Is There an Addiction Problem?
I was having dinner with a group of friends and one of them began asking me questions about a “friend of his” whose son was having substance use issues. This friend is a highly respected medical doctor. The next morning, I got a call from him and, no surprise, he confided that the “friend” was indeed him. He said that his son was heavily using cocaine and alcohol every day and that he was experiencing seizures. He asked, “Do you think that my son has a substance use problem?” This may seem like a bizarre question. But denial, fear and a lack of understanding of what addiction is often obscures the disease, even if the parent is a doctor. Most people just don’t know what defines addiction.
Early on, I thought Stevie’s behavior could be teenager rebellion. Maybe his binge drinking was due to some other problem? Was he just hanging out with the wrong crowd? Would he grow out of it? Like most parents, I didn’t really know until my son’s addiction was so severe and scary that it was obvious that we had to take-action.
Research shows that forty percent of people with addiction do not know that they have the problem. In my experience, denial or lack of understanding among parents and caregivers is even higher.
During my fellowship program, I took graduate level classes on addiction in Public Health, Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience. In nearly every class, the lessons referred to this thing called DSM 5. One day I sat there and thought to myself, “What is this DSM 5?”
I looked it up and found that DSM 5 is the American Psychiatric Association’s gold-standard diagnostic for addiction. It has eleven simple “yes or no” behavioral questions that define whether there is no problem or mild, moderate or severe addiction. This diagnostic cuts through the denial and clarifies whether there is a problem and if yes, how big. These questions take one-minute to complete.
I immediately took the test for my son as if he were sixteen again with the symptoms that he displayed at the time. It turns out that he didn’t have a mild problem, he had severe addiction to alcohol. He had ten of eleven symptoms!
My ability to make parenting decisions for my son would have been so much easier if I had known that he absolutely had this disease and needed treatment.
Is there an addiction problem? Please spend one-minute and find out using the DSM 5 diagnostic below. If there is a mild, moderate or severe substance use issue, Blog 4 will help direct next steps.