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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Treatment begins with realization

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

How do you get an addict to stop using drugs?

Bob Brown gets that question all the time. The answer he gives is usually not what the family members of an addict want to hear.

Brown has his master's degree in social work and public health. He teaches an open class at Hina Mauka for family and friends of addicts. All are welcome, whether the addict is in treatment or not.

"When the family members come to the class on Thursday nights they are pretty anxious. They want answers and their big question is, 'How can I help my loved one?' They do not understand what they are dealing with. They are not dealing with their son, daughter, wife, husband — they are dealing with a disease. I heard a great analogy to what happens with addiction. It is a Japanese saying: 'First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.' Most of the family members at the class are facing the second or third stage of that analogy."

By that point, they've already tried everything they could think of to get the addict to just knock it off or to get them to realize they need help.

"They call treatment programs," Brown says, "and they are told that the drug user has to voluntarily go into a treatment program or he won't be admitted. The drug user doesn't see that he has a problem. His or her perspective is, if everyone would just get off their back they would be fine."

Brown teaches that the first step is to realize that the family has no control over the disease of addiction. The only thing they can control is their own lives.

"By the time many family members come to the class, much of their lives has shrunk to a very narrow focus of responding to the addict. They have lost a good part of their identity, they don't exercise as they used to, they haven't been out to dinner in months, and when asked how they are they start talking about their addict. As we say in the class, when their addict stubs their toe, the family members scream 'Ouch!' We help the family members take back their lives by creating boundaries. We help them get a clear idea of where they end and the addict begins."

That may seem counter-productive when all family members want is to get their loved one clean and sober. But they might not realize all the ways they're allowing the addict to keep using drugs.

"Addicts get into treatment for only one reason and that is pain," Brown says. "Emotional, economic, legal pain that breaks through their disease process and tells them that the idea of treatment is better than the idea of more of the pain they are experiencing."

The Thursday family class at Hina Mauka in Kane'ohe meets from 7-8:30pm. Cost is $5. per session. There is also a class offered in Waipahu. For more information, call 236-2600