IT’S never easy telling someone you love that they have a problem - and even more so when something that started as a harmless pastime manifests itself as a full-blown addiction.
Staging an intervention is even harder. When is it the right time? How do we know they’ve hit rock bottom? Do we even have to wait till they reach the point of no return before finding them help?
All of these questions must have been going through Jennifer Garner’s mind this weekend when she was forced to take matters into her own hands and confront her ex, actor Ben Affleck, about his out-of-control drinking habits.
After seeing paparazzi pics of the dishevelled star taking delivery of a box of alcohol at his home, Garner literally dropped him at the gates of a rehabilitation facility in Malibu.
It’s a sad state of affairs, compounded by the fact that it’s being played out in the public eye.
The Batman actor, 46, is no stranger to alcohol addiction and checked himself into rehab on two separate occasions - in 2001 and 2017.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate when it comes to race, culture or socio-economic background. And yet certain people are more at risk when it comes to substance abuse.
“There are many factors that may make people vulnerable, including genetics, family background, mental health issues, work stress, financial pressure and relationship problems,” says Marna Acker, an occupational therapist at Akeso Clinic Nelspruit.
“These factors can make the person at risk value substance abuse as a coping mechanism, even though it is against their interest in the long term,” she says.
Acker also alludes to other factors such as depression, anxiety and lack of control.
Alcohol and painkillers (codeine) are listed among the worst substance offenders.
Alcohol abuse is costing the country as much as R37.9-billion annually. This is according to a 2014 study in the South African Medical Journal.
The numbers paint a grim picture, and yet, when it comes to alcohol abuse, it seems to be more socially accepted - the drug of choice for many South Africans.
“Alcohol is a freely available, licit, part of culture, traditions and events,” says Acker. “We are conditioned through advertising that says alcohol forms part of a certain kind of lifestyle and class.”
She refers to a recent study on the social aspects of alcohol abuse in South Africa. It noted that drinking is associated with being “a man” and is a social activity expected from certain groups like students.
This could be the reason why it takes longer for people to get help and go into treatment when compared to illicit drugs.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, men drink more than five standard glasses of alcohol a day, or more than 15 drinks a week on average.
Females consume more than four standard drinks a day or more than eight a week.
The medical complications of going over the required safe drinking measures (males: less than 14 units a week; females: less than eight a week) could result in a number of health risks, including liver diseases, pancreatic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal problems, neurological disorders and seizures.
Then there are the psychological risks: mood disorders, anxiety disorders, hallucinosis, psychosis, pathological jealousy (Othello Syndrome), sexual disorders, sleep disorders and dementia.
Acker stresses the need for family to be there for the addict - emotionally and physically.
“It is important for family members to get a professional to help with this process,” says.
It’s not easy to stage an intervention. She warns that many people are resistant because of denial, but during the treatment this might change. Persevere, don’t ignore the problem, and get professional help.
“Try not to enable the problem like giving them money or access to a substance. Try to avoid conflict about the problem, especially when they are intoxicated. But make sure that the member knows that their habit is unacceptable.”
If a family member has a long- standing history of severe substance abuse and refuses treatment, a court order can be issued to get them placed in involuntary treatment. This process, however, can be traumatic for the user and the family. A social worker can be contacted to help with this process.
“Lastly, have boundaries, be consistent, don’t let them manipulate you and know that sometimes it is necessary to practise tough love to protect you and your family,” she says.
Psychiatrist Dr Eugene Allers says experts should look at addiction as a medical condition requiring multi-disciplinary interventions.
“Sobriety is no longer the only measure of success, rather the ability of the patient to be free of illicit drugs, and functional.”