Everyone is talking about the Matt Willis Documentary, Fighting Addiction.
I think it’s fab when people share their stuff so openly. It provokes thought and discussion for many.
This morning I have already had some great discussions about different topics that have come up from the documentary.
There are a few key points I would like to address.
People, places, times, feelings, events that cause you to drink. Anyone who has had a problem with drugs and alcohol will know exactly what I mean. We all have triggers, learning about our triggers, mitigating the risk is part of the work. We can’t know all of our triggers from the beginning, we know some; quite often we learn about them as we go on and this is ok.
Now where this gets important is when you’re drinking, or drug use has a significant impact on your life. Things like your using is life threatening, the amount you use, the combination of using could cause overdose or serious illness. Maybe your behaviour is dangerous, life threatening, or risky to yourself or others when under the influence. Maybe your using is seriously impacting your family, relationships, children.
If your using is high risk, then knowing your triggers, avoiding them is going to be part of what you do. For instance, if you are a musician and you can be drug and alcohol free, but when you go on tour you use, then you can choose to change your job. You can prioritize yourself and your family.
If your using is high risk, you can be drug and alcohol free, but every time you go to a festival you use and this triggers a dangerous relapse, then don’t go to festivals.
If your drinking is high risk, but every time you walk into a bar with certain friends, you drink, and this triggers a relapse. Don’t go to the bar, socialise with these friends at different times likes breakfast, unless they also drink and use drugs at breakfast.
It’s about being honest with yourself, about situations, people, events where you will use and what the impact of this is for you and the people around you. Not everyone will need to do this, this is about high risk using.
This one comes up a lot in my work and only last night on a group call, we were talking about this very subject. We all do it. Fantasise, create stories around our past using. “Ah yes, we used to have such fun”, “I really enjoy drinking”. You know how the story goes and that’s exactly what it is, it’s a story. Did you really have a good time all the time? When I challenge people on this, usually the answer is no, of course, not, maybe 50% of the time. Watch out for the fantasy, the story. Create a new one, that supports you.
I love how honest Emma and Matt are about the impact of his using has had on her and the family. Because this is the reality: if you use problematically, your using will be impacting on those around you. There is no escaping it.
Anyone who has used problematically loves to pretend that it’s only them it impacts, I used to think like this as well, blissfully unaware. Then, once I stopped drinking and using drugs I did some training, worked as a substance misuse practitioner and became interested in the impact on the family. At the time we were all doing lots of training around this, Hidden Harms, Think Family and Breaking the Cycle. It hit me hard listening to this stuff, the evidence, the research, the impact on the family members, children. It forced me to really look at my own behaviours in a completely different way - yet another layer of sorting my shit out. My behaviour as a parent was probably one of the hardest parts for me to look at and work through with my children. Open honest age-appropriate dialogue is key and also that the people around you are getting support if they want it.
I totally get what Emma says about: I am living it; I don’t want to talk about it. However, it’s important that family members, including children, know that there are support services and that they are there if they want support.
With children it can be really helpful if there is a responsible adult who they can form a bond with, so if they want to talk to someone, they have that option.
These can be great places to start:
Sometimes what can happen is when people stop using drugs or alcohol, they go on a journey of self-development. To improve themselves and their lives. Part of this can uncover that there may be something in their past that was traumatic for them and is impacting on their day-to-day life.
Trauma can impact in many different ways such as:
Impact on sleep
Night terrors, panic attacks
Fight or flight mode
Physical pain, emotional pain
If you think a past trauma is an issue for you, please speak to your doctor about EMDR. In some cases you can be referred and receive this on the NHS. However, there are private options as well. https://emdrassociation.org.uk/ EMDR is one of the most successful modalities at treating trauma.
You can also receive EMDR if you are still using drugs and or alcohol. So, one of the things that can happen is that people use due to symptoms of trauma and find it hard to reduce, to have drug and alcohol-free time. A lot of mental health practitioners will say, “We can’t treat the mental health while someone is using.” This isn’t exactly correct, but that’s another blog.
Find language that works for you, that feels motivating for you, to describe your experience. You don’t have to call yourself an addict, or an alcoholic if it doesn’t work for you. You are a human being who has used drugs and or alcohol for many different reasons. There is not one answer to this, there are many answers. We are all a work in progress.
In my experience the UK isn’t very good at trying different medications to help with maintaining an abstinence from a drug/alcohol or relapse prevention. (That’s when there are options.) Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely your GP will agree to help with this, even though I think many GPs could. What usually happens in the UK is if you want to be considered for prescribing to help you remain abstinent from drugs/alcohol, then you refer yourself to your local drug and alcohol treatment service. Which let’s be honest, most people don’t want to do. Even if you do refer, getting in front of a specialist prescriber can be quite hard as well. Private prescribers can be a good option for this. But I have still to find a private prescriber I would recommend. This isn’t just me being difficult; my clinical supervisor has the same issue. There are medications, they can help, they don’t always work, but where drug/alcohol use is serious, it’s worth a go.
If you are someone who is using drugs/alcohol problematically and you would like to change that, there are options - there are many options.
Rehab, free treatment services, medication, 12 step groups, smart groups, paid groups, online forums, coaching programmes, 1-1 support/therapy/coaching. Free and paid options.
No one knows what will work; there is not one methodology that works.
You can try them all. Maybe you create your own toolbox, go on your own “journey”.
The good news is, that no matter what, you can change.
The best books I can recommend are The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis and Drink by Professor David Nutt - in fact anything by Professor Nutt.