Observations from the Front Line: Working with addiction

Many times I’ve seen people with a drug overdose being dumped in the parking bay of hospitals where I’ve worked. That is really being on the front line of working with addiction. Sometimes their lives can be saved, but sometimes not.  If they are lucky enough to be saved, they will be given the opportunity to be put in touch with a local rehab program.  Sadly, they often decline this offer and disappear into the night to face an unknown fate.

However, it is not fair to blame an addict for their behavior, or for not wanting to try to change. They do what they do because of the intense and overwhelming need they have to keep feeding their addiction.

Once an addiction is established, rational decision-making, sensible choices, and what non-addicts see as ‘desirable’ behavior is largely out of that person’s control. Their thoughts and actions are dictated by their intense need to satisfy their addiction.

They justify their behavior to themselves with arguments that are really excuses. This is what we all do when we want to continue doing something that we know we shouldn’t be doing, such as smoking, or eating too much when we are already overweight.  It’s understandable. It’s human nature.

Unfortunately, no one can force anyone to undergo rehabilitation, unless it’s a condition of release from the criminal justice system, or they are thought to be suicidal.   I say it’s unfortunate because evidence from studies shows that Recovery is still possible, even if the person does not enter rehab from choice.

In one way, overdose victims who survive, are lucky on two counts: they are alive, and they have also accidently come into contact with the health system.  This gives them the chance to get the professional help they need.

It’s a great pity when they choose to refuse that offer.  But it’s their choice, and health professionals have to accept that.  It’s not so easy for their family and friends to accept that.

When families arrive at the hospitals to find their relatives, their pain and distress is plain to see.  Unfortunately, this pain and distress is often also a part of every day of their lives, because they live with someone with an addiction.

Generally they have no security because people with addictions are usually unreliable, and often cannot be trusted.  And this applies to all addictions, not only drug addiction. It is very hard on the families.

People who have an addiction are usually very hard to like, or feel sympathy for.  This is an unfortunate fact about addiction.  It’s because their behavior and attitude is often difficult, aggressive and ‘unreasonable’ from a non-addicts point of view.

It’s actually much easier for health professionals to deal with addicts in a respectful way than it is for family and friends.   For family and friends it is always personal, and also an on-going daily traumatic experience.

Health professionals have the advantage of a more objective point of view, with no personal emotional involvement with the addict.  This can also make the addict more likely to talk to you, and listen to what you say.

I always feel sad when someone runs away from Emergency, or refuses the help that’s offered, because it may be the last and best chance they have of turning their lives around.

There are many reasons why someone with an addiction refuses the help that is offered when an overdose has accidentally put them in touch with an opportunity to change their lives.

One reason is the belief that nothing will ever help, and reaching out for help would be useless anyway.  This is because they themselves can’t see how they can beat their addiction, so they believe that it’s not possible. But it is.

One of the challenges for family, friends and health professionals is to inspire a belief that recovery can in fact, be achieved, and that no situation is ever completely hopeless: that although it might look hopeless to the addict themselves, it is still possible to be given help and to achieve Recovery.

Once in a rehabilitation program, treatment is co-ordinated to manage any physical and mental health problems that might be associated with their addiction.  They will also undergo supervised withdrawal if they are addicted to drugs of any sort.

Individual and group counseling will explore the underlying causes of each individual’s addiction, and teach ways to understand how what we think and feel, causes us to act in certain ways which might not be desirable, or in our best interests.

Recovery from an addiction can only happen when the person involved decides they want to change. It is a decision that only they can make.

A rehabilitation program uses many ways to encourage this decision to be made, and then to build up the understanding, self-knowledge and the self-confidence to believe that the change can be done, and done successfully.

No situation is ever hopeless.   

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Observations from the Front Line: Working with addiction — 16 Comments

    • Thanks Amalia, it’s a pleasure. I’m glad you are finding the information here, helpful.

      It’s often difficult to ‘reach’ people with an addiction, so if I can provide information and support to anyone who has concern about any aspect of addiction, that’s what this website is for.

      Families of people with an addiction have a really hard life too, so I want to offer them support and information as well.

      I’ll be adding more articles on the Science of Addiction, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rehab, Recovery, risk factors, myths about addiction, and the biggest hurdle of all: How to Make a Difficult Decision, all in the near future.

      And that’s just a start!


    • I’m glad you find it interesting, Tuan. I’ve been busy with organizing this new site lately so my uploading has been a bit slow, but I have lots of articles in the pipeline and will be publishing them regularly.

      If there is anything in particular you’d like information on, just ask and I’ll reply to your questions, and that goes for everyone.


    • Thanks Neil. I will be adding new posts as fast as I can.

      I do a lot of research, rewrites and re-checking before posting – I want to be sure that everything is really up to date, informative and as perfect as I can make it. That means they take more time to write and post, but for me, it’s important that I do that.

      Frankly, the sorts of readers who are likely to be interested in these topics deserve to be given accurate information, and not whatever someone with little experience decides to post online.

      These topics are too important in real people’s lives to be anything less than the best I can do.


  1. I wish more guys would write posts like this that are actually interesting to read and not boring like many others. With all the fluff floating around on the web, it is rare to read a blog like yours instead.keep updating your blog. thx!

    • Thanks Dan, I’m glad you want info and not fluff – I have to agree with you, there’s a lot of it about.


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