Jeff VanVonderen from 'Intervention' talks about alcohol and prescription drug abuse
Jeff VanVonderen, an interventionist and former counselor known for his appearances on "Intervention," A&E's Emmy award-winning documentary series about addicts, recently spoke in Orlando at a town hall meeting.
He sat down with the Orlando Sentinel to talk about drug and alcohol addiction and the nation's prescription-drug epidemic.
Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about addiction?
A. People think it's just a matter of willpower. That if you just try a little harder you can stop the addiction. Using is a matter of will. But once you cross the line into addiction, I think then you have a disease, and it's not just a matter of stopping using.
Q. What are the biggest signs someone has a drug or alcohol addiction that people miss the most?
A. I think the reason people miss the signs at all is because they're not paying attention.
Q. Is there a difference between prescription drug addiction, alcohol addiction, or other illicit drug addictions? If so, what are the differences?
A. From my standpoint, there is no difference. For me, the addiction is the same and the chemical that they're using is a fill-in-the-blank. But the difference is there are some substances where people get physically addicted like opiates and alcohol….Drugs like pot for instance, or cocaine, or things like that they don't get so physically addicted but you get mood addicted. You get addicted to the phenomenon of mood altering.
Q. Is there anything unique about prescription drug addiction that makes it easier or more difficult for people to overcome?
A. One of the main rationalizations for people who are addicted to prescription medication is that they got it from the doctor, so it must be ok. When you get into the situation where someone is actually addicted, they're no longer taking it like the doctor prescribed.
Q. What's the worst thing to do when someone has an addition?
A. Ignore it. In an addictive situation…the rule, and this rule is established by the addict over and over again, is the problem's not the problem — you're the problem for talking about the problem. There wouldn't even be a problem if you didn't make such a big deal about it. And then people buy into that and they stop confronting, stop talking about it. They don't take steps to help….they feel like somehow they're in the wrong.
Q. What's the best thing to do?
A. Holding people accountable….The best thing is to not ignore the problem. The best thing is to not act like talking about it causes it. You need to remember the problem is always the problem. Talking about the problem is not the problem.
Q. How can you approach the family of a friend who is suffering from addiction?
A. People deal with the small picture of addiction, which is how do we put out the latest fire this person started? How do we smooth over the latest crisis? Treat the addict the same as you would a friend. Families give the addict, their loved one, a license to be less accountable, less responsible than they would an enemy. Family members are supposed to be more safe, more accountable, more responsible than friends, neighbors, strangers and enemies. But the whole thing flips upside down.
Q. Is battling an addiction a life-long process?
A. I think it is. There are some addicts who don't have cravings anymore and it's not an issue that they struggle with everyday. But I think that it is because if an addict ever asks a substance to do for them, what they once asked it to do, it will. Most addicts that I know, they'd say, they cannot guarantee that every time they'll start using, they will stop. So they don't start.
Q. How long does it take to develop an addiction?
A. I know people that would say that they were addicted the moment they started using. Then I know other people who maybe drank successfully without consequence for 30 years. No big deal — an appropriate social drinker. Then their wife died and six months later they lost everything. Because on that day they changed the reason why they drank…. It's different for different people.
Q. Have you seen anything like the prescription drug epidemic facing the country today?
A. I think the prescription drug epidemic is getting worse and worse. I think that with how much money there is to be made and how easy it is to make it…And also how uneducated the medical profession is.
1:58 p.m. EST, April 6, 2012|By Amy Pavuk, Orlando Sentinel