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The High-Functioning Addict—Hiding in Plain Sight

By: Michael Plahn

The High-Functioning Addict is a term used to describe an individual who may appear to have a very productive, seemingly manageable, and in some cases an almost idyllic life…on the outside. However, it is as if he/she is living a secret dual-life. One of productivity, maybe even marked with high-achievement, while the other is a life of escape through alcohol, drugs, and/or other addictions (that the addict’s family may be oblivious). This person is able to succeed in their life well enough to where the effects of their addiction(s) has not impacted the life they project to others. This article is written about alcohol and other mind-altering drugs, but other addictions may apply.

According to an article by Kristen McGuiness: Are You a High-Functioning Addict? published on the Huffington Post website, The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported in a 2007 study, that claimed 19.5 percent of all alcoholics(nearly four million people) are of the “functional” subtype.

Every high-functioning addict whom I have ever met in Recovery admits to having excruciating dark times that other addicts also report. However, my experience, both personally and professionally, is that career success and wealth can delay or even prevent the initiation of the Recovery process. Career and personal successes, wealth, power and ego-inflation stemming from an impressive title or elite social circles can actually defer the emotional and spiritual pain that is typically involved with an addicted individual’s willingness to seek help. An addict’s type of career can even seemingly promote over-indulgence and make certain behavior (as long as it is not egregious) acceptable, if it is for the good of the firm.

Some high-functioning addicts have the means to take extraordinary measures to keep the pain away. This is exemplified by one Recovering addict, who asked to remain anonymous, who stated, “I knew an eight-figure guy who bought a new car every two months to get enough juice to keep the pain away; it actually worked for a while.”

Having a high-functioning person with elevated status (be it a celebrity or someone respected in a professional community) come forward about his/her struggles and subsequent Recovery is rare. Anonymity has been synonymous with most successful Recovery. Instead, we hear about the horror stories, PR nightmares, and tragedies of celebrities and professional athletes.

However, recently Chicagoans were privy to a very public admission of a struggle with addiction. A letter was posted on the WGN-TV website, written by evening news anchor Mark Suppelsa, where he admitted to having a problem with alcohol and was voluntarily entering Hazelden’s Center City, MN location for treatment. He returned a month later, as planned, and received overwhelming support from viewers, fans, colleagues, and management at WGN. The brief letter defined a very secretive high-functioning individual who was finally ready to seek help.

I am an Addiction Recovery Expert and someone who was once a high-functioning addict who understands that a high-achieving addict has tremendous responsibility. At LifeSkills Authorities, LLC. (“LSA”), I help families and self-referring individuals find appropriate help for addiction, depression, anxiety, and related issues. While it may be obvious to others and recommended by professionals to take an extended leave of absence, at LSA we look at each situation individually to find the most appropriate and realistic solution for the afflicted individual and those affected by their affliction to begin the Recovery process.

Without professional help and a well-designed and appropriate plan that is respected by the bright high-functioning person, the request to seek help usually stops abruptly. If you want a positive outcome and a plan that will help a high-functioning addict begin to recover, contact LSA now to learn about The LSA Pre-Treatment Solution and our other individualized approaches to solving our clients’ concerns.

LifeSkills Authorities, (LSA) helps individuals and families who suffer from the effects of addiction, depression, mood disorders, chronic pain and/or aging issues. LifeSkills Authorities is unmatched in its role as an objective advocate that creates a customized plan and blueprint for recovery.  This personalized solution ends the needless suffering and brings about healing and positive change for the afflicted individual, family, and loved ones.  LifeSkills Authorities is based in the Chicagoland area and serves clientele nationwide.

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Does Rehab Work?

By:  Michael Plahn

This is not a simple question to answer.  There are several variables that affect the answer.  What level of treatment, Outpatient or Residential?  Does the alcoholic or addict have a Co-Occurring diagnosis (additional disorder or mental illness).  Did the addict enter treatment willingly or were they coerced to enter the program?  Was the treatment program an appropriate fit to address the salient presenting issues?  What kind of Extended Care or Aftercare program was followed?  Get the idea?  This is a complex issue, so if you want a successful outcome, work with an objective professional available at LifeSkills Authorities.

As I discussed recently, there are several levels of addiction treatment or ‘Rehab’ (read further about this in: How to Select an Appropriate Level of Addiction Treatment). For this article, let’s use the example of Inpatient Residential Treatment.  I read studies that reference abstinence rates from as low as 5% to 60%.  That is a huge disparity and the success rates seem pretty poor, don’t they?  Where is the 90+% that I’m guessing you want to know about if you have a loved-one suffering from addiction?

This question led me to develop LSA’s Pre-Treatment Solution and LSA Recovery Coaching (a 52-week Aftercare program).  These programs combined with appropriate levels of addiction treatment will lead to what I hope will be success rates that top 90% and become the new Gold Standard to treating these chronic disorders.

