When most people think of an alcoholic, they think of a derelict man in a dirty overcoat, sleeping on a park bench, clutching a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. And likewise, they picture a drug addict with dirty hair, covered in sores, with an addiction problem injecting himself in a public toilet.
But nothing could be further from the truth. While these images depict extreme cases, they do more to reinforce negative stereotypes that bolster society’s denial to the extent to which alcohol and drug addiction is pervasive within our communities. In reality the majority of people with alcoholism and drug addiction problems are employed and still very much a part of their families and communities. In fact today you are more likely to find an alcoholic in a boardroom than in Joubert Park.
Since the change in government, which brought about so much freedom for our society and for the individual, South Africa has been specifically targeted by the international drug cartels. Our streets have been flooded with cheap and readily available drugs — the sections of our community, who in the past did not have the financial resources to use, have been targetedand now we have a severe addiction problem.
Because we, as South Africans, live in a time of great change and turmoil, many people find themselves turning to drugs and alcohol to alleviate the stresses of modern living. From the account executive using cocaine to the matric student taking ecstasy to the housewife drinking every afternoon, the devastating effect of a pathological relationship with alcohol or drugs ruins lives — not only of the addicted, but also their loved ones, friends and colleagues.
Studies show that one in 10 people across all socio-economic and cultural boundaries will suffer from chemical dependency in one form or another in their lifetime. These are your friends, your family members, your colleagues, your neighbours — whether you find yourself in Sandton, Soweto, Lenasia or Krugersdorp.
However, the stigma attached to alcoholics and drug addicts is re-enforced by our own lack of education about addiction and the perpetuation of these outdated stereotypes. Still people believe that someone with an addiction problem needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps, garner his will and simply decide to stop drinking or using. But realistically these efforts of will, however well-intentioned, are unlikely to result in long-term change.
While it is true that left to their own devices alcoholics and drug addicts are likely to drink themselves to death or abuse drugs so badly that they end up overdosing and dying. It is also true that 60% of these people will overcome their addiction. Experience has taught us that the choice is never to drink or not to drink, to use or not to use, but rather to drink or get help, to use or get help.
Alcoholism and other drug addictions are chaotic processes in which individuals seem to stagger from one avoidable crisis to the next. At times it is possible for the consequences of their addiction to contrive a situation where the continued use of alcohol and/or drugs seems so painful that the addicted have what has become known as “moments of clarity”. It is in these moments when the afflicted reach their lowest, or “rock bottom”, that they can finally start to access the help they so desperately need.
Watching someone you know and care about battle with an addiction problem has been compared with watching a slow-moving car accident. You can see the impact coming and can almost predict the devastation of the crash, but are completely helpless and powerless to prevent this tragedy from occurring.
These feelings of helplessness, experienced by loved ones of the addicted, often manifest in paralysis and denial on the part of the onlookers, which, in turn, allows addiction to continue unabated.
It has long been recognised that these moments of clarity and crisis can be achieved through an intervention process. A formal intervention takes the form of a facilitated meeting of all parties involved — friends, family, colleagues — meeting the alcoholics or addict to confront them and their addiction problem.
It is often as a result of this action on the part of the family members or loved ones that the addicted can finally receive the help they know they require for the addiction problem.
In the past 10 years treatment of addiction has become more accessible and effective. Although there have been a number of unfortunate incidents involving inhumane treatment of clients at unlicensed treatment centres, the majority of new centres in South Africa offer professional and well-managed programmes.
Professional treatment goes a long way towards helping the addicts or alcoholics reclaim their lives. At Houghton House the role of treatment professionals is to motivate the alcoholics or addicts to address their problems honestly.
The focus of treatment at our centre is dismantling the denial mechanisms that prop up the addictive process. Patients are allowed to take responsibility for their situation and offer a new abstinence-based solution to lifeand the addiction problem.
Private treatment can seem expensive, but not as compared to a life of addiction, crime and deprivation. Medical aids are starting to recognise the benefits of treating addiction and alcoholism directly, as opposed to under the guise of depression or other psychiatric problems.
Many medical aids contribute towards the overall cost of treatment. Realistically, however, the financial cost of treatment pales when compared with the many costs of continued alcohol and drug use.
At Houghton House patients are treated with the dignity, care and empathy that they deserve to help them to re-establish a more positive self-image that is fundamental to overcoming their problem.
Should you or someone you know be struggling with alcoholism or an addiction problem and require information or assistance, contact Houghton House
011 787 9142 or our 24 hour helpline +27 79 7707532 (international)