Knowing Where to Start

Overwhelmed by the idea of seeking help? You are not alone.

Most people who have a substance abuse problem wait a very long time before they address their issues.  It’s when alcohol or drugs begin to interfere with your family, friendships, job, or school work that you start to wonder: Is there a better way to live?

There is. Every month thousands of people seek treatment and change their lives for the better. 

When you first recognize that things aren’t going well, the thought of reaching out can be overwhelming, even terrifying. 

You have probably worked very hard to hide your problem. For years you have kept secrets and struggled to hide your addiction from friends, family, and co-workers.

It’s exhausting. Most substance abusers who seek help will tell you: They were sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The first step is the hardest – it’s sort of like breaking the seal on a vault of secrets and lies. But when you break the seal, the feeling is exhilarating and the experience is cathartic.  Letting even one person in on your secret is the first step toward facing your addiction and finding a new path toward a happier and more fulfilling life.

Remember: Admitting that you have an alcohol problem is not a sign of weakness – if anything, acknowledging the challenge requires considerable strength. Don’t let the myths and misconceptions that unfortunately permeate our society stop you from taking the necessary action to improve your life and the lives of those who care about and depend upon you.

Being reluctant to divulge personal and potentially embarrassing information about yourself is completely understandable. But health care professionals are just that – professionals – and your discussions with them are both confidential and conducted with only your best interests in mind.

In the course of discussing your concerns about alcohol with you, your health care provider may ask a number of questions that you should answer as completely and honestly as possible. Remember that the person with whom you are speaking is an expert in his or her chosen field – just as you are an expert in your specific situation – and that the two of you will be working together as a team.

If your health care provider concludes that you do, indeed, have a problem related to alcohol, he or she will likely recommend a rage of treatment options. These choices may include outpatient therapy, participation in a 12-step support group, hospitalization, or a stay in a residential treatment facility. Be sure to ask for clarification about any issues that remain unclear to you, and don’t ever be afraid to ask for more information or a second opinion.

By talking to your health care provider about your relationship with alcohol, you are taking a wise, courageous, and proactive step toward a better life for you and those who care about you. The path may not always be easy, but by taking that first step you have demonstrated the determination that it will take to achieve your goal of achieving sobriety, returning to health, and regaining the life that you deserve.

Many people feel more comfortable talking to a stranger first. This can be an addiction therapist or a substance abuse counselor. If your company has an EAP program, you may find someone there who will talk to you and ensure your confidentiality.

Here is an actual story from someone who broke the seal of secrecy and sought help:

“When I first realized my drinking was out of control, I didn’t know who to talk to. I knew I had to do something because I literally felt like the world was crushing me. Everything was getting harder to do.  I wanted to crawl into a cave and hide from the world – but I had to go to work, I had to talk to people.  I was on a seesaw of anxiety and depression. I remember clearly that first time I reached out for help. I called our employee assistance program and asked to speak with someone – I remember almost being terrified to tell the truth, but a part of me, that part that wanted so desperately to survive, blurted it out: I think I have a problem with alcohol.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a little regret after the call. I thought about cancelling my appointment. I knew the cat was out of the bag!  But again, that survivor in me just pushed through all the resistance: my fear of what would become of me if I didn’t seek help outweighed my fear of seeking help.The EAP counselor was so gentle and compassionate: she led me to the best decision I have ever made in my life – to go into treatment.That decision led to a truly wonderful life’s journey.  I’m 22 years clean and sober now and have a rich and happy life.  Most important: I don’t have a painful secret that I have to hide from my family, friends, and colleagues. During those first few months after going to rehab there was no way I could imagine not drinking, but the treatment program taught me the most important principle of all: I only have to not drink TODAY.”

Alcoholism and alcohol dependency are complex conditions for which no simple and universally effective medical cures currently exist. However, in combination with individual and group therapy, behavior modification, and participation in recovery support groups, some medications have proved to be useful in keeping recovering individuals from relapsing.

The following drugs had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependency:

Acamprosate – Legal in Europe since 1989, Acamprosate (also known as Campral) was approved for use in the United States in 2004. The FDA release that announced the approval of Acamprosate included the following statement:

While its mechanism of action is not fully understood, Campral is thought to act on the brain pathways related to alcohol abuse. Campral was demonstrated to be safe and effective by multiple placebo-controlled clinical studies involving alcohol-dependent patients who had already been withdrawn from alcohol, (i.e., detoxified).

Campral proved superior to placebo in maintaining abstinence (keeping patients off alcohol consumption), as indicated by a greater percentage of acamprosate-treated subjects being assessed as continuously abstinent throughout treatment.

Campral is not addicting and was generally well-tolerated in clinical trials. The most common adverse events reported for patients taking Campral included headache, diarrhea, flatulence, and nausea.

Antabuse – Also known as disulfiram, Antabuse was the first alcohol dependence drug to be authorized for use in the United States. Unlike Acamprosate, Antabuse is prescribed to people who have not yet been able to quit drinking. The drug works by causing a severe negative reaction – which can include chest pain, vertigo, accelerated heartbeat, and nausea – when a person who is taking it drinks alcohol.

Antabuse is taken daily in a single dose (usually a 250 mg pill). Depending upon the specific needs of the patient and the progress he is making in his efforts to remain sober, the drug may be taken for months or, in some cases, years.

Disulfiram was discovered by Danish researchers in 1948. It is currently being studied for use in the treatment of cocaine addiction as well as for some types of cancer.

Naltrexone – A type of drug known as an “opioid receptor antagonist,” Naltrexone is marketed under the brand names Revia, Depade, and (in extended-release version) Vivitrol. Prescribed to patients who have already quit drinking, Naltrexone reduces cravings for alcohol. The drug is also used in “rapid detoxification,” during which patients are often sedated or placed under general anesthesia.

Naltrexone was originally employed in the treatment of opioid dependence, but clinical trials that proved its effectiveness as a means of helping alcohol-dependent individuals remain sober earned FDA approval for the treatment of alcoholism. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, results from the five-year Combining Medications and Behavioral Interventions for Alcoholism (COMBINE) study demonstrated that “Naltrexone and up to 20 sessions of alcohol counseling by a behavioral specialist are equally effective treatments for alcohol dependence when delivered with structured medical management.”

If you are suffering from your secrets and that survivor in you wants to find a better way to live, call someone today to ask for help.