The Person Who Has Someone Close Who Drinks Too Much Or Who Uses Other Drug
The person who has someone close who drinks too much or who uses other drugs has plenty of company. People experiencing alcohol and other drug problems often feel they hurt only themselves. That isn’t true. They also hurt their families, friends, coworkers, employers, and others.
There are millions of people with alcohol and other drug problems in this country. A recent study reported that 28 million people age 12 and older used illicit drugs during the past year. By current estimates, more than 76 million people have been exposed to alcoholism in the family. Experience shows that for every person with an alcohol or other drug problem, at least four others are affected by their behavior.
However, looking at it another way — as we should — millions of Americans have a personal stake in helping “someone close” find the way to overcome alcohol and other drug problems.
The person who sets out to help someone with an alcohol or other drug problem may at first feel quite alone, possibly embarrassed, not knowing where to turn for help. We have preserved so many wrong ideas and attitudes about problem drinking and other drug abuse, too often thinking of them as moral weakness or lack of willpower.
You may have learned to better understand alcohol and other drug problems and already made contact with nearby sources of services. This does not mean that “someone close” will cooperate at once by going for treatment. Those with alcohol and other drug problems may deny they have a problem. They may find it difficult to ask for or accept help.
If there is one thing true about alcohol and other drug abusers, it is that, as with all people, each one is different — different in human needs and responses, as well as in their reasons for drinking and taking other drugs, their reactions to these drugs, and their readiness for treatment.
You are in a good position to help your relative or friend, because you know a good deal about their unique qualities and their way of life. And having made the effort to gain some understanding of the signs and effects of problem drinking or other drug abuse, you should be in a better position to consider a strategy for helping.
Be active, get involved. Don’t be afraid to talk about the problem honestly and openly. It is easy to be too polite, or to duck the issue by saying, “After all, it’s their private affair.” But it isn’t polite or consolidate to let someone destroy their family and life. You may need to be persistent to break through any denial they have.
You also may need to let them know how much courage it takes to ask for help, or to accept it. You will find that most people with drinking- or other drug-related troubles really want to talk it out if they find out you are concerned about them.
To begin, you may need to reject certain myths that in the past have done great harm to alcoholics and other drug abusers and hampered those who would help them. These untruths come from ingrained public attitudes that see alcoholism and other drug problems as personal misconduct, moral weakness, or even sin. They are expressed in such declarations as, “Nothing can be done unless the alcohol or drug abuser wants to stop,” or “They must hit bottom,” that is, lose health, job, home, family, “before they will want to get well.” These stubborn myths are not true, and have been destructive. One may as well say that you cannot treat cancer or tuberculosis until the gross signs of disease are visible to all.
The truth is that with alcohol and other drug problems, as with other kinds of acute and chronic illness, early recognition and treatment intervention is essential — and rewarding.
Be compassionate, be patient — but be willing to act. Experience proves that preaching does not work. A nudge or a push at the right time can help. It also shows that you care. Push may even come to shove when the person with alcohol or other drug troubles must choose between losing family or job, or going to treatment. Thousands of alcohol and other drug abusers have been helped when a spouse, employer, or court official made treatment a condition of continuing family relationships, job, or probation.
You cannot cure the illness, but when the crucial moment comes you can guide the person to competent help.
Treatment attempts to discover the relationship between a person’s problematic drinking and other drug use to their real needs — an understanding of what they would really strive for it they were not disabled by their problems. One goal is building up their capacity for control which becomes possible in periods of sobriety.
Persons with drinking and other drug problems have the same needs as all other people — food, clothing, shelter, health care, job, social contact and acceptance and, particularly, the need for self-confidence and feelings of competence, self-worth, and dignity. This is where “support” comes in.
What may be needed in most is warm, human concern. The kinds of support given depend, of course, on finding out from the person what they feel they need. Strained family and friend relationships, money troubles, worry about the job or business, sometimes matters that may seem trivial to us, all confuse their file situation and may contribute to their drinking and other drug problems.
Moral support in starting and staying with treatment, reassurances from employer or business associates, willing participation by spouse or children in group therapy sessions — are examples of realistic support.
The long range goal is healthy living for the person and their family — physical health, social health, emotional health — an objective we all share.
