04/14/05 — Recovering addicts need to become functional, mental health group told

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Recovering addicts need to become functional, mental health group told

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on April 14, 2005 1:45 PM

Whether people are being treated for mental illness, a substance-abuse problem or both, the bottom line, says a Raleigh therapist, is that that they need help to become functional.

"No one wakes up one morning wanting to have an addiction, be depressed or have a mental illness," said Dr. Grover Hall, a substance abuse counselor at Shaw University. "The issue is what do we do on the first day to treat it?"

That's the question Hall asked members of the Wayne County Mental Health Association Wednesday during their monthly "Lunch and Learn" session. The seminar was held at the county school administrative offices on Royall Avenue.

Hall said there are many kinds of addictions, including alcohol, eating, and gambling.

"Even church can be a little suspect at times and become addicting," Hall said. "Addictions affect people physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually."

And, he said, after some people beat their addictions, they run into other problems.

"If we have a person that has an IQ of 66 and is drinking, we have to first get them sober," he said. But after they quit drinking, it's up to the mental health professional to make sure they learn the skills needed to deal with everyday life.

And an addiction, or mental illness, affects not only the person but their family as well, he noted.

"It can be like the elephant in the living room if people try to ignore it," Hall said.

Families, he said, usually follow a predictable pattern. First it starts with someone that has a problem and denies it, or wants to keep it secret. They pair up with a person that knows they have issues, but goes along with them, the "co-dependent."

The addicted person and the co-dependent usually try to expand the group. With couples, that often takes the form of a new baby.

The child serves as the "family hero," Hall said. The hero is expected to become the adult, in charge of the situation. The role of a second child is usually that of a scapegoat, Hall said. As a result, second chilidren often develop behavioral problems.

Every time a crisis erupts, Hall said, it becomes harder to hide the secret, so the family continues to expand.

The third child, Hall said, is the "lost child." The next is "the clown, the mascot, the baby." All of these family members, he said, make up the "family trap," so that when the person with the "secret" finally gets treatment, the family must also be treated.

"Everyone has issues now," he said. "The family needs to be prepared for the re-entry of the secret into their lives and give them an opportunity to heal together."

The next step is to make sure that the person in treatment receives the necessary skills to avoid falling back into the trap. If the addicted person is still unable to keep job, even after straightening out his or her life, then they often wonder what was the point in trying to get better.

"If we take something away, then we have to give something back," he said. "If they don't know how to read or write, teach them."