Addiction & Socioeconomic Status

Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Addiction and Recovery | 0 comments

Addiction & Socioeconomic Status

Melissa is now a contributor for Reach Out Recovery Magazine.

The news of a Florida Congressman being arrested for cocaine possession inspired her first article, the content of which is below.

While some believe addiction does not cross certain socioeconomic (SES) lines, it does. Although news reports of drug-related activity tend to involve individuals of low SES, the prevalence of addiction among high SES is comparable.

So why is it we hear much less about these cases? The simplistic answer is, individuals of high SES have more resources available to them. While these resources may be used for residential rehabs, sober companions, intensive therapy, monitoring, and accountability, the flip side is these resources may also allow the individual to continue drug use past the point where someone of lower SES would have lost his or her job and only source of legal income, physical possessions, relationships, and experienced additional natural negative consequences of his or her choices. It is these consequences that often motivate those struggling with addiction to seek help.

Unfortunately, we humans tend to be motivated more by pain-avoidance than we are by pleasure-seeking. While substance use may enhance one’s sense of wellbeing for a time, it is the dislike of what one is feeling before substance use that leads them to seek mood alteration through a chemical. That mood alteration is sought again and again until the development of substance dependence, in which one uses the substance(s) in an attempt to feel “normal” — that is, not in withdrawal. It’s a biological and psychological disease, that is either supported or discouraged by one’s social environment.

The line between support and enabling is fine and vitally important. Ultimately, the distinction comes down to whether or not the behavior increases or decreases the likelihood of substance use. Support comes with expectations  and consequences that are enforced when expectations are not met. The distinction, at times, is not easy to distinguish, especially among those emotionally  involved with the one using drugs.

A client recently shared with me that she had given her daughter cash so she would not have to prostitute in order to buy heroin. As an outsider, it could be easy for you and me to judge her reasoning as blatantly faulty. However, this mother truly believed she was helping – supporting her daughter – keeping her from dangerous situations.

I engaged the mother in playing the scenario through. She readily identified that her daughter would use the cash to buy heroin. “But,” she said, “at least she won’t be tricking.” “So you bought your daughter heroin instead,” I said. “Well, no … but … yes, I guess you could say that,” she responded. I asked if buying her daughter heroin made it more or less likely her daughter would continue to shoot heroin into her veins. The mother’s head dropped. “At least she wouldn’t be tricking.”

This conversation was not easy. Addiction is not pretty. This mother was desperate to save her daughter, whom she loves dearly, and was willing to go to almost any length to do so. Yet the manner in which she had chosen to act was making it easier for her daughter’s IV heroin use to continue.

As we continued to explore how scenarios could play out, another fear she identified was of her daughter going to jail. While no mother would outright wish such a thing for her daughter, this mother was able to see that time in jail could be exactly what her daughter needed – in order to experience the natural consequences of her choices – in hopes that they could lead her to say she’s had enough and ask for help.

Another family complained that their son needed help for a drug problem. He’d been kicked out of 3 highly respected colleges, for drug related activity. Each time, the father had used his connections and substantial donations to persuaded another college to admit his son. Still, his son failed to accept responsibility, get help, and prioritize his education – the response his father wished each of his attempts would bring. In fact, at the time of this conversation, his son was off sailing the family boat to the Caribbean.

The family believed their son had a drug problem. The son did not. Both were correct. The son’s drug use was costing him valuable opportunities, however another comparable opportunity soon came his way – without any effort of his own. His family kept paying his way, supporting his lifestyle, and making it easy for him to continue to use cocaine, marijuana, and copious amounts of scotch. Financially and emotionally, the family was picking up the tab for the son’s drug use.

The first example involved a middle-class family. The second, a family of ultra-high net worth. On the one hand, prostitution and jail may stand in stark contrast to getting kicked out of college. Yet, both this daughter and this son were on the exact same path – the path of addiction, which without recovery, eventually leads to institutionalization or death. Addiction knows no socioeconomic barriers.

Support and enabling are two different things. When we’re emotionally involved, the difference is much harder to discern. Support is available for the loved ones of those who use drugs. Al Anon is the most well known. Counseling can also be a source of support for the loved one and assistance to help them support and not enable.

Addition is not pretty. It knows no socioeconomic barriers. It is a family disease.

Help is available. Recovery  — for the one using drugs and those who love him or her – is possible.

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