Three out of four alcohol and drug abusing men and women are married; living at home; holding onto a job, business, or profession; and are reasonably well accepted members of their communities. For those in this group who seek treatment, the outlook is good. Regardless of life situation, the earlier treatment starts after troubles are recognized, the better the chances for success.
Many therapists now use rehabilitation as a measure of outcome — success is considered achieved when the patient maintains or reestablishes a good family life and work record, and a respectable position in the community. Relapse may occur but do not mean that the person or the treatment effort has failed.
A successful outcome, on this basis, can be expected for 50 to 70 percent depending upon the personal characteristics of the patient; early treatment intervention; competence of the therapists; availability of hospital and outpatient facilities; and the strong support of family, friends, employer, and community.
“It is doubtful that any specific percentage figure has much meaning by itself,” says one authority. “What does have a great deal of meaning is the fact that tens of thousands of such cases have shown striking improvement over many years.”
Background Information: Workplace Substance Abuse
The available data continue to indicate that substance abuse has a significant impact in the workplace, with costs estimated at over $100 billion annually. Data show that:
Seventy-one percent of illegal drug users are employed.
Alcoholism causes 500 million lost workdays each year.
Drug and alcohol-related problems are one of the four top reasons for the rise in workplace violence.
Of those who called the cocaine helpline, 75 percent reported using drugs on the job, 64 percent admitted drugs adversely affected their job performance, 44 percent sold drugs to other employees, and 18 percent had stolen from co-workers to support their drug habit.
A study conducted by the Institute for Health Policy, Brandeis University, found substance abuse to be the number one health problem in the country, resulting in more deaths, illnesses, and disabilities than any other preventable health condition.
While we do not yet have comprehensive data on the specific impact of workplace substance abuse, the data and studies available are compelling. For example:
Drug-using employees at GM average 40 days sick leave each year compared to 4.5 days for non-users.
Employees testing positive on pre-employment drug tests at Utah Power & Light were 5 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident than those who tested negative.
The State of Wisconsin estimates that expenses and losses related to substance abuse average 25 percent of the salary of each worker affected.
Despite recent news reports about the increased use of drugs, we continue to be encouraged that workplace substance abuse is a problem for which a solution exists. When the issue is addressed by establishing comprehensive programs, it is a “win-win” situation for both employers and employees. The following examples are illustrative.
A study of the economic impact of substance abuse treatment in Ohio found significant improvements in job-related performance:
a 91 percent decrease in absenteeism;
an 88 percent decrease in problems with supervisors;
a 93 percent decrease in mistakes in work; and,
a 97 percent decrease in on-the-job injuries.
At Southern Pacific railroad, injuries dropped 71 percent.
An electric supply company with 150 employees experienced a 39 percent decrease in absenteeism and a 36 percent increase in productivity.
A construction company with 60 employees reduced workers’ compensation claims by $50,000.
A manufacturer with 560 employees experienced a 30-35 percent decrease in industrial accidents.
Statistics such as these suggest not just that workplace substance abuse is an issue that all employers need to address but also that it is an issue for which there is an answer. Taking steps to identify those with substance abuse problems and offer a helping hand will not only improve worker safety and health but also increase workplace productivity and competitiveness.
In the workplace, the problems of these substance abusers become your problems. They increase risk of accident, lower productivity, raise insurance costs, and reduce profits. They can cost you your job; they can cost you your life.
What is Substance Abuse?
Men and women dependent on heroin, cocaine, or crackwho must have these potent drugs to get through the dayare clearly substance abusers. And drug dependency takes more than one form. You need not be physically addicted (and suffer painful bodily symptoms of withdrawal when denied your drug of choice) to be drug dependent. Psychological dependency is equally responsible for compulsive drug use.
But substance abuse covers a range of behavior that goes far beyond dependency. Abuse may involve regular marijuana use, heavy drinking, weekend binges, casual consumption of tranquilizers, or misuse of other prescription drugs. It includes any use of drugs or alcohol that threatens physical or mental health, inhibits responsible personal relationships, or diminishes the ability to meet family, social, or vocational obligations.
Does it Threaten Jobs?
Substance abusers dont have to indulge on the job to have a negative impact on the work- place. Compared to their non- abusing coworkers, they are:
Ten times more likely to miss work
3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents (and 5 times more likely to injure themselves or another in the process)
Five times more likely to file a workers compensation claim
33% less productive
Responsible for health care costs that are three times as high.
