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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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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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Hitting Bottom: A Deadly Myth About Addiction

By: Michael Plahn

Following is a flat-out myth that I have encountered with multiple clients and prospective clients in the past few weeks; it is a commonly accepted view held by many (even some in recovery, who are unaware of proven clinical methods) about the addicted or persons suffering from certain mental illness.

“I know they (addicted person) must “hit bottom” before they can get help. I know there is really nothing anyone can do until this happens and they become willing to change.”

Yes, an addicted person is likely unable to change without help.  One of the main reasons is that addiction affects the mind and prevents some of the brightest and even high-functioning individuals from seeing the same reality as seen by an outsider.  Addiction and/or untreated mental illness can create extreme levels of denial and self-deception.  For this reason, as you may have read in my previous postings, I attempt to keep logic out of the process when helping and afflicted person.  Why?  Because when it comes to discussing his or her own addiction or illness, I am not dealing with a rational or logical person.  So, I have found keeping logic out of the process to be very effective.

LSA’s Pre-Treatment Solution includes what is essentially an Intervention.  Yet, it is actually only about 20% of the entire LSA solution.  There are many other essential components to help a person embrace help willingly, as well as help the family as a whole.  LSA’s Family Meeting/Intervention is not the entire process; it is a piece of the solution.

The reason I refer to intervening on an individual, as a Family Meeting is to dispel fear caused by some coercive “sneak-attack” versions that may have been seen on TV.  At LSA, we use a transparent model with a compassionate loving approach for facilitating our Family Meetings / Interventions. Yes, we tell the addicted or afflicted person that we are going to have a meeting on a certain date…it actually establishes respect and eliminates secrets.  And, guess what?  The process is extraordinarily effective and the addicted person tends to be present at that first meeting.

Let’s get back to this question about “hitting bottom” as it is an important myth that must be dispelled (and, truthfully, its also the title of my post).  If you wait for your loved-one’s bottom, there is a high likelihood that this person will encounter tragedy and possibly die waiting for this bottom.  Addiction is a disease with endless bottoms.   If a highly trained, objective professional coordinates a compassionate approach (without negative emotion, or logic) there is a good chance the result can be different.  With this loving and compassionate approach, along with extremely detailed planning, it is absolutely possible to “Raise the afflicted person’s bottom so they can reach out and accept help.”

So, if someone you care about is in the throws of addiction and/or untreated mental illness, you can alter their path of destruction and misery.  However, I caution you as I have written before, that I still have not met anyone who has successfully facilitated this process (without objective professional help) for someone they love.  I strongly encourage you to hire a competent professional trained in a variety of Intervention formats (I recommend a compassionate and transparent format).  Contact LSA now to learn how we can help you and someone who may be in trouble.

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So Grateful for My Depression, I Could Cry

Post by Michael Plahn

Recently, I was asked by the founder of a phenomenal website, developed specifically to benefit attorneys, to briefly explain my personal experience with overcoming mental illness and addiction.  I explained how my seemingly hopeless battle led to the birth of LifeSkills Authorities and the approach I believe is necessary to find long-term relief from addiction and Depressive Disorders.  As a result, my story and the LSA philosophy of change is a featured resource on the Lawyers With Depression homepage for the month of January.

Not long ago, my anger and cynicism would build over an article linking gratitude and depression, if I were not in too much pain and despair to actually care. I may even prepare a nasty response. Then I found what I believe is the solution to lasting change and relief from such issues as depressive disorders.

For well over a decade, chronic major depressive disorder, as I was labeled, eliminated my ability to experience joy in what appeared an idyllic life … on the outside.  On my darkest days I hoped a bus would veer off course to end my misery.  I suffered from severe bouts of depression that increased in frequency and duration.

Then, something happened that stopped the suffering. I experienced a profound change and insatiable quest for a solution to permanently prevent the pain.  I researched, explored, and implemented a variety of life improvement strategies.  My life has since focused on helping others, who share the same struggles that tormented me for decades, to find long-term relief, joy, peace, and a sense of purpose for their lives.

Click here to read the entire post.

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Depressed? Feeling Helpless? I Have Been There Too.

