Expert: Drug, alcohol addiction is treated the wrong way

Prescription Drug bottle
FILE Prescription Drug bottle (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With celebrity deaths like Prince, Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger, all connected to drug overdoses, it often raises questions about drug addiction.

Ben Levenson, the co-founder of Origins Behavioral Healthcare, says celebrities are not more susceptible to addiction. However, he says they are more likely to face challenges when it comes to recovery from addiction.

Many addicts end up seeking treatment, which can be a good thing, but Levenson says many programs try to speed up the recovery process.

“We, as a field, have continued to try to treat what we all know is a chronic disease into these strictly 28 day, or now becoming less, episodic intervention ways,” Levenson said. “Nowhere else in medicine do we treat chronic illness in episodic intervention ways. It’s the equivalent of taking a diabetic, giving them 28 days worth of insulin, patting them on the hiney and wishing them well for the rest of their lives.”

Instead, Levenson says longer stays are ideal.

“Longer lengths of stay in primary treatment correlate directly with optimal outcomes,” he said. “The gold standard seems to be around 90 days in in-patient treatment.”

But he says insurance companies are trying to shorten stays, which Levenson says is not inherently bad. He says if the money that would have been spent on a longer stay is used on other treatment, it can still be beneficial.

TYPES OF ENABLING AN ADDICT:

  • Posting bail
  • Covering legal fees
  • Giving them money, “which doesn’t get used for food

“Instead of pocketing that, that should be spent on a longer-term, multi-staged, gradually reducing in intensity continuum of care,” Levenson said.

He says addicts are commonly in denial, rarely believing their addiction is a chronic illness and is progressive and deadly.

The people around addicts often enable them, which Levenson says is not done with bad intent, but rather to show someone still cares about them.

“Enabling is a natural response when someone is either friends with or a loved one of an addict,” Levenson said. “They feel very loving but in fact those very things are the things that perpetuate addiction. Addiction requires resources.”

Levenson says it’s also tough for those around an addict to confront them because of how it may be perceived.

“The addict gets emotional, disturbed, causes problems, causes crisis and the enabler doesn’t want that. We want to keep everything kind of constant.”

But confronting an addict and asking them to stop a behavior immediately can also have negative consequences.

“[It’s] the equivalent of asking an addict to just stop is similar to asking him or her to just not breathe,” he said.

Levenson says the entire way addiction is perceived needs to change.

“Addicts and alcoholics don’t have a drug and alcohol problem. They’re not partying. They have a drug and alcohol solution. It’s what they’re using to get okay inside: irritability, restlessness, [discontent], boredom, overwhelming fear, a sense of impending doom, less than-ism, better than-ism, not measuring up. That is addiction.”

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