During the past three years, I have thrice been a witness to the destructive impact of alcohol. Lives devastated by lies, deception, and self-delusion. Bodies destroyed by toxins and neglect. But I wonder if we as a culture all share some responsibility in our unwillingness to speak up or speak out. Thus I have decided to write this post to overcome the embarrassment of continuing to hide what I have discovered as a serious problem in our society.
DON'T READ ANY FURTHER if you don't want to know anymore.
From time to time we likely become aware that family members or friends appear to drink too much or are taking drugs frequently. If we tell ourselves that this is "none of our business", this is the silence of addition. Speaking up is and should be our responsibility.
I don't know when or how, but "too much" can eventually devolve into a downward spiral of addition. Yet at the early stages, we, as witnesses to such behavior, feel the risk of being ostracized or criticized as prudes for raising a voice. Social pressures drive us to avoid uncomfortable and awkward interactions. But denial or politely ignoring the behavior is a mistake.
The cost of addition for our loved ones is enormous -- not just in lives, but in lost potential and broken hearts. Emergency rooms take in addicts off the street, rehydrate them, and send them back to repeat the alcoholic binge again in 24 hours. Who pays for the hospital visits? You do. All of us.
When we hear that emergency rooms are closing...I now understand at least one reason why.
The statistics say that 80% of alcoholics are destined to repeat their drinking cycle. I will not argue with the statistic, but I question the effectiveness of a system that offers superficial treatment that is so chronically ineffective against such powerful addictions.
I wrote this post because being silent about the impact of drug and alcohol addiction perpetuates the idea that it is someone else's problem. Now I realize that it is everywhere, in everyone's family, our next door neighbors, and in our neighborhoods. It has been a disturbing revelation.
My younger cousin died from his addictions to alcohol and drugs. He left children without a father, and left his father devastated by the loss of his only child.
A neighbor's nephew whom we have known for 26 years is now in jail for another D.U.I. after multiple episodes of living in his car.
My brother-in-law has descended from a productive professional life to living on the streets. He recently disappeared from a rehab facility and I spent hours, day after day, weeks, looking for him. What an unfortunate circumstance compared to the potential we know that he has. Now found and in his fourth rehab, we fear he is destined for relapse despite our hopes for a miracle turn around.
Since finding my brother-in-law, I have been deeply involved as his round-the-clock sober living companion, nurse, confidante, enforcer, manager, advocate, chauffeur, etc. My determination to "save one life" exposed the depths of the problem and a harsh realization that the signs were there all along.
Early intervention is crucial. Once the downward spiral has taken hold, no kindness nor show of love and caring and tolerance/intolerance is powerful enough against the demon of addiction. "Hitting bottom" takes on lower and lower definitions repeatedly, and beyond imagination.
In conclusion, three recommendations:
1) Never give money to the addict. Never. The addict will exploit your sympathies and hopes, but inevitably only follow past behavior with more drinking and addiction. The person will use any excuse or heart string to take money, but they will never be able to help themselves.
2) Please consider donations to your local charities that support recovery programs.
3) Please support local drug abuse and addiction programs with your tax dollars.
The existing programs are overwhelmed beyond their resources and must turn desperate people away. They can only deal with the immediate needs. They lack the resources to retain residents long enough to find the root causes of the person's addiction and to train the client to manage their lives more productively and self-reliantly.
Harriete Estel Berman