Post by Michael Plahn

Depression is a label that many give to “the blues” or prolonged sadness.  While sadness is a natural feeling and predictable response to certain situations, a prolonged “low mood” or sadness is serious and warrants further investigation by trained professionals.

A true clinical diagnosis of a mental illness, or in particular, a Depressive Disorder (which is commonly referred to as “Depression”) is something that should be made by a properly trained professional.  In my opinion, the best and most obvious diagnostic approach for anyone who is struggling with a potential mental illness is a multidisciplinary assessment over a period of time.  Unfortunately, in my experience, many individuals who are suffering from mental illness do not seek any help.  Even more disheartening are the cases of those who do seek help, but lose hope because their condition deteriorates due to a variety of factors.

Depression is a very serious condition that can destroy and even take lives.  I personally understand the hell that a Depressive Disorder can produce.  About ten years ago, I was thriving in a career in my late twenties, and by many accounts, had a dream life.  However, anyone making that assessment was only looking at the external: my car, home, career, and girlfriend.

Those who thought I had an ideal life did not know what it felt like to be me.  They didn’t know that despite success in my career, I doubted myself.  They didn’t know that I felt as if everything was about to fall apart at any moment.  They didn’t know that I worked 80-100 hour workweeks because I didn’t want to be alone.  They didn’t know that when I called in “sick” it was because of how I felt emotionally, not physically.  They didn’t know that I was seeing a psychiatrist who had me on sometimes five or more medications simultaneously and meeting a psychologist for psychotherapeutic sessions 1-2 times each week.  They didn’t know that I had researched and then begged my psychiatrist to give me ECT, commonly known as “shock therapy,” and he eventually complied with my wishes (I endured eleven sessions).  All those who envied my ideal life didn’t know my secret; that I was beginning to lose all hope that I would ever feel better and that I was praying for my life to end without me having to take it.  I felt helpless.

I was blessed for some reason to be free from suicidal ideation (thoughts and plans of killing myself).  And, I eventually found a solution that led me to a complete and total recovery on all levels.  A solution so powerful that it was the impetus for me to change careers and begin to help others.  A solution that also led me to believe that to truly change and recover from the type of hell that I lived, requires a multidisciplinary approach to assessment and treatment over an extended period of time.

Luckily, I was able to turn my life around and found freedom from depression and feelings of helplessness.  My salvation led me to create and advocate for an extremely comprehensive long-term solution for others suffering from certain types of mental illness and/or addiction. LifeSkills Authorities is a company that uses this multi-faceted solution and is dedicated to effectuating long-term change through a cutting-edge and unique program.  I believe today that I lived through that hell to be able to help others who are struggling or losing hope, to find a solution that works.

Michael Plahn is the Founder and Program Director of LifeSkills Authorities, a business dedicated to empowering people to change their lives. He is responsible for program development, clinical areas of the practice, and overall business operations. Michael is a certified Interventionist, holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, completed post-graduate work in Personal and Executive Coaching, and holds several fitness, wellness, and nutrition certifications. To read more about Michael’s personal recovery journey click here.

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Intervene Young to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Abuse Later

A new study finds specific brain regions that may play a role in the development of childhood anxiety, that may later lead to the adult child self-medicating through alcohol and drugs.

The findings could lead to new methods of early detection and treatment to intervene on at-risk children, according to study leader Ned. H. Kalin, chair of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Children with anxious temperaments suffer from extreme shyness, persistent worry and increased bodily responses to stress. It has long been known that these children are at increased risk of developing anxiety, depression and associated substance abuse disorders,” Kalin said in a university news release.

“We believe that young children who have higher activity in these brain regions are more likely to develop anxiety and depression as adolescents and adults, and are also more likely to develop drug and alcohol problems in an attempt to treat their distress,” he said.

The findings, published in the Aug. 12 issue of Nature, suggest it may be possible to prevent children from developing full-blown anxiety.

“My feeling is that the earlier we intervene with children, the more likely they will be able to lead a happy life in which they aren’t as controlled by anxiety and depression. We think we can train vulnerable kids to settle their brains down,” Kalin said.

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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.