Operating machinery under the influence of alcohol or drugs is clearly high-risk. But danger also increases when reflexes or judgment are compromised to any degree by drugs or alcohol. And substance abusers are not only five times more likely than other workers to cause injuries, they are also responsible for 40 percent of all industrial fatalities.
Working at minimal capacity, these workers increase the workloads of others, lower productivity, compromise product quality, and can tarnish a companys image. Their absences and health care demands raise costs. They reduce competitiveness and profitability, weakening the companies that employ them and threatening everyones job security.
What are the Signs of Abuse?
Substance abusers in the workplace can be difficult to identify. But there are some clues that signal possible drug and alcohol problems.
Heres what to look for:
Frequent, prolonged, and often unexplained absences
Involvement in accidents both on and off the job
Erratic work patterns and reduced productivity
Indifference to personal hygiene
Overreaction to real or imagined criticism
Such overt physical signs as exhaustion or hyperactivity, dilated pupils, slurred speech, or an unsteady walk
Marijuana users may have bloodshot or glassy eyes and a persistent cough.
Cocaine users display increased energy and enthusiasm early in their drug involvement. Later they may be subject to extreme mood swings and can become paranoid or delusional.
Alcohol abusers find it hard to conceal morning-after hangovers. Their productivity declines, and they may show signs of physical deterioration.
How Can it Be Prevented?
A comprehensive drug-free workplace program may be the best means of preventing, detecting, and dealing with substance abusers.
Such a program generally includes the following elements:
A written policy that is supported by top management, understood by a all employees, consistently enforced, and perfectly clear about what is expected of employees and the consequences of policy violations
A substance abuse prevention program with an employee drug education component that focuses not only on the dangers of drug and alcohol use but also on the availability of counseling and treatment
Training of managers, front-line supervisors, human resource personnel, medical staff, and others in identifying and dealing with substance abusers
An appropriate drug and alcohol testing component, designed to prevent the hiring of workers who use illegal drugs andas part of a comprehensive programprovide early identification and referral to treatment for employees with drug or alcohol problems
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Employee Assistance Programs that provide counseling for employees and their family members are structured to help workers with a wide range of problems. Substance abuse is a primary concern.
Working with substance abusers, EAP professionals seek to provide whatever assistance makes it possible for employees to remain on or return to the job. Many companies offer counseling and treatment services or refer employees to services in the community. It is sometimes necessary for workers to take time off for treatment. In these cases, successful completion of a rehabilitation program generally brings the former substance abusers back to the workforce.
What Not To Do
Don’t attempt to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach.
Don’t try to be a martyr. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
Don’t allow yourself to cover up or make excuses for the alcoholic or drug addict or shield them from the realistic consequences of their behavior.
Don’t take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
Don’t hide or dump bottles, throw out drugs, or shelter them from situations where alcohol is present.
Don’t argue with the person when they are impaired or high.
Don’t try to drink along with the problem drinker or take drugs with the drug abuser.
Above all, don’t feel guilty or responsible for another’s behavior.
What To Do
Try to remain calm, unemotional, and factually honest in speaking about their behavior and its day-to-day consequences.
Let the person with the problem know that you are reading and learning about alcohol and other drug abuse, attending Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Alateen, and other support groups.
Discuss the situation with someone you trust — someone from the clergy, a social worker, a counselor, a friend, or some individual who has experienced alcohol or other drug abuse personally or as a family member.
Establish and maintain a healthy atmosphere in the home, and try to include the alcohol/drug abuser in family life.
Explain the nature of alcoholism and other drug addiction as an illness to the children in the family.
Encourage new interests and participate in leisure time activities that the person enjoys. Encourage them to see old friends.
Be patient and live one day at a time. Alcoholism and other drug addiction generally takes a long time to develop, and recovery does not occur overnight. Try to accept setbacks and relapses with calmness and understanding.
Refuse to ride with anyone who’s been drinking heavily or using other drugs
The community anti-drug coalition movement cannot survive without the support of a broad array of volunteers and organizations. Whether working to educate our youth about the effects of substance abuse, developing programs to teach them important life skills that help them stay healthy and productive, encouraging the strength of the family unit, or creating an environment that discourages drug use and abuse in the community, each of us has a critical role in building drug-free communities