Addiction can be symptomatic of a deeper issue

We’ve all seen interventions depicted in movies: Family and friends gather around someone, usually with the guidance of a counselor, and provide evidence about how and why that person should stop using a particular substance.  The goal of this intervention is to get the targeted person to see the problem the substance causes in his or her life and then agree to treatment.  Hollywood may take some liberties, but I think they do show these interventions correctly.  My concern with both Hollywood’s and reality’s interventions is that they tend to make the substance the root cause of what really is a complicated process disease.

Take “Joe.”  He died a few years back from an overdose on an especially lethal combination of Xanax and heroin.  His family was crushed, as most are, because Joe had been clean around nine (9) months prior to his relapse that killed him.  They had performed an intervention and Joe admitted that his opiate abuse was causing his life to go straight to hell.  He agreed to, and received, treatment in an in-patient facility and had detoxed and gotten his life on a new and healthier track.  It seemed to his family like Joe turned a corner and had left his substance abuse struggles behind him.

I met Joe through a referral.  Though Joe hadn’t been using, in the time he was clean, strong feelings of loneliness had started overwhelming him and he was really worried that he couldn’t cope with those feelings.  Also, though he had gotten treatment for his addiction, he struggled with depression for many years prior to his drug use.   He didn’t treat his depression nor did he fully grasp the relationship between his depression and his drug abuse.  Really, Joe needed help and, to me, his use of heroin was a symptom of the real problem Joe faced: His depression.

His loneliness triggered his depression and he stopped talking with me soon after Joe met what he thought was the great love of his life.  But, when he described her to me, I had no doubt that he was in trouble: She placed him in several unsafe situations.  For example, she called him one night after she had been partying and asked him to pick her up.  She claimed she was going to be raped and needed him to pay for some cocaine she used at the party.   He rushed to her rescue; and ended staying with her at the party house.  Needless to say, Joe relapsed while he was with her.  I heard from him every once in a while, but after a couple of months, he stopped calling me.

The night of his overdose, he was with the great love of his life.  She’s the one who dropped him off at the hospital.  She didn’t stay with him.  Joe was unconscious and unresponsive and was immediately placed on life support.  After a week, his family disconnected him from life support.  Joe was twenty nine (29) when he died. The great love of his life was nowhere to be found.

So, while I think interventions can be a great first step, I caution people that they should be seen as an entry point towards treating a complex and layered illness.  Abuse of drugs and alcohol, to me, tend to be symptoms of deeper issues that treatment should try to reach.  Otherwise, when we lift the veils that drugs and alcohol provide, we may be exposing something far more heinous.