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How To Help Addicted Brother

Question:

My younger brother is 22 years old and has had a drug problem for at least the last 6-7 years. It started in high school with marijuana and now has progressed to harder drugs. His problem has escalated to the point that he doesn’t pay his bills and barely keeps a job. He has been arrested once on a drug related charge and is now awaiting a hearing. I am very worried about him because even after being arrested and spending several days in jail, he still chooses to be involved with drugs. Up to this point, either I or my parents have always been there to bail him out financially or otherwise, but I have finally decided that until he makes the choice to straighten himself out, I can no longer offer any support to him. I have tried to convince him to get help, but he is always quick to tell me that he agrees with me and is going to stop on his own. What kind of programs are out there for someone like my brother and what determines if he is sent to regular jail or a re-hab type facility? Also, if I were able to convince him to get help, is there any kind of financial assistance available for the treatment?

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Answer:

I’m very sorry to hear about your brother’s addiction. Addicts tend to be in “denial”; they tend not to realize how deeply they are addicted and how difficult it is to stop using. Beyond physical addiction, there is also the entire lifestyle of drug using. You can send someone to rehab and have them come home a month later without any physical compulsion, and then still re-enter drug use out of the pure famililiarity of it, the craving for extreme (or oblitherated) experience, and peer pressure. Addicts think they can get straight on their own, but freuquently this is not the case. To really beat an addiction it is best to have professional rehab (a 28 day program or longer), followed by intensive support, in the form of twelve-step or equivalent programs, psychotherapy/support counseling, etc. It can help for the recovering addict to move to a new location where everything doesn’t remind them of using, and to entirely avoid friends who are still using. Many health insurance programs will pay for some portion of drug treatment services, particularly the rehabilitation/detoxification portions of this treatment. They may also pay for some substance abuse counseling. Twelve-step participation (in narcotics anonymous, for instance) is free in terms of money, but intensive in terms of time and psychological committment. I’m not aware of other financial assistance programs out there that help people to recover from addictions, but they may exist. You can see that this is an expensive proposition regardless of insurance or other assistance. The only thing that makes it worth doing is that it is still far cheaper than the cost of your brother’s ruined life. And whether or not the treatment will work the first time around (or the second, or third …) presupposes that the addict is really ready to stop using, and isn’t so proud as to refuse help when it is offered.

Different jurisdictions handle drug-related offenses differently. A relative few of them have set up drug-courts where drug related cases are tried, while others just use regular criminal courts. The purpose of drug courts, as I understand them, is to see that addicts are forced into treatment instead of into jail. If your brother encounters a drug court, I’d consider him lucky as he is more likely to be treated as a sick person in need of treatment than as a criminal. Most likely however, he would go through the criminal court system and either be imprisioned, or parolled depending on the nature of the offence and the disposition of the court. He’d need a lawyer; this gets very expensive, very quickly. If he is convicted of a felony (which would not be a stretch by any means), in addition to whatever punishment he’d have to serve, he’d also have to report that he is a felon for the rest of his life every time he filled out an official application of any sort.

I encourage you to seek out and attend a few al-anon meetings. Al-anon is a twelve-step-related program for family members of alcoholics and (I believe) of other kinds of addicts too. There are likely to be al-anon programs you can participate in so as to gain the support and insight of other families faced with addicted members. Al-anon typically teaches “tough love” which is to say, they support the idea of not trying to rescue the addict from him or herself all the time; they see that as enabling behavior. If the addict sees that the family will bail them out of jail, for example, then the deterent effect of jail on the addict is lessened, I think is how they would see it. Better to not enable the addict in any way, save for helping to make treatment programs available to them if/when they are ready to participate in them.

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