Back to the simple and original question, ‘Does Rehab Work?’  Last Friday evening, actor Rob Lowe was asked that same question on  Piers Morgan Tonight.  Mr. Lowe confidently answered the question by stating, “Rehab gets a bad name…it can be an amazing experience.” He went on to say “Charlie (Sheen) is wrong (for saying that Addiction Treatment does not work),…it does work.” Lowe also suggested that it (Professional Addiction Treatment) does work if you take the actions suggested by the counselors and staff, NOT if you follow your own rules.

I agree with Lowe’s position that ‘Rehab’ or Addiction Treatment does work, despite the poor numbers discussed in the beginning of this entry. It breaks the addictive cycle, begins healing underlying issues, and objective professionals formulate a plan for you to continue changing and staying abstinent.  Admittedly, without competent treatment facilities such as Caron, Promises, Casa Palmera, The Canyon, Rosecrance, and the several available through Treatment Solutions Network, it may be difficult to even establish a beginning.  But ‘Rehab’ is a beginning, not a cure.

I am confident that the key to finding long-term recovery from addiction is to have a comprehensive plan with competent professional help for no less than six months, and preferably one year post-discharge from treatment.  Believe me, it will save you a lot of heartache, pain, money, and maybe your life if you follow this suggestion.  Contact LSA to find out how we can help you or your loved one today.

 

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Tough Love: Helpful or Hurtful?

By: Michael Plahn

‘Tough Love’ has been recommended for families affected by addiction and untreated mental illness for years.  It has been the catalyst for greatly improving the lives of people I know very well.  I have also seen this backfire and become the impetus for further misery and even tragedy.

I see this topic divide, fragment, and many times disintegrate families.  What is the best approach for you and your family?  Only you (and your family) can make those decisions.  You have to live with the decisions and the repercussions of your actions.

For sake of example, let’s use the case of Paul, a 24 year-old male who has suffered from what Mom calls Depression (but he has never been diagnosed by an appropriate professional) and abused alcohol & drugs since he was 16 years-old.  He has been to two local Outpatient Addiction Treatment programs (for alcohol, cocaine, and opiate abuse) in the past five years.  However, after completion of each program, he relapsed each time within weeks of discharge.  Paul, currently unemployed, lives with his mother, father and younger sister (Angela 17 years-old).  Paul is verbally abusive to his entire family at times, and is currently using opiates (Vicodin, Oxycontin, and heroin), cocaine, and alcohol.

Dad, loves his son, but is frustrated and wants Paul out of the house unless he is sober and holds a full-time job.  Mom is upset with her son’s behavior, but concerned for Paul’s safety if she does not help him.  She cannot bear to see her baby boy “in the streets.” Paul manipulatively threatens, “if you throw me out, I’ll likely get killed in the streets.”  Angela loves her brother, but they rarely speak anymore.  Mom and Dad have warred for years over Paul and what to do for him and with him.  First Dad was supportive, but now he is intolerant and has begun to detach from the family.  There is a constant state of tension, but silence in the home and the parents’ relationship has suffered significantly.  Mom and Dad do not interact much, but if they do it is typically a verbal battle about Paul.

What should this family do?  I know individuals who were asked (in a ‘Tough Love’ approach) to either accept help and enter a reputable treatment facility (such as PromisesCaron, or Treatment Solutions Network approved programs), or leave the family home immediately.  That was just the beginning, but many are now happy and living amazing drug-free lives for several years.  They credit their parents’ refusal to allow them to live in the family home unless they were sober (and some gainfully employed) as the key event that lead to their long-term recovery.  Some were even required to take random drug screens as a condition to stay under their parents’ roof.  These individuals would tell Mom and Dad to “Kick Paul out if he is not willing to enter an appropriate treatment facility OR immediately stop using, attend 12-Step Meetings, and have a full-time job in a week.”

But, is that really the appropriate solution for this scenario with Paul and his family?  Will it work?  It’s not that simple.  Addiction and mental illness are much more complex issues than they may appear.  Honestly, if Paul could stop on his own, he likely would have long ago (there is very little fleeting pleasure at that stage of addiction).  True, there are success stories with a rigid consequential approach, but this can also be a very dangerous approach for some individuals.  Richard Rawson, associate director of UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs claimed in a piece by ABC-News that coercive or confrontational approaches actually push the afflicted away from treatment.

Trust me, this could be an extremely complicated situation.  What works for one individual or their family may not have the same result for Paul’s family (or yours for that matter).  Let’s say that Paul was physically abused by his uncle (when Paul was 8-9 years-old).  What if he had a physical handicap during adolescence and as a result he was ridiculed and teased by his peers?  Either of these issues could change this situation significantly and may make Paul much more fragile than the family realizes.

These examples of underlying trauma are also likely to affect his ability to find long-term recovery.  If they are not addressed, it is likely that Paul will struggle and repeat dysfunctional patterns.  There is significant research that shows an extremely high percentage of addicted persons have also experienced some level of trauma  (which may be an underlying issue propelling the addiction).  At The Meadows, a facility that specializes in treating underlying causes of addiction such as trauma, they understand this reality.  Sadly, many people, minimize the significance of how trauma can negatively affect treatment outcomes and long-term recovery efforts.

