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An Interview with Laurence Westreich, MD on Helping Families Help Addicted Members

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 2nd 2007

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Laurence WestreichDr. Westreich offers an overview of current thinking regarding addiction treatment in the United States, and of the ideas present in his recent book aimed at helping families understand how to best help their addicted members. Addiction involves compulsive and out of control use of substances past the point in time when it becomes clear that use has become problematic. Addiction warps judgement and addicts may end up in denial about the severity of their use, meaning that they may literally not understand how bad things have gotten. Addicts naturally hide their use. Family members should be nosy when behavior changes become apparent which may indicate addiction problems.

The traditional advice offered to family members has been to use "tough love", but Dr. Westreich fears that too many families emphasize the "tough" over the "love". He recommends that families use a combination of creative engagement and constructive cohersion to push addicted members into treatment. Threats and ultimatums are less helpful, he suggests, than are multiple and lovingly delivered confrontations that continually push the addicted family member towards obtaining treatment. At the same time, boundaries must be set to keep the addict from harming family members (physically, emotionally, financially, etc.) Dr. Westreich's book offers various dialogs that work though typical ways that such confrontations can be offered, typical ways that addicts respond, and good arguments family members can make back to help keep the addict on track towards treatment.

Dr. Westreich is optimistic about addicts' recovery potential and offers stories from his experience to the effect that many addicts can and do recover with proper treatment. He finds the recovery process to be inspiring and joyful to watch. His take home advice to families: "Never lose hope. Don't stop trying."

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About Laurence Westreich

Laurence Westreich

Laurence M. Westreich, M.D. is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of patients dually diagnosed with addiction and mental disorders. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in general psychiatry, holds a certificate of added qualifications on addiction psychiatry, and is certified as an addiction specialist by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Dr. Westreich is associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, and serves as the consultant on drugs of abuse to Major League Baseball. He is the author of "Helping The Addict You Love: The New Effective Program For Getting The Addict Into Treatment".

Reader Comments
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Tough Love Doesn't Work; it hurts - "The Addict" - Jan 10th 2010

I'm an addict and my mother uses "tough love" on me and it simply doesn't work.  I've admitted I'm an addict, I go to meetings everyone once and a while, I don't use... though regardless of my efforts, I feel as though my mother is still hurt from the past and uses "tough love" in the form of distancing herself from me.  The form of tough love: passive aggressive silent treament.  I wish mother would just support me in a loving way; I'm hurting enough inside and I don't need it.  Staying sober is not enough I guess.  "Tough love" just reminds the addict of all the bad things and never the good things.  I know I've hurt people, I know can be scary at times, but "tough love" is emotional abuse to an addict.  If the addict is being honest with themselves, hitting a meeting every so often and not using (or drinking!) then can't a mother just let it go and appreciate their child's efforts to stay/get well?

Husband in denial - Mel - Dec 25th 2008

Im new to all of this as I have just uncovered what I know in my heart is my husbands drug addiction. After stealing $15,000 of our family money I began snooping at his phone messages and found much talk suggesting drug addiction at a rate of hundreds of dollars per day. The hardest, most infuriating part of this is his TOTAL DENIAL of any drug use despite the fact that he shows all symptoms and has no explanation for all of the evidence that is so clear. Has anyone else experienced this and did the person ever admit a problem and get help. I told my husband he can not come home to our family until he admits a problem. Help! I feel so alone and desperate!

Great conversation - Alene Archer - Jul 5th 2007

I stumbled upon this podcast and very much appreciated the conversation between Dr. Van Nuys and Dr. Westreich. As the mother of a meth addict, I would have liked to hear more about this specific problem.

I understand that the principles of addiction are the same no matter what the substance, but methamphetamine is an insidious drug. My son, currently in the midst of a significant 7-month relapse, has been struggling with this addiction off and on (mostly on) for 14 years. It has been difficult to remain hopeful through some of those years, and I did appreciate Dr. Wesstreich's admonition "not to give up hope" or keep trying.

I've started a blog for mothers and families of addicts and will definitely link to this podcast, which I'm sure will serve as encouragement for other families as well.

Alene Archer

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