When drugs or alcohol become a problem for someone you care about, it’s time for decisions: What are the treatment options? What’s the best fit? And once you find help, how can you convince your loved one to accept it and follow through? It’s a stressful and often overwhelming time, one that’s complicated by the fact that few people start out as experts on addiction. Instead, they find themselves having to get up to speed on a complex illness when the stakes couldn’t be higher. That’s where consultants can come in, helping people sort through the variables and figure out which path is most likely to lead to recovery. Contracting for such help isn’t cheap, but for those with the means and the need, it provides not only peace of mind but an educated ally in the addicted person’s corner.
Getting Sober, Staying Sober
The services vary, but most addiction consultant companies focus on helping the person and their support network (usually family members but sometimes business partners or others) understand the realities of addiction while instituting a comprehensive plan for connecting the person with the help they need and then overseeing their sobriety when treatment ends. “I think the most important thing we do is help people find their true north, and to stay sober long enough to find that,” explained Doug Lyons, one of two principal owners of Clere Consulting, now in its sixth year. The company limits its client base to about six to eight cases a year, Lyons said, and starts the process by working to understand the addicted person’s substance use history, any past treatment experiences, any co-occurring mental health conditions, and the family’s goals and expectations for their loved one and their belief systems surrounding treatment and addiction. “We really look at alignment. Is this a good fit? Are we the proper resource for this family’s needs?” Once both sides are on board, the process continues with education and tailored workshops. “We want to start bringing them up to speed in terms of understanding that we’re working with a family illness, and that it impacts everyone. And so we spend a lot of time and energy trying to help families identify patterns that they may be engaged in that potentially may have adverse consequences, not only to the patient, but for themselves.” Then comes identifying the best treatment program for the person, and this is where Lyons’ background proves invaluable. Not only does he have experience as a case manager, family therapist and clinical director in the addiction treatment field, he and his business partner each have 26 years in recovery. “We know what the treatment looks like and sounds like. So we really work hard with the clinicians in the treatment centers while our clients are in treatment, so we can report back to the family what is happening.” After the person leaves treatment, “this is where the real work begins,” Lyons said. “The first 18 to 24 months, this is where we want to see success. And this is so often where people vanish — statistically they vanish and in reality sometimes they vanish. So we have a monitoring process we use — electronic sobriety monitoring, urine, blood and hair analysis — and we set up these programs to fit each family’s situation so they’re effective. … We want to do everything we can to forestall relapse that first year.”
Success Through Accountability
Such long-term support and oversight is a key part of most consultant companies. Bill Messinger founded his addiction consultant group, now named Aureus, a few years into his own recovery, after reading that airline pilots and doctors have much lower rates of relapse than the general public and wondering why that was so. “It came to my mind that what was happening was the airlines were managing the pilots’ recovery and the medical boards were managing the doctors’ recovery, so I thought families could use somebody to help them manage the recovery process for their loved ones.” Today, Messinger works in cooperation with another addiction consultant company, O’Connor Professional Group, to provide comprehensive treatment access and support that emphasizes accountability. It’s a focus that can be especially important in families that are well off, explained Messinger, who is also a lawyer. “Wealth is a huge enabler. Money is the fuel that fires the addiction. So you have to figure out how to use it as a positive rather than a negative,” he said. “I find that people tend to overreact. They say, ‘Well, we’re cutting him off completely.’ And then a few months later, the person is getting their money again but the relationship hasn’t changed. So my goal is changing the relationship around money so people are very much aware that if they do use, their money is going to be reduced or terminated and they’re going to have to comply with treatment recommendations and signed releases, and be drug tested regularly.” It’s the same enforced accountability used so successfully with pilots and doctors, who know that they’ll lose their license to fly or practice medicine unless they can prove they are complying with treatment, Messinger explained. By modeling this compliance-oriented approach with his clients, the family can remain family rather than becoming the “recovery police,” he said. If the person does lapse, then the program can be reevaluated. Perhaps more therapy is needed or it’s time for a recovery coach or sober companion, for example. “You hopefully keep the external pressure on until the person self-motivates and learns to do it on their own. And that’s a tough process, but over time, it does happen. The light bulb goes on.”
‘Recovery Is Possible’
That slow advance toward self-motivation is one Clere Consulting’s Lyons can attest to as well. “I’d say the vast majority of our calls come from families who are convinced their loved one does not want help and will not accept help,” he said. “But it’s a real misnomer, this idea that people have to be ready.” In his almost 16 years as a clinical director at an addiction treatment center, Lyons said, “I never saw a patient walk in and say, ‘I’m glad to be in treatment today.’ Not one. … They didn’t come because they were happy, they came at the behest of a well-being committee, a spouse, another physician, or they’d been caught stealing samples — some adverse event occurred. What’s important is that people somewhere in that process of treatment catch fire with the idea that, ‘Oh, you know what? I do have this brain disease called addiction. There is a reasonable way out of this, and recovery is possible.’” By Kendal Patterson Follow Kendal at @kendalpatterson