Addiction expert Anne Brown says friends and family must confront suspected abusers before it’s too late
After a lengthy investigation, Whitney Houston’s cause of death has been determined. Houston was determined to have accidentally drowned on February 11 following an apparent heart episode with cocaine as a contributing factor.
Many already suspected substance abuse played a role as Houston had a history of addiction that she was trying to overcome.
“Whitney Houston’s death is a tragic reminder of how little we really know about successfully treating addictions (and must still learn from science),” said Anne Brown, PhD, RNCS of Aspen Progressive Addiction Solutions. “Many people cannot talk their way out of their addiction. Whitney knew she was her own worst enemy. It appears Whitney may have made a mistake or miscalculated her substances. The pain of her loss will be felt by many forever and yet that was never her intent.”
When it comes to drug or alcohol addiction – or any other addiction, for that matter – there’s no one more important in the life of the addict than the friends and family around him or her. It’s rare when addicts decide on their own that they’re in trouble and need help; therefore, it’s up to those around them to intervene and help rid their loved one of that addiction.
“How many women see their friends getting into a car after getting too much to drink and picking up their children?” Brown asked. “Every opportunity you get you have to intervene.”
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Brown says many people write off someone’s substance abuse problem as something that may only happen once in awhile – but that’s not a good excuse.
“I think the most challenging part of addictions is, at the time the individual has to make the best decision of his life [to get help], his brain cells are in the worst of shape,” Brown said. “The call to action really is for the loved ones, because that’s usually how someone stops. For someone to stop pretending their friends, their loved ones, their parents, their husband, their wife, is not in trouble.”
“Be aware of somebody that you love because it’s such a tearing thing to sit down with them and say ‘I’m really concerned, you appear to be out of control. You need to get some help,'” she added.
Brown offered several tips for sitting down to confront a loved one about their problem:
- Be ready to be disliked. “You have to understand, they’re not going to thank you … but you sit down with them” anyway.
- Do NOT organize a group of people to sit down with someone for an intervention when you yourself haven’t tried talking to the potential addict one-on-one. Try saying: “Hey, I love you. I’m concerned.” And you have to give evidence of a problem. You can’t just say “you’re drinking too much.”Have specific dates and instances ready.
- Choose a time to talk when everyone is sober, and start the conversation with something like: “I’m really concerned about you. I love you. I know you wouldn’t want to be doing the things you’re doing. I want you to get some help.”
- If talking doesn’t work, use leverage - something like telling the addict you’re going to run a sober house, you won’t serve alcohol at get togethers, or you won’t go with the addict to parties when alcohol is being served. “You limit yourself, you take yourself out of situations you’re concerned about. The worse thing you can do is say you’re going to do it then not do it. Then they know they have you.”
Nine times out of 10, Brown said, her patients come to her saying no one ever had such a conversation with them about their problem. She encourages everyone to take a good, hard look at their circle of friends and family, or someone else in your life that perhaps you or others have gossiped about. Chances are, you know at least one person who may have some type of substance abuse problem.
“If you’re not talking to that person, then you’re participating in enabling,” she said. “It really is about getting a backbone – regardless if someone yells at you.”
Brown’s book, Developing Your Backbone: The Science of Saying No, helps people do just that. It helps empower people during interpersonal interactions, helps them speak authentically, and teaches “people pleasers” to implement “Backbone tools”: The ability to say ‘No’ with dignity, make requests, and speak authentically, which can radically change one’s life.
“All of us need Backbone Tools,” Brown says about her book. “When you bump up against the Bernie Madoffs of the world and they can’t tolerate requests, it is time for you to move on before you find your wallet empty. The people in 12 step programs can greatly enhance their recovery by reading this book. I believe for most people struggling with addictions, including eating disorders, and the friends and families of those struggling with addictions, there is a component of people pleasing. Women who have been abused or are being abused AFTER they are in a safe environment need Backbone skills. If they learn these skills early in life they will have the tools to avoid abusive, toxic situations.”
The latest version of Brown’s book, The Science of Saying No: The Power of Developing Your Backbone, is now available on iTunes and on Amazon.com in digital format with an accompanying workbook.
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