By Rich Jones, MA, MBA, LCAS, SAP
Physicians treat patients all the time who have illnesses related to substance use disorders (SUD)s. High blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, many cancers, liver and lung disease, and several infectious diseases are linked to drugs and alcohol. The toll is terrible.
But healthcare organizations aren’t immune either – employees who struggle with SUDs can cost the organization thousands of dollars in insurance, productivity, workplace accidents and other indirect costs. The National Safety Council says that employers spend an average of $8,817 per employee with an untreated SUD and that the costs are rising – more than 30% in the last three years.
It doesn’t stop there. Healthcare organizations also employ family members who are trying to care for someone with SUD. And these spouses, parents or children pay a high price as well. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, they are five times more likely to need hospitalization than the general population due to sleeplessness, worry, abuse, and stress.
The four myths of recovery
In celebration of September as National Recovery Month – now for the good news. The face of recovery is starting to change – and there are more options than ever for people to face their SUD and map a recovery plan. And physicians and HR departments have more resources than ever to help patients, employees and family members. So here are four recovery myths to pass along:
- You can never have another drink again. On the contrary, you are allowed to talk to someone without committing to quit everything altogether and “never take another drink.” That is one of the first steps to recovery, and that road looks different for everyone.
- You’ll need to go to rehab. Not always. There is a clinical assessment process that indicates the level of care. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has established a continuum of care. There is a perception that rehab is necessary for recovery but only 13% of those in recovery report rehab as the gateway to their rescue.
- I’ll have to take medicine to support recovery. Staying alive is first on the agenda. Medicine is not the only option. But it is an option.
- A person with SUD must “hit rock bottom.” Why? You wouldn’t expect a person with diabetes to go into a diabetic coma before dealing with their health issue, would you? Again, what’s important is staying alive, and we know that the rock bottom theory contributes to increased deaths, especially in this age of fentanyl and carfentanyl. The truth is there are as many paths to recovery as individuals are struggling with SUD. What’s most important is recognizing there is an issue and developing a plan to address the issue.
The vital role of family
Many times, an individual’s recovery starts with a family member. Having worked in behavioral health and SUD recovery for 20 years, I’ve seen many family members begging for help and options at my practice. SUD profoundly impacts families. Family members deserve information and deserve to be a part of the recovery process from day one. The work is hard on both sides. What does that look like?
- Recovery programs need to include family care as a component of SUD recovery and affordable – if a program you’re looking at only deals with family recovery during a two-day weekend, keep looking. There are many issues family members deal with and sweeping those emotions under the rug is a mistake that will also affect the individual struggling with the SUD. One such program, Heritage CARES, offers family members free resources so they can work their own plan right alongside their loved one as he or she deals with the SUD.
- Family recovery is a unique process that should be guided by “family systems theory.” It is a primary intervention, not an add-on or after-thought, and it’s not limited to traditional avenues of “detach with love” and “tough love.” Professional family recovery will individualize services and interventions to the family instead of a mirror or approximation of Al-Anon family group meetings.
- It should not be dependent on the addicted loved one’s “recovery status.” Programs should universally offer family recovery programming. The addicted individual’s recovery status may influence the specific support provided. However, families should have access to professional family recovery support even if the addicted individual is disengaged.
The family has tremendous power that can be harnessed and focused in a way that increases the likelihood their loved one will seek recovery. Frequently, when family members start to change, the person with a substance use disorder will begin to change. Family systems theory tells us that if you move one part of the family, you move the entire family. Like a mobile above a baby’s crib, moving one part without impacting the whole is impossible.
Rich Jones, EVP and executive director of Heritage CARES, is an experienced therapist, clinician, and healthcare entrepreneur with more than 20 years in behavioral health, including mental health, substance use disorders (SUD), co-occurring disorders, and intellectual disabilities. As the founder and CEO of two non-profit organizations and two for-profit businesses, Rich dedicates his career to disrupting the behavioral-health space to better people in need. He is a sought-after speaker and writer on behavioral health topics and helps host and produce the podcast you learn. you turn.