The cost of addiction: Part 1

Reaching the road of recovery

Addiction is an issue that plagues many people, and not just those suffering from the addiction, but their family, friends and colleagues as well. When you think of addiction, the first thing that comes to mind is probably drugs, followed by alcohol or drinking. However, there are a range of other addictions including gambling, and eating disorders.

In this part one of a series looking at the effects of addiction, Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood speaks to recovery alcoholics, drug addicts and gambling addicts and looks at the road to recovery.

An addiction is not something that goes away overnight, it is something that needs to be worked on and takes time to overcome. All of the people interviewed for this article highlighted that addiction is not something that can be cured, but it is something that you can fight against and overcome. Even if you believe that your addiction has ruined your life, you can fight it, and come out caring more about yourself and able to face the world.

 

Gambling

Percy Kwinda, CEO of the Gambling Indaba, highlights that there are two forms of gambling, legal gambling, and illegal or informal gambling.

The most recent study conducted by the National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRGP) looking at the prevelance of gambling among South Africa’s urban adult population, found that 57% engaged in some form of gambling (legal and illegal), whereas 43% said that they did not gamble. (A new study is reportedly set to be carried out this year)

Tony* is actively involved in Gamblers Anonymous (GA), and is a recovering gambling addict himself. “At the moment I am about two months short of six years clean from gambling, I have been going to GA for those last six years, but also with my wife’s support. She comes with me to meetings also.”

Tony noted that there were many factors that led to his gambling addiction. “In my personal story I always blamed my gambling on my upbringing, and on the fact that my parents gambled, and on the fact that I perceived myself as the black sheep of the family, and often being left out of things. It was almost a resentment type of thing and an excuse to gamble.”

According to Tony, while many people may believe that the financial factors involved with gambling are the largest, looking back he believes that this is not the case.

“A lot of people will think they are going to gamble to win money, [but] that probably isn’t the reason you are going to gamble, unless you are a social gambler. A social gambler who is happy to go and lose his R500 or whatever and come home saying they had a nice night’s entertainment. But a compulsive gambler is a different story. And you will always have excuses which at the end of the day the only reason that we are gambling is that we feed our habits and you can’t blame it on anyone else. But we do tend to do that, but that’s all a load of nonsense that we find out in hindsight after we have addressed the problem,” explains Tony.

 

Alcohol

Simon Turner, director of Cape Recovery, is a recovering alcoholic, however, he notes that he did use other drugs as well. “Addiction is kind of all-encompassing, you will use whatever works at the time, but alcohol was my constant throughout the time.”

For Turner, the path to recovery was a long and difficult one. He was in denial for many years about his addiction, and eventually ended up in rehab when he reached a crisis stage. Turner’s addiction resulted in his marriage ending, as well as impacted on his work.

“I couldn’t function any longer, I spent the last two decades as a functioning alcoholic and I could no longer do that, I could no longer hide it from my wife, I could no longer hide it from my work,” says Turner.

Originally from the UK, Turner came to South Africa about five years ago to start the process of recovery. Prior to coming to South Africa, Turner had gone through rehab in the UK, however, he relapsed a number of times.

“It took me two years to get to a point where I was clean for any period of time. I got sober for a year, and then I relapsed, then I got sober again, and I’ve been sober for three years now. The relapses and the learning, I think it was all valuable because it is kind of part of the process,” says Turner.

There is no quick fix to treating an addiction, it is something that takes time to overcome. However, Turner points out that this is not something that everyone understands. There are some people who want a quick fix to their problems. “That just doesn’t exist, it takes a lot of hard work from an individual. And it has to want to come from them as well. You often hear people blaming places for not getting them clean and sober, but you can’t, it has to come from you, you have to want it.”

While relocating to South Africa assisted Turner with his recovery process, he notes that this is not always the case for people. “I have seen people come from the UK and other countries for rehab and go back to their lives, and it’s worked.”

However, Turner believes that getting away for everything at the beginning of the treatment and recovery process is important. You are separated from the drugs, alcohol or whatever your addiction is, as well as the possible influencers. “Also for the family involved it is sometimes good to get the addict out of the equation to clear their heads and get a clearer mind on things.”

Turner emphasised that your behaviour while suffering from an addiction, regardless of what the addiction is, is just a symptom of the addiction. “It doesn’t matter what [the addiction] is, [the behaviour is] just a symptom of the underlying disease of addiction. It is a reason to escape feeling, because you can’t deal with feelings, they are too overwhelming so they have to do something to get rid of that.”

There are a number of theories around what may trigger an addiction, among these are the family history of the addict (i.e. a parent may have suffered from the addiction), or that it is a way to cope with pressure. However, Turner believes that addiction is a disease, because it physically changes the brain’s chemistry.

