I recently read Anthony Kiedis’ biography, “Scar Tissue,” and it gave me a deeper glimpse into the dark world of addiction. Kiedis is the frontman and co-founder of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, a funk-rock band that’s been around since the early 80’s. I knew that Kiedis struggled with addiction, but until reading his book, I had no idea about how severe it was. Given my appreciation for their music and the fact that I deal with addictions in my clinical practice, I had to pick up the book. It was a great read, and it gave me a few insights that I wanted to share.
- Early alcohol and drug use puts you at-risk for addiction in adulthood. At the age of 11, Anthony’s father was already giving him drugs to experiment with. Introducing drugs and alcohol before puberty greatly increases a person’s likelihood for developing addiction in adulthood. I see it regularly in my practice. Some of the toughest cases I have in the area of addictions (whether the goal is complete abstinence or harm reduction) are with clients who’s use began when they were in their early teens or pre-teens. Also, the fact that Anthony’s father is the one who gave him the drugs is another significant factor in putting someone at-risk for addiction. Research shows that parental attitudes, and parental use, of alcohol and drugs influences the child’s attitudes towards these substances when they get older. In Anthony’s case, his father gave him illicit substances (usually a sedative or hallucinogen) so that he could experience the feeling of being high or inebriated. This is absolutely the wrong message to send a young child, not to mention that it is also a form of child abuse.
- It may take several attempts at rehabilitation before someone gets clean. There were several interventions in Kiedis’ life by concerned family and friends, all urging him to seek help. However, after he sought help and entered rehabilitation centres, he started using a few months, and in some cases a few days, after leaving the rehab program. One of the encouraging signs, though, was that the more often he entered rehab, the longer his periods of sobriety lasted. Also, his binging episodes decreased in duration the more often he entered treatment. The lesson here is that sometimes it’s not one particular treatment program that will lead to abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Instead, it’s the combination of several attempts at rehabilitation.
- Emotional pain can be a major trigger for relapse. One of the things Kiedis realized through treatment was how the ending of a relationship triggered his use of drugs. Kiedis had many relationships, and whenever he ended a relationship, he felt guilt and confusion. He would then use drugs to escape these feelings. One of the goals in treatment is for the addict to learn how to sit with their discomfort and work through these feelings. Masking these feelings with drugs does not allow the person to learn or heal from the situations that triggers substance use, and can in fact stunt their emotional development even further.
- Encourage the addict to get help, but don’t shame them. One of the messages repeated in this book was how guilty and ashamed Kiedis felt after every relapse. He recognized that he hurt, disappointed, and betrayed those closest to him. But, the pull towards drugs outmuscled his ability to empathize and change. But, Kiedis sought treatment because the people around him continually pushed him to do so. It’s natural to feel disappointed and hurt when someone you love or care about breaks their promise of sobriety and then relapses. However, after reading about Kiedis’ experiences at relapse, I realize now that the user feels a great deal of shame and guilt for failing to live up to their promise. Adding more shame through your criticisms only pushes them deeper into addiction.
It’s normal to feel helpless when you are the addict, or when you are the loved one of an addict. But one of the best things you can do is to encourage a person to get help, and then doing your best to set boundaries and be patient as they go through the recovery process. Just remember that it can take years to do so.