Thursday, November 18, 2010


Mitch, a friend of mine, entered treatment for alcoholism. This totally caught me off guard. I noticed that he had glassy slightly unfocused eyes a couple times this summer and smelled alcohol issuing from him one time, a couple weeks ago. I never thought that he might be abusing alcohol. We were going to go out for lunch this week and one topic I wanted to discuss was how to cope with stress. Alas, I now know how he dealt with that issue and whatever else was bothering him.

A high school friend, Sally, learned that her husband was an alcoholic after she married him. He didn’t tell her a lot of things, such as having a vasectomy since he had a hereditary form of muscular dystrophy. She was profoundly disappointed but he agreed to get treatment and if he could maintain sobriety for two years, they were going to adopt or procure sperm from a donor. Jerry went through treatment several times but could never kick alcoholism. The disease had rewired his brain and body. Unfortunately, the story has a very sad ending because he had an accident and died while intoxicated. Sally has remarried but she still misses Jerry.

I hope that Mitch does not meet the sad fate of Jerry. From what I have observed, addiction is complicated and each person is unique as to what caused it to occur. I don’t think that Mitch has a family history of substance abuse. I know that he used marijuana in his 20s but I don’t know if he continued using it. He had bleeding stomach ulcers from over-use of aspirin about eight years ago, which was probably an indication of substance issues.

I have worked with people who have SPMI, serious and persistent mental health, meaning that the symptoms are serious enough to interfere with their quality of life and last for more than one year. It is normal for everyone to experience ups and downs but SPMI means that the roller-coaster of emotions and thoughts are overwhelming. Some folks use chemicals to reduce symptoms or quiet the effects of the roller-coaster. By the time they figure out its SPMI, they have to deal with CD, chemical dependency too. I think that some people stumble into substance abuse because they are too young or cavalier to realize that it is addictive, especially when they are in their teens and twenties. I don’t know what caused Mitch to abuse the substance. Obviously, he was using alcohol to deal with something but it might be physical pain, psychological pain or a combination. The cause doesn’t matter, only how to help him maintain sobriety.

Mitch doesn’t emote very much and is difficult to engage in conversation. I am a bit perplexed about how to support his sobriety, beyond not drinking alcohol in his presence. We were never “drinking buddies”. Our group of mutual friends is more interested in chatting and eating than drinking. We might get a buzz at a party, but alcohol hasn’t been the focus since we were in college. I will search for an Al-Anon meeting in my area to be prepared when he is released from treatment.

Any advice about how to support his sobriety would be appreciated.
NOTE: Names are changed to protect their confidentiality.
© 2010

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