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Let Us Pray: The dos and don’ts of helping a drug addict recover | Maia Szalavitz | Big Think

Jun 24, 2022Let Us Pray0 comments

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The dos and don’ts of helping a drug addict recover
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Addiction is a learning disorder; it’s not a sign that someone is a bad person.

Tough love doesn’t help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.

As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
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MAIA SZALAVITZ:

Maia Szalavitz is widely viewed as one of the premier American journalists covering addiction and drugs. A neuroscience writer for TIME.com and a former cocaine and heroin addict, she understands the science and its personal dimensions in a way that few others can. is the first book-length exposé of the “tough love” business that dominates addiction treatment. Her newest book is Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.
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TRANSCRIPT:

MAIA SZALAVITZ: There are people who are trying to promote brain surgery for addiction using electrical stimulation of that area and it doesn’t work any better than methadone. And that’s not to say that methadone isn’t the most useful drug we currently have, but it does not involve invasive surgery. I should say methadone and buprenorphine, the opioid agonists, are the best treatments that we have for opioid addiction. And what they do is two things: The first thing is they cut the death rate by 50 percent, which is – this happens whether you continue using on top or not. So that’s pure harm reduction and that’s wonderful. If we can keep you alive long enough that you stabilize your life, that is a lot better than having you die. The other thing that they do is they allow people, who are ready, to stabilize their lives. So you couldn’t tell right now if I was on a maintenance treatment or not because basically once you get a tolerance to these drugs you are not high or impaired, and you can drive and you can work and you can love and you can do all of these things, but we don’t understand, we think, “Oh you’ve just substituted one addiction for another.” No, what you’ve done is you’ve substituted compulsive behavior despite negative consequences, and now you just have a physical dependence. And that’s not a real problem as long as you have a safe and legal supply.

I think the most important place to start is that addiction is a learning disorder; it’s not a sign that you’re a bad person. And if you want to have a safe and addiction-free, or at least lower level addiction, workplace or school, you want people to feel included and comfortable and safe and you don’t want this to be an adversarial thing. The research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion and empathy and support, and absolutely not tough love. There may be situations in which an employer has to fire somebody because their performance has just degraded so much that there’s no other option, but they shouldn’t think, “I’m doing them a favor by firing them, because that will make them hit bottom and it will help them.” Sometimes that happens, but sometimes they just go on to a life of homelessness and then die. So you can’t assume that creating extra-negative consequences is actually going to help a person with addiction. What you want to do is ally yourself with them and, presuming this is an employee that you want to keep, help them realize that this is not a sin. “I am not trying to control you. What I want to do is for you to be at your best – at work, at home. And you’re not being at your best right now, so what can we do to help?”

Well, I think the important way to start that conversation is to first not assume that a problem that you think might be drugs is drugs. The person could be having any number of mental illnesses, the person could be having, you know, there’s a million things that could look like oh you think they have a drug problem and there’s something else going on. So if you approach the person with respect and not assuming that you’re going to find a drug thing unless, obviously in some situations it’s completely obvious…

Read the full transcript at https://bigthink.com/videos/the-dos-and-donts-of-helping-a-drug-addicted-person-recover

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