One month after Blake* gave up alcohol and Ritalin, he hurt his back on the job and was prescribed an opiate for pain. “The addict in me was looking for something else I could legitimately justify,” and this prescription primed the pump. A year or so later, when the back pain flared again, Blake began abusing opiates – buying pills off the street and justifying his use because of the pain.
After about two years of this, Blake realized he was right back in the same situation he had been with Ritalin and alcohol. He wanted to quit the opiates but could not tolerate the physiological withdrawal. A friend recommended he try Suboxone, a medication that occupies opiate receptors in the brain, so withdrawal symptoms are lessened. After trying his friend’s Suboxone for awhile, Blake obtained his own prescription through a doctor. He was relieved to be able to stop the opiate abuse and looks forward to a time when he can get the support he needs to deal with the “mental strife” of completing the Suboxone taper. For now, he’s grateful that it helps him function as a father, husband, and family business member.
Blake wishes the medical profession would be more attentive to the abuse potential of prescription opiates and stop prescribing them “like candy.” However, he has never spoken to his back doctor about his own experience of getting addicted to the opiates prescribed. He says this is because it is not the doctor’s fault that he abused them, but I would suggest that is exactly the point. Even well-meaning doctors can inadvertently contribute to the problem of prescription drug abuse.
In the nine years since Blake stopped abusing alcohol and Ritalin, and the five years since he stopped abusing opiates, the family business has done nothing overt to help safeguard itself against the impact of addiction or to use family business involvement as a privilege to help support recovery. When asked what recommendation Blake would make to other family businesses that are impacted by addiction — in family members or non-family employees — Blake suggested they educate themselves on addiction and be compassionate toward those experiencing it. “Share what you have observed that causes concern and offer to support them to get help. If the individual is unwilling to receive help, offer consequences to help them realize the reality of their choices.” Blake also suggests they take steps to protect the business but is not specific as to what such safeguards might include.
This missed opportunity at the family business level is not surprising in light of his family’s response on a personal level. Blake said the only things his parents knew to do was to tell him to “say no” and use scare tactics to entice him to quit. “Scare tactics don’t work on addicts,” he said. “We learn by consequences.” If someone had been able to help him recognize the consequences of his use sooner, he wonders if the addiction might have been shortened by a few years. Nevertheless, he takes full responsibility for his choices and their results.
Blake is now a dad himself. He and his wife have 5 children between them. He has been intentional to educate his children about addiction. He wants to convey caution without seeding thoughts that because their dad used substances, it is okay for them to use, too. He also shies away from admitting there were times when substance use was fun.
Blake’s approach to education focuses on the negative consequences he experienced and setting clear expectations about choices. He also works to foster open communication, so the children know they can come to him with any questions. He promises not to judge. He also promises not to stick his head in sand. His family is a very important part of his recovery. They give him purpose and help him remember what’s important.
When I asked Blake his personal definition of addiction, he described it as “an uncontrollable desire,” “an urge to partake in something that you know you probably shouldn’t be doing,” “a mindset,” and “a mental struggle.” He describes recovery as an ongoing process, which requires him to be very conscious of his decisions. Gratefully, his wife is familiar with the signs of substance abuse, and Blake says she would have no hesitation to confront him if she has suspicions.
In the three parts of this article, Blake has walked us through his personal experiences of addiction and recovery. Hopefully readers have noticed the opportunities that were missed — to educate, intervene, and protect — and will act on these when someone they know exhibits warning signs of addiction. Hopefully readers have also seen that even when earlier opportunities were missed, recovery is still possible. It is always possible. Each day is an opportunity to begin again. Recovery is available for an individual, a family, and a family business. It takes intention as to one’s choices. It also requires education and support. Safeguards against relapse are just as vital as safeguards to prevent. Don’t let missed opportunities discourage you from doing today what you can — to prevent, to intervene, and to protect yourself and those you love.
* While Blake was very generous to share his story for public use, to protect his privacy, his name has been changed.