Addiction and the Family

WebMD Live Events Transcript

As the daughter of former First Lady Betty Ford, Susan Ford Bales knows firsthand how addiction can affect a family. Now a spokesperson for the Betty Ford Center, Bales and Nancy Waite-O'Brien, PhD, vice president of Clinical Services at the Betty Ford Center, joined us on March 16.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, ladies. Thank you for joining us today. What is the first step you should take if you feel that a family member is abusing or is addicted to a substance?

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
My suggestion is to start gathering information, and that might be from a local council on alcoholism and other drug abuse, or a treatment center. I suggest that the person also goes to Al-Anon because it's easy to get confused about what's likely to happen with the increased confusion and chaos around somebody else's addiction.

FORD BALES:
Al-Anon is also a support system while trying to figure out what they are going to do and how to go about it.

MODERATOR:
The Betty Ford Center offers programs not only for the patients, but for children and families that are touched by alcoholism or drug addiction. Can you tell us a little bit about why these programs are so important for family members?

FORD BALES:
One of the reasons we have all the programs is that the entire family needs to be treated; it doesn't affect just the patient but all of the family members. The important part of the children's program is that it treats children from ages 7 to 12 who are living in a house with an alcoholic or dependant person. That age group carries a lot of burdens: "I didn't get an A, that's why Mom drinks", etc. So, they need to be treated differently than an adult.

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
We found that when the family gets help, the likelihood the person stays sober for a long period of time increases significantly. When the disease is active, everyone is affected. So when recovery begins, it's best that everyone is involved. That includes spouse, children, and parents.

"About half of the people that come into our center have been in treatment before. So what we know is that there's a distinct possibility that a person will experience relapse. We recommend that they keep working on it, to keep seeking help, and for the family to continue to be supportive."

MODERATOR:
Are children of addicted parents at a higher risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are other children?

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
There's evidence that there's a genetic link, particularly between mothers who are alcoholic and their children. The likelihood that a child becomes an alcoholic or addicted increases also because of what they observe. If they see their parents drinking or using, and that's how they problem solve, that's what the child will learn to do.

MEMBER QUESTION:
My brother in law is an alcoholic and continues to fall off the wagon; it's discouraging for us and I'm sure for him as well. Do most people recover on the first or second try? Should we all be saying something to him when we know he's been drinking?

FORD BALES:
Recently I've read in IDA [Information on Drug and Alcohol] that with most people, it takes four times of treatment before they get it. Relapse is a part of the disease, but don't give up. Keep trying.

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
About half of the people that come into our center have been in treatment before. So what we know is that there's a distinct possibility that a person will experience relapse. We recommend that they keep working on it, to keep seeking help, and for the family to continue to be supportive. The second part of the person's question -- maybe don't talk to him when he's drunk, but certainly right afterwards.