Being the artist manager, or boss – or in pretty much any relationship with someone suffering from alcoholism, addiction, mental or emotional issues, is incredibly difficult. Recognising the symptoms, knowing what to do and detaching yourself from the situation can be almost impossible. The potential ramifications of confronting the issue can seem frightening. Here is an article by well respected therapist Virgina Graham on how to approach an individual who you think may have a problem:
‘American businesses lose a total of $140 billion a year to employee drug and alcohol problems. Yet most companies have trouble recognising addiction and even more difficulty knowing what to do about it’. (Debra Jay, 2006).
Approaching using addicts with a desire to point out to them the error of their ways is indeed a most fraught occupation – and sometimes not a successful one. Yet the unmanageability created in the workplace by active addiction sometimes demands a response.
Though it’s easy to feel a sense of righteous indignation at the problems active addiction inevitably causes in the work place – this is not a helpful attitude with which to approach the addict. Most people if feeling attacked or criticised shut down – in a number of fairly creative ways. They become so intent on protecting themselves that they will not be able to hear what is being said. Thus the initial approach is vital, and needs to be handled with sensitivity, regard (yes!) and respect. (For clarity let me call the individual who has decided to intervene the interventionist). The interventionist needs to find in themselves compassion, acceptance and like for the addict in addition to a genuine desire to help. The interventionist needs to put his/her disgruntled perhaps even angry self to the side. Anger and disgruntlement are not positive aides to communication – and this is what this exercise is potentially all about – clear communication expressing to the addict that it has been observed all is not well. Thus the interventionist needs to be really clear about his/her objectives, it is not to let off steam, ridicule, shame or punish. The objective need to be absolutely clear, there is a problem, it has been observed and there is help available. Now is not the time for personal attack or resentment.
So once the interventionist has the above clear in his/her head, the conversation can begin – remember if you’re coming from a good place this will be sensed by the addict, and the likelihood that you will be properly heard is far greater. I suggest starting the conversation very simply – so something along the lines of ‘I am feeling worried. /anxious/concerned’ is good. Remember you will not get anywhere if you pass judgement – you are responsible for how you (the interventionist) feel about this situation, they are your feelings – no one else’s. Do not bring in other names or persons not present to bolster your argument – this is shaming and frightening for the addict. Stick to you – what you feel, and what you need to say. I usually advise getting the conversation into a two-way process asap. So a question might help – how are you? Has life been difficult and so on. This prevents the dreaded lecture which addicts have usually had too much experience of. Also the process may be quite a nerve wracking one for the addict, and being talked at is never pleasant. You are two equals having a conversation – do remember this. Also it may be a tricky process, and the interventionist may be nervous as well and, if left speaking alone for too long may become repetitive, guilty, or even apologetic and justify all that is said. Any of these processes will not help effective conversation – so remember a two-way chat is the desired outcome.
Hopefully with a bit of work and genuine concern the addict will start to relax, and open up – even just a little. Play for time, listen intently and do not be too quick to jump in with a solution. This may feel controlling and/or patronising to the addict. Really focus, and hear what is being said. Make the potential change/recovery venture a mutual one – so the addict does feel too alone – we all know what a lonely place addiction is. Once you have both established there is a problem – mull it over with addict – and perhaps ask them if they have any ideas/solution to the problem. Hopefully they might – if not you can play these one or two ways. You can suggest a treatment, counselling or assessment option. Assessment sometimes feels like the least threatening option. Or you could arrange a follow up chat – saying something along the lines of you need to have a think about the best way forward/is there any help in particular the addicts feel they need and so on. Thoughtful, unrushed, and relaxed chat is the name of the game at this point.
This short article offers some most general suggestions, if you’re still struggling may I use this opportunity to point out the wonderful and most practical support offered by al-anon and coda twelve step programmes.
Alternatively call the support line for some practical help and advice.
Virginia Graham is a practicing addiction therapist.