicted person cannot empathize with their loved one’s experience, feelings, or thoughts. This inability to empathize can make for a difficult family dynamic. The parents and extended family members can feel sadness for their loved one’s situation, but they struggle to identify with the situation.

An interventionist can assist a family to successfully steer the addict/alcoholic (often suffering from co-occurring disorders) to drug and alcohol treatment, because more than likely the interventionist’s life story includes ongoing recovery from the disease of addiction.  The interventionist brings empathy to the intervention process, while the family members may only be able to feel sympathy for their loved one.

An interventionist is therefore a mediator and necessary component to getting the loved one into a suitable drug and alcohol treatment program. Often, this is too great of a feat for the family and loved ones to do on their own because they are too emotionally involved with and impacted by the addict’s behaviors and despair. Interventionists provide knowledge where there is confusion, clarity where there is fog, solution where there is dismay and hope where there is despair.


Empathy plays a role in Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon

One can experience the miracle of empathy when they are introduced to a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Al-Anon. The person suffering from the disease of addiction often has trouble feeling empathetic; however, becoming involved in AA can help a person feel safe with the knowledge that they are receiving empathetic support from their fellow AA members.  As the Twelfth Steps says: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Part of the message is expressing empathy.

According to Al-Anon: “after attending Al Anon meetings, they [family members] begin to understand how much they have in common with everyone affected by someone else’s drinking, regardless of the specific details of their personal situation.” The commonality experienced in an Al-Anon meeting is a form of empathy.

Can you teach people to be empathetic?

So, can you teach people to be empathetic? You might think the quick answer to this question is a resounding “NO!” But maybe the truth is you can teach people to recognize that they do share a common bond with those suffering from diseases, including mental health disorders.  Sometimes we are very capable of hiding our life experiences and avoiding empathy.

Just this week the Medford Mail Tribune (Medford, OR) published an article on a new training program being offered to members of the Medford Police Department to learn how to respond to a mentally ill person in crisis. As one police lieutenant offered: “Mental illness is a medical condition. It’s like diabetes. If I had diabetes, no one would think it was my fault.” The article, An Exercise In Empathy went on to say:

“The issue of mental illness hits home within all aspects of the community, Whipple said. There are officers with autistic children, parents who have Alzheimer’s, and siblings struggling with depression or other disorders, he said, adding he’s pleased with the changes, and eager to begin the training process.”

Also this week, we came across a really beautiful video produced by the Cleveland Clinic: Empathy

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can watch it here.

Like many challenges in life, you were not meant to face the disease of addiction alone –
an intervention is part of the road map to how you can spark help and hope for you and the one suffering from alcoholism and addiction through initiating an
intervention and drug treatment.

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Marketing Alcohol To Underage Youth ~ Experts Discuss Importance Of Intervention

The power of alcohol marketing

It is January 1, 2013. There will be many football bowl games televised today: The Gator Bowl, The Heart of Dallas Bowl, Capital One Bowl, Outback Bowl, Discover Orange Bowl and, of course, The Rose Bowl.  There will be numerous advertisements throughout the games; however, the content of these ads is somewhat controlled by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) advertising policy which states:

“The NCAA’s Advertising and Promotional Standards applicable to all NCAA championships limits alcohol advertising in any form (e.g., television, radio, Internet, game publications) in association with any NCAA championship to malt beverages, beer and wine products that do not exceed six percent alcohol by volume. Further, such advertisements shall not compose more than 60 seconds per hour of any NCAA championship programming nor compose more than 14 percent of the space in the NCAA publication (e.g., game program) devoted to advertising. Also, such advertisements or advertisers shall incorporate “Drink Responsibly” educational messaging, and the content of all such advertisements shall be respectful (e.g., free of gratuitous and overly suggestive sexual innuendo, no displays of disorderly, reckless or destructive behavior) as determined by the NCAA on a case-by-case basis.”

The truth is marketing materials for alcoholic beverages can be seen almost everywhere. Just paging through the most recent issue of TIME Magazine (December 31, 2012-January 7, 2013) you will find a stunning ad for Chivas Regal, complete with the educational message: Please enjoy Chivas responsibly.

Marketing alcohol to under-age youth

While marketing alcohol to anyone of any age is highly regulated, most will agree that the main goal of advertising campaigns is not just to sell more product, but to build brand awareness and customer loyalty. Many studies have been conducted regarding the sheer numbers of alcoholic advertisements which are exposed to under-age youth. One estimate states that 45% of the commercials viewed by young people each year are advertisements for alcohol.

New study examines initiation and progression of alcohol use in underage youth…

On December 19, 2012, the online issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research published the results of a study: Alcohol Marketing Receptivity, Marketing-Specific Cognitions, and Underage Binge Drinking.

This study was conducted by lead author Auden C. McClure, MD, MPH of the Department of Pediatrics, Geisel School of Medicine, Hanover, New Hampshire and Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire. Data was gathered and analyzed using the following methods:

  • 1,734 subjects ages 15-to-20 year olds were recruited
  • 882 males and 852 females
  • Participants were asked about exposure to a number of alcohol-marketing variables, such as television time, internet time, favorite alcohol advertisement, ownership of alcohol branded merchandise, exposure to alcohol brands in movies.
  • Researchers assessed the relation between the above mentioned exposures and current binge drinking behaviors


Study’s findings

According to Dr. McClure, as reported by

“We found that youth with a higher receptivity to alcohol advertising are more likely to report binge drinking – more than five drinks in a row – and that this association is mediated, at least in part, by self-identification as a drinker and having a favorite brand of alcohol to drink,” said McClure. “Further longitudinal studies are needed to determine whether advertising exposure precedes the development of these cognitions and influences future drinking behavior. If confirmed, the findings would support the plausibility of a causal relationship between marketing exposures and underage drinking.”


Intervention and risky behaviors

If you are a parent of a teenager or young college student, then chances are you are cognizant of how your child responds to advertisements of all kinds. You know this from the time your child reaches toddler age. They see advertisements on television for certain food products, toys, movies…and a new consumer comes to life. You know this when you take your child to the grocery store or a fast food restaurant, you even know it when your child talks about a new toy their playmate recently received.

As parents, we know intuitively that advertising works, so it makes perfect sense that exposure to alcohol marketing also works. But what do we do about it?

As Dr. McClure indicates, other studies have shown that: “Early onset of alcohol use is linked to alcohol dependence later in life, making both prevention and early intervention of risk behaviors important. A better understanding of the path between marketing and risk behaviors could help parents, health care providers, clinical psychologists, and substance use treatment specialists to identify and intervene when an adolescent is at risk.”

Substance use treatment specialists and interventionists understand the importance of intervening early when an adolescent or young adult is at risk.

As 2013 begins, consider taking the appropriate steps to reduce the chances that your child will develop alcohol dependence.

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