“I think if you are an addict, you’re an addict, but I think some addicts get through life without actually succumbing to the addiction, I think some addicts have the control and they are not put in the situations where their addiction comes out. It’s a complicated disease,” says Turner.

Having battled an addiction of his own, Turner is now actively involved in helping other addicts, not just alcoholics, but drug addicts and those suffering from eating disorders as well.

Vaughn Pankhurst, director of Recovery Direct, is another person who has successfully overcome his alcoholism and is now working with other addicts and alcoholics to overcome their addictions. However, the difference is that Pankhurst works more with companies to assist them with employees who are having addiction problems.

Pankhurst reveals that the reason he is sober today is that he went to the doctor, and was given six months to live.

“The reason why I am sober today is because I went to a doctor, because I was a daily blackout drinker, and I went to see a doctor once more to get patched up and he asked me how much I was drinking, and I said to him I think I’m drinking a little too much. I was drinking a litre of whisky a day. He did some tests and my liver enzyme count was on the borderline of being terminal. He said to me then, you have six months to live, and if you stop drinking today we might be able to save you, but if you don’t, there’s probably nothing we can do. So the disease is chronic, it’s progressive, an untreated addiction never ends well.

“Then I realised I had a choice, I was either going to live or I was going to die, so two days later I got into rehab. I haven’t relapsed thank goodness. Those of us in the fellowship say, I haven’t relapsed yet, because we know that unless we do all of the stuff that we need to do on a daily basis then we know that the risk is there. I’ve been sober for five and a half years,” says Pankhurst.

While his liver enzyme count has returned to an acceptable level, and his liver function has returned to normal, Pankhurst notes that there are still some health effects that remain, despite him having stopped drinking.

“Some of the effects are irreversible, I have what are known as alcohol-related neuropathies at the bottom of my feet. In other words, the nerve endings at the bottom of my feet have been damaged, it’s too painful for me to walk and to wear nice shoes. And I have [also] suffered fairly severe damage to my spine, to the cartilage in between the bone, because that’s one of the things that the alcohol eats away. So I’ve had to have a couple of back ops and neck ops. That damage is irreparable, surgery can make you kind of functional and pain free,” explains Pankhurst.

 

Approaching an addict

There are a number of ways that you can approach an addict. However, the opinion on how best to approach an addict and confront the issue differ.

According to Turner, there are five things that need to be considered when approaching an addict.

  1. How to approach the addict,
  2. How to broach the topic,
  3. Be open and honest with them,
  4. Tell them how the addiction is making you feel, and
  5. Tell them how it is affecting your life.

 

Turner notes that at times, staging an intervention can be a good thing. However, there are a number of ways in which you can carry out an intervention. First of all, you can get an impartial person to assess the situation and sit down with the addict to talk. For example, as part of his work with Cape Recovery, Turner sometimes does interventions.

Another way to stage an intervention is to stop enabling the addiction. This could mean something as simple as not giving them money. Turner stresses that by all means you can support the addict, for example, you can pay their bills for them, or buy them food, rather than giving them cash, as it is mainly the cash that they are interested in.

Rather than approaching an addict yourself, whether they are a friend or family member, Pankhurst suggests speaking to an expert in the field of addiction and arranging for a family intervention. However, open and honest communication also plays a vital role in confronting the issue of addiction.

It is important to remember that when approaching an addict, you are not fighting them, but rather their addiction.

 

The path to recovery

The first step to recovery is wanting help. Quintin van Kerken, chief executive officer of Anti Drug Alliance South Africa, is a recovering drug addict and an anti-drug campaigner. He stresses: “If someone does not want help, forcing them into treatment is pointless. Our organisation assists people in getting their loved ones the help they need. Many times we assist the families for some time before the addict asks for help.”

Turner explains that many rehabs are based on the 12 step approach. “You have to get detoxed first, so you stop the behaviour, you essentially clear your mind a little bit so you are starting to think a bit straighter, then you have the rehabilitation process which essentially is looking at accepting that you have no power over addiction,” says Turner.

Once you have come to terms with your addiction, many rehab centres look at the damage that the addiction has caused, points out Turner. For some people this is an eye-opener for the effect that their addiction has had, not only on their lives, but the lives of their family and friends as well. In some instances, the rehab will bring in family and friends to speak to the addict.

“Then you need to accept that essentially it is not your fault, you take responsibility for the behaviour, but you can’t take responsibility for the addiction. Then you go down the line of making amends, apologising to people and essentially rebuilding those relationships that are broken,” reveals Turner.

Tony stresses that an important part of the counselling and rehabilitation process is attending GA meetings. “The meetings are very important, I can tell you if I didn’t attend those meetings I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.”

