Why worry about substance abuse prevention? The sobering statistics make it clear: Each year the abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol contributes to the death of more than 100,000 Americans and tobacco to the death of an estimated 440,000 more, according to the National Institutes of Health.
To find out what you can do if you're worried about substance abuse in the family (and the need for a drug or alcohol treatment facility in a loved one's future), Family Goes Strong talked with Harvard psychiatrist J. Wesley Boyd, author of Almost Addicted: Is My (or My Loved One's) Drug Use a Problem. Excerpts:
You write that being close to your spouse helps prevent problems. Why?
Having close healthy relationships in general is tied in with less substance use. The big issue behind recovery is attending to one's health broadly and living a healthy life. Bad habits tend to run in clusters. Even eating a better diet has been shown to correlate with less substance abuse.
In your book, you talk about hosting a graduation party for an entire class and getting in trouble when some underage guests drank despite your written and verbal instructions that alcohol was prohibited. What's your advice to other parents?
Looking back, we were hopelessly naïve. The fact that I, being in this field and even working in adolescent substance abuse, could be so duped — I do put that story in there to caution everybody. You need to be more vigilant than you think and trust less than you might.
Why is it so easy to miss the signs of substance abuse in friends and family members?
Individuals more often than not will deny that they're using or that their use is problematic. We want to see the best in our friends and loved ones. That often means we're prone to overlook bad habits in general. With substance use, we just encourage people to be as honest with themselves as possible and as honest in assessing their loved one's drug use. To get it away from thinking about the person as being good or bad, you have a bunch of questions you can just ask.
What is the most important question people can ask themselves or their loved ones?
Has any area of my life suffered as a result of my drug use? I'm talking about any kind of drug of abuse, including alcohol, marijuana, and any other kind of drug that gets abused.
How do family members know whether a situation warrants an "intervention"?
Often the answer is not clear. I come back to the basic questions of is there any part of your life or your loved one's life that is vital to their well being that is in jeopardy as a result of the substance use? Is your housing in jeopardy? Is your health in jeopardy? Is your job on the line? Is your ability to stay employed on the line? If any question like that is in the affirmative, then action needs to be taken immediately. If there is any large part of your life in jeopardy, I would say action needs to be taken.
Why do people so often overlook problems?
I's a lot easier to look outside than to look inside. It's easier to focus on what terrorist organizations might be doing, as opposed to looking in the mirror and saying, "I'm smoking cigarettes or drinking in an inappropriate manner, and these are the two biggest killers in the world." It's a lot easier to worry about things that are in the news as opposed to looking at our own bad habits, which are much more likely to do us in or cause us harm.
What about substance use over the holidays?
I've never looked into whether or not people are more likely to use or abuse intoxicating substances over holidays. I've seen a number of people for whom the holidays are not joyous. I know lots and lots of people who suffer, get depressed, get down, and feel anything but joyous. Because so many people find holidays difficult, it would not surprise me if they were more likely to turn to substances. Holiday periods, given how hard they are for so many people, probably warrant increased vigilance around substance use. The way that holidays are portrayed is they're joyous. There's so much hype about how wonderful they are, but if your life is not wondrous, it makes it that much harder for people who are suffering in some ways.
How do people know when they or a loved one should see a professional?
Even though we're far ahead of where we were 40 years ago, there is still a stigma to seeking out mental health care in many parts of the country. For people who feel that way, who are hesitant to go in to see a mental health professional, reaching out to others, like a primary care physician, like a clergy, going to self-help meetings, can be a path toward getting healthy.
For more stories about healthy families, read: