Addiction: There’s Always Hope

Recovery is possible.

“An addiction is a maladaptive overindulgence in behavior — in process or in substance — that has become self destructive.”

This definition was supplied by Kristin Agar, a licensed clinical social worker as well as a certified intervention professional and certified Arise Interventionist. She has practiced since 1978 and is one of a handful of Arkansas-based professionals who specialize in addiction recovery.

Kristin Agar, LCSW, CIP, CAI

Kristin Agar, LCSW, CIP, CAI

“Having an addiction is getting involved with something to the extent that it harms you or your loved ones and you’re unable to stop,” she said, expounding on her previous definition. “It is a chronic illness, a brain disease. We know, through actual scans of the brain, that when you place stimuli in front of an addict, it causes a reaction.” For instance, showing a cocaine addict a photograph of the house where he purchased cocaine causes the brain to become stimulated.

She said the most common addictions are gambling, gaming, shopping and pornography; these are process addictions. Alcohol, food and drug addictions are the most common substance addictions.

“We think of substance abuse the most, but gaming, gambling and pornography can undo your family just as much. These addictions cause individuals to go bankrupt and wreck the family,” Agar said. Many times the underlying causes are anxiety and depression. She added, it’s a cycle. “People use addictive behavior to cope with anxiety and depression and this simply exasperates the problem: You use [or gamble or overeat], and beat yourself up about it, become depressed or anxious about it, and repeat the addictive behavior to try to escape those feelings. It’s a way to try to escape reality. Addiction occurs and is often related to stress and a bigger issue that speaks to the underlying dysfunction.”

How can one distinguish between a slight problem and an addiction?

Agar said when family and friends say things like “You know better,” “You weren’t brought up this way,” or “It feels like I’m living with a stranger,” it’s time to sound an alarm.

“A slight problem becomes an addiction when it interferes with a person’s professional or personal life … when he loses the ability to keep something in check,” she said.

Another warning sign is a change in behavior: “When an easygoing individual becomes secretive, agitated and isolated. In teens, we’ll often see a change in their friends, and they may begin to act and dress differently.”

Agar said while professional help is always good, “we’ve been blessed” with good nonprofessional ways to get help: organizations like Overeaters Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc. She said the meetings are effective because they’re one-on-one interactions with people who have walked the path, and she sometimes recommends patients attend 12-step programs.

To overcome an addiction, she said you must stop the behavior; find the underlying cause; and replace the behavior with something positive and find new coping skills, whether it’s religion or spirituality, meditation, relaxation or even exercise. Her recommendation: “Find your passion. Get out of self and help others,” she said. “Find a hobby, play sports or get involved with a community group.”

Agar said recovery can also involve cognitive behavior therapy, changing the thought process, and adjunct treatments, such as acupuncture and meditation.

“And because this isn’t just about the individual, treatment has to involve family and friends because they’re impacted and [the relationships may also be a part of the stress and anxiety that played into the addiction].”

“Recovery will also include staying away from triggers for a time. Remember, addiction is an inability to stop [negative behaviors], even though you know the consequences,” Agar said.

Addiction recovery may include outpatient therapy, whether individual or group therapy, or intensive outpatient programs, which Agar said involves learning about the physical, mental and emotional aspects of addiction as well as the cognitive behavior therapy she described.

“It’s important that we remove the shame, blame and guilt associated with addiction and replace them with resilience, hope and strength,” Agar said. “Addiction is a family illness. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been touched by some sort of addiction. There have been an extraordinary number of deaths of youth who have overdosed on opiates. They [teens] often start with one thing, such as [marijuana] then escalate to something else. Pressure, stress and grief are common problems for youth.”

An Intervention May Be An Answer

“An intervention is an act of love and care on the part of family and friends. It is a way to show love and concern, to get help for the addict. It is not an act of hostility or betrayal, and it’s not ganging up on the addict. It’s a way to help stop what’s happening,” Agar said.

There are two types of interventions, an invitational intervention and a surprise intervention, according to Agar. During an invitational intervention, the individual who has the problem is involved from the very beginning. The interventionist works with his family and friends to form a team. They may meet with or without the addict to mobilize resources to help him into treatment.

In a surprise intervention, again a team is gathered, and the interventionist prepares the members, telling them what to expect; the members write letters and rehearse how they will confront the addict. They’ll also present options for recommended treatment.

“The goal is to help with understanding and empowerment, which the individual needs because his brain isn’t working properly anymore,” Agar said.

You’ll always want to have a qualified, trained interventionist. The team will present treatment options, which may include individual therapy; counseling with a support group; intensive outpatient therapy, which may entail up to three hours each day or an all-day program; or a residential detox program. “It’s totally individualized,” she added. 



Top Myths about Addiction

Myth: First, you have to admit you have a problem.

Act now. Agar said, “[An addict] does not have to want help for an intervention or therapy to work. He does not have to be ready. I’ve had many clients who were hauled into treat. Do not wait for your loved one to ‘hit rock bottom.’ It’s never too late to act. It’s never too early to act. As long as he’s still living, there’s always hope.”

Myth: He simply needs to talk to the right person.

“There is no one person who can talk an addict into changing or getting help. The team approach of an intervention is quite effective. There’s strength in numbers,” Agar said.



An Ounce of Prevention

In 2014, more Americans died from drug overdoses than in any year on record; the majority of these deaths — six out of 10 — involved opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers. The figures are staggering: nearly 2 million people abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014 and in 2015, 7.8 percent of students, in eighth through 12th grades, abused prescription opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared the misuse of prescription opioids, drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, an epidemic.

To combat this, the CDC is working with state agencies to implement prescription drug monitoring programs. The Arkansas Prescription Drug Monitoring Program has helped reduce the number of “doctor shoppers,” individuals who visit multiple physicians to obtain prescriptions; in 2013, for instance, the number dropped from 114 to 31.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health have joined forces to form the NIDA for Teens website teens.drugabuse.gov. The site was created for middle and high school students, parents and educators and “provides accurate and timely information” for use in classrooms and homes.

To help reduce the likelihood of a family member or loved one misusing leftover prescriptions, authorities suggest safely disposing the drugs at a drug drop or drug disposal site. Log on to awarerx.org to find the site closest to you.

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