If you were Paul’s Mom, I would recommend that you engage a qualified objective professional who can assist in determining an appropriate treatment facility and executing a compassionate loving process to intervene on your son. A competent professional would suggest solutions for the entire family’s treatment, not just Paul.  Granted, I’m biased, but LSA’s Pre-Treatment Solution is an ideal fit for this family’s situation.

There may be good reason to protect yourself and others in your home by asking an afflicted family member, who is acting dangerously, to leave.  But, as mentioned, this is more complicated than many well-meaning lay-people realize.  If you are going to embrace a ‘Tough Love’ stance, then please make sure you have professional guidance, that the family agrees as a group not to cave under manipulation, and become willing to accept the potential consequences of your ‘Tough Love’ approach.

 

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How to Select an Appropriate Level of Addiction Treatment (Part 2 of 2)

By:  Michael Plahn

In Part I of this article, I wrote about 12-Step programs, individual and group counseling, and different levels of Outpatient Treatment.  The highest level of care and support is available at an in-patient ‘Residential’ program.  These programs are designed to encompass 30-90 days of primary treatment (but length of stay depends on the patient’s condition and progress as well as family resources).  There are some amazing residential treatment facilities that can help your loved one.

I am a big proponent of facilities that offer comprehensive multi-disciplinary assessments (e.g. Caron Treatment Centers) to determine the correct diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan.   It just makes sense, doesn’t it?  Facilities that I personally like offer an entire continuum of care, as is the case at Promises, which allows the patient to continue to progress while maintaining the continuity of the same surroundings and treatment team.  Facilities such as The Canyon and Casa Palmera treat addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders (also called ‘Dual-Diagnosis’) for individuals struggling with mental illness along with addiction.  Some residential facilities, such as The Meadows, specialize in treating addiction and trauma.  For licensed professionals, there are facilities that offer specialized tracks catering to their specific concerns and needs (available at Hazelden’s Center City location).  I have also found companies such as Treatment Solutions Network to be very helpful as they represent a variety of facilities.

Although programs may share a similar classification (IOP, PHP, or Residential) there are tremendous differences in one facility’s program versus another.  This is one of the big reasons why a knowledgeable objective professional can help with this decision (you may be comparing apples and bowling balls without realizing it).  To further complicate the situation, if you are counting on your health insurance plan to cover the treatment, think again.  It is essential to ascertain the level of coverage you have in your particular plan.  Many residential programs do not accept any insurance coverage (it can be a self-pay facility), but some do and I hate to keep making you read this, but without an objective professional, you may never find the facilities that may be appropriate for your loved-one AND accept your loved-one’s insurance.

The goal, as I see it, is simple, you want to make sure that if your loved one is going (that is a big if without a professional to facilitate an objective and compassionate Intervention) to an addiction and/or mental health treatment facility, that they get APPROPRIATE TREATMENT to meet their needs.  If not, it is very likely they are going to get discouraged, struggle, possibly drop-out of the program, and or relapse (or worse).

It can play out like this: the afflicted person who was pushed into treatment by their significant other and without professional guidance required a different or higher level of care, they were approached with this by the treatment clinicians and staff, the patient became agitated and refused to change levels of the program, let alone facilities, and leaves the program.  Another sad, but common situation is:  the afflicted person agrees to enter treatment but only if they can go to a program that they approve.  Being an over-achieving people pleaser, who is certainly not telling the staff how they feel or divulging all of the secrets they are ‘taking to their grave,’ does everything necessary to quietly and successfully complete an outpatient treatment program.  They say they plan on attending AA as a maintenance program, but are hiding bottles and pills in a matter of weeks.  Many times, in either of those cases, those same individuals are even branded with “they just weren’t ready to change or stop using,” by family or friends.

Addiction (let alone adding mental illness if present) is a progressive and potentially fatal disease that rips apart families and takes lives prematurely.  A comparison to another potentially terminal disease, Stage IV Lung Cancer, is on point.  So, if a professional recommends professional treatment, I would not suggest that you navigate the different levels and facilities on your own (no matter how adept you are at Google searches), look for a convenient program that is “In-Network” for the insurance plan, or ignore it because “your loved-one would never agree to it” (you might be surprised if you have a professional facilitate an Intervention/Family Meeting).  Get the best and most appropriate help! In my experience (clinically and experientially), to do so will likely require an objective professional.  Contact LSA to work with an objective professional who will help with every aspect of this process in the LSA Pre-Treatment Solution.

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Contents on LifeSkillsAuthorities.com including any images, text, external links, graphics or any other material posted on this website is intended solely for informational purposes. The information contained herein is written by non-medical professionals and not a substitute for professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis of any disease or disability. Please seek advice from a qualified medical professional with any questions that you may have regarding your physical or mental health condition(s). If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or any other medical emergency, dial 911 or visit your local emergency room immediately. The thoughts and views expressed here are not necessarily those of LifeSkills Authorities, its owners, employees, or management.