Should Families Ever Abandon an Addict? Dr. Sack Talks to Huffington Post Live

How should families deal with a loved one who has an addiction and help get that person into treatment?

Madonna’s 56-year-old brother, who is homeless and an alcoholic, made news in March when he said his famous sister hasn’t tried to help him. Anthony Ciccone told the Daily Mail that Madonna “doesn’t give a **** if I’m dead or alive. She lives in her own world.”

Dr. David Sack, President and CEO at Elements Behavioral Health, addressed the issue on a recent Huffington Post Live segment that asked whether an addict’s family should ever walk away and end the relationship.

Families must “understand that their role is to create pressure [on their addicted loved one] toward treatment,”   Sack told the Huffington Post, adding that treatment is “consequence-driven” and that families must not allow the addicted loved one to avoid consequences or provide them with an “out.”

“People don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Gosh, this is a really good day to get sober,’ ” Sack said. “Somebody puts their foot down. Sometimes it’s the law. Sometimes it’s a family member saying, ‘we’re not going to give you any more money.’ ”

Sack emphasized the importance of educating addicts’ families about addiction.

“It’s an illness…we can’t cure it, but a person can achieve long term sobriety and abstinence with the appropriate treatment.”  Sack helps these families “gain perspective,” pointing out that addicts don’t choose to behave the way they do.  Rather, “their reward system has been reprogramed by the drugs they’ve been abusing.  It’s going to take time to undo the damage…to their personality and their relationships…that the addiction has caused.”

Dr. Robert Meyers, creator of the CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) treatment program; David Sheff, author of A Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey; and Tom Scarborough, a recovering alcoholic and CEO of Nouvelle Candle Company, also took part in the Huffington Post Live segment.

Sheff spoke of his gut-wrenching ordeal with his meth-addicted son, and how, after multiple failed treatment attempts, he finally had to take a very difficult “tough love” stance.  He never turned his back, but he did have to pull away.  “I had learned the hard way the difference between enabling and loving and protecting a child.”

Scarborough said he finally sought treatment when he realized just how much his alcoholism had cost him, which included two marriages and a teaching position.  Scarborough has been sober for 11 years, and Sheff’s son has been clean for more than five years.

Sacks’ empathy towards families – and the fear, anger and resentment they so often experience – was palpable throughout the interview.  Meyers noted that “family members are the greatest resource” for treatment staff to determine exactly what motivates an addict so they can help him or her stop drinking or using. “We have to make their sober life more rewarding than their drug-using life,” Meyers said. “The best people who know that information are family members.”

Sacks also refuted the long-held belief that someone has to be ready for treatment to benefit from it.

“Most people find their motivation while they’re in treatment,” said Sack, who has found that most people don’t think they have an addiction. So, instead of getting into a debate with them, he gets them to talk about the life issues that led them into treatment.

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