In addition to GA meetings, there are other forms of assistance and support offered. These include 12 step meetings, which help you work through your problem. Tony also stresses the importance of having a sponsor. “Having sponsors is also a good thing, not to say that it’s a meeting, but if you ever have any issues, you can always pick up the phone and call who ever your sponsor is and chat to them.”

Kwinda highlights that if you are suffering from a gambling addiction, there are programmes in place to assist. The NRGP offers counselling via a toll free number 0800 0060 08.

For Pankhurst, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are a vital part of the rehabilitation process. “Once you identify that you have a problem, then the only way to get sober is to attend AA meetings.”

While in rehab, Pankhurst notes that alcoholics are introduced to the AA fellowship, which is a 12 step programme. However, attending AA meetings shouldn’t end when you leave rehab. “When they come out of rehab, the suggested thing is that they do 90 meetings in 90 days and that they generally continue to do that for a year and go through the 12 step process. So the meeting is part of the recovery process, it is not the only part, but it is certainly an important part,” says Pankhurst.

Before making any decision about treatment or rehab for your addiction, contact an expert who can assist you and guide you to the best option for your situation.

 

The cost of recovery

GA is a self-supporting organisation, members are not required to pay a fee, however, Tony notes that every week members give a donation, whatever they can afford at the time. If you cannot afford to give a donation you are not required to.

The funds are then put towards paying rent for the building/room where the meetings are held, as well as paying for the literature, which comes from GA in the United States.

“One thing I can say, when you do stop gambling, there is always light at the end of the tunnel for people that have the problem. No matter how far, deep you are, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and never give up hope,” adds Tony.

Renate Netzel, a counsellor at LifeLine, notes: “Rehabs charge between R18 000 and R35 000 or more, depending on the facility and treatment required. Halfway – or sober houses charge between R4 500 and R11 500 per month. Thereafter it would be consultations with a counsellor or physiologist as needed. AA, NA or any other anonymous support group is free.”

Medical aids do recognise the disease of addiction, highlights Pankhurst, and therefore will cover some of the cost of treatment.

Netzel points out: “Some medical aids do however (only) pay for a 21 day stay.”

Recovery Direct offers two programmes. Pankhurst explains: “The cost of the six month programme is R25 000 all together, that’s exclusive of VAT. And the cost of the 12 month programme is R48 000. It’s a very realistic option because if you go into rehab for 21 days that will generally set you back about R35 000, and if you go into some of your rehabs, depending on your scale of benefits, three weeks could cost you R70 000.”

Van Kerken notes that government treatment facilities offer free treatment, however, some of these are overcrowded and understaffed meaning people may not receive the attention and care that their individual case requires. He notes that inpatient programmes cost around R35 000 for six weeks, while an outpatient programme (which he personally prefers) can cost about R18 000 for four months.

 

 “It works if you work it, so work it you’re worth it”

“It works if you work it, so work it you’re worth it.” This is the motto that Tony and his GA group say at the end of their meetings.

Turner stressed that recovery is an ongoing process. You need to wake up each day and think that today you are going to overcome your addiction. Long term planning doesn’t work as fighting an addiction is something that needs to be done one day at a time.

“You get out of your depression, some people are slower than others. You also start realising that you are also a normal person, you’re not perfect and you can sometimes not always do everything. In recovery you start caring about yourself a lot more,” says Tony.

Turner notes: “Once you have the person at a point where they are okay and they’re no longer physically addicted, (and) emotionally they are in a bit of a better place, it’s about building the person up again.”

According to Turner, you need to make the addict aware of what they can do in the future and get them to a point where they can maintain their sobriety. After coming to terms with the addiction, the addict needs to reach a place where they are ready to leave the rehab or treatment centre. “Just keep living one day at a time, and eventually things start to get better.”

Tony emphasises: “I think the most important thing is communication and honesty.”

 

Important contacts

Below are the contact details for the organisations mentioned in this article:

Alcoholics Anonymous – 0861 HELP AA (435-722)

Gamblers Anonymous Gauteng – 071 377 2746 or 060 624 7140

Gamblers Anonymous KwaZulu Natal – 031 463 1616

Gamblers Anonymous Western Cape – 084 400 5844

National Responsible Gambling Programme – 0800 006 008

Recovery Direct – 083 415 7804

Cape Recovery – 082 6359419

LifeLine – 011 728-1347

Anti Drug Alliance South Africa – 011 083 7607

 

* Out of respect for the contributor, Moneybags has agreed to keep their identity confidential.

 

Click here to read part 2: The effects of addiction

Click here to read part 3: The signs, symptoms and factors