In this episode of The Universal Man podcast, Grego chats with Conrad Tracey, Founder and Head Coach of Addiction Coaching Australia & New Zealand, on how to help yourself or others beat addiction and recover to lead a full life.
In this episode we talk about:
How to help yourself, a colleague, a partner at home or a child beat addiction
The biggest behavioural predictors of addiction in someone
The myths around addiction and why they can be so damaging to recovery efforts
What the first step is towards overcoming addiction
How to offer someone support where they are resistant to change.
“The addicted person has to be ready and prepared, and they have to hit a point where there are ramifications to their future health and happiness because of their drug use.”
On the key signs of spotting addiction
I don’t take a disease model. I actually think about addiction as a phase, because I’m very confident that people can go into it and come out the other end.
I use three key principles: if you are putting the behaviour or the substance before 1) your family, 2) your work, and 3) your finances, then it is a problem. And often people will hurt themselves first, and then the flow-on effect is those three categories.
It’s amazing how much damage they will do to themselves and their family before they will get help. And the turning point for a lot of people is public perception and status, so as soon as they get to the point where they’ve done the damage to themselves, they’ve pushed their family away and ruined their financial situation, as soon as their title, their job or their public perception are challenged or questioned, that is the turning point.
The main predictors are that the person becomes isolated or disengaged, they’re not showing up, they’re missing meetings, or they’re opting for a choice that will see them not have to deal with people. Spending patterns are also a big determinant.
There’s then physical signs, erratic behaviour, tiredness, bags under their eyes, inability to focus and function and look people in the eye. You can smell alcohol, so that’s an easy predictor too.
On the dangerous myths of addiction
Myth #1: addiction is just for people that are poor, it’s people that you see sitting in the gutters and in parks and at their absolute rock bottom. What I can say unequivocally is that it touches every socioeconomic group in the world, every industry. You wouldn’t believe the people that I have guided through this in terms of their “status.”
Myth #2: addiction is hereditary. This has been debunked recently. If your parents are drinkers or if your parents are drug users, it’s not guaranteed that you will do that as well, it just provides a disposition for it. Yes, it increases your chances of being an addict, but a lot of people lean on that and it really irks me. “Well, it’s my dad’s fault because he was an alcoholic.” My response to that is that it’s more the fact that you are using that as a justification or as an excuse for your behaviour.
Myth #3: addiction is a disease. I don’t believe this and it’s a mindset that is very, very damaging for people because they’re already down on themselves for being in the position that they’re in, and then somebody tells them that they have a disease! That might cause them to think, “I’m going to have this for the rest of my life, so how do I even get out of it? I might as well just keep going.” I just think it’s a really negative way to frame addiction. It also labels someone at an identity level, so they say, “I am an alcoholic, I am an addict”, and that cannot be beaten. I have seen a complete paradigm and personality shift with hundreds of people who are prepared to do the deep work on themselves, and this is proven through what we know about neuroplasticity. So to say that you will always be an addict and you’re not going to change or evolve is very damaging. The language which you’ll hear a lot if you go to AA or NA or any of the fellowships, is, “I’m an addict and I’ll be one for life.”
On seeking help as a first step
The hardest thing is to actually admit to yourself that you need help. If you’ve reached that point, then good on you. And I always tell people it’s super brave when they reach out to me. Often it’s through my social media or through a referral from a friend.
It’s often the case that it’s a conversation that’s been had with a partner or a trusted friend, so I will also get wives reaching out to me, husbands reaching out to me, grandparents, aunties, uncles. And what that looks like is the person has found the person in their life that they can trust with that information.
If you have admitted to yourself that you are an addict, you could say, “I’m having an addiction issue. But I want to keep my job, I want to keep my family and stay at home. I need bespoke care. Can you help me to find someone?” And people go on that discovery themselves or they get a family member or trusted friend to help them.
On how to broach a conversation with an addict
In my experience, people do not like to be told, they do not like to be pushed into corners. They will not do this work unless they’re ready to do it. They have deep shame and guilt around their behaviour, the money they’ve spent, the things that they’ve done whilst they’ve been drunk or high or stoned. So it is a very, very delicate conversation. The best way to do it is to draw parallels between how they are now and how they have been in the past, or how they’ve wanted to be in the future.
Just starting the conversation says to them that you can see that they are not engaged with life. So I would say that if you can connect to someone and try and do something with them that they used to do or how you’re noticing that they’re not doing that anymore, that’s a good first question. Then, crucially, you should ask them how that feels. Wording like, “Mate, I’ve noticed that you’re not doing all of these things. Are you okay with it?”
So showing deep care, showing deep interest, and not being accusatory will go a long way to broaching the topic with someone.
But it obviously comes with risks, particularly with people that are of high intelligence, high potential, high capacity; they can see when someone’s approaching them with that type of conversation. They clock it, and they can be paranoid, they can even become aggressive.
On some strategies to approach a conversation
You need to go broad and you need to talk about where they are now, where they could be, and what’s happening between those two points.
There’s two approaches that you can take, and I’ve seen how they work:
1) you can go with love, you can go with empathy, you can go with education, you can go with understanding. You can also try and draw inference or give examples to the person of people that have not done so well because of addiction, so actually showing them what it looks like to continue down that path.
2) you can take a totalitarian approach and lock them up and shut the door and throw them in a rehab and force them to get help. I have worked in some of Australia’s best rehabs as a facilitator and a coach, and the peope in the 18-to-25-year-old bracket simply don’t want to be there. They’re disengaged. They’re not there of their own volition or choice. They end up leaving early, causing trouble, and not doing the work.
With all teenagers or young adults, it’s important to give them a little bit of leeway, a little bit of rope to go and explore, doing everything that you can to keep them safe and letting them make their own mistakes, letting them come to their own decision, and just being with them through the process and just letting them know that you’re there and that you care, and if they want to access help, then you’ll do everything that you can.
Having a conversation about having a conversation is a good start. People don’t like to be hurting other people. So it’s important not to say, “Hey, what you’re doing is damaging our relationship,” but perhaps letting them know that it’s not serving it and that it could be better and that you want to help them to reach their potential. Essentially, it’s important to move towards love not judgement.
Also being firm. I have seen some good results of parents who have cut people off. “Hey, there’s no more financial support. If you want to live here, go get a job. And if you want to do drugs, you can’t live here.” And also I’ve seen wives doing that.
The resistance they have is this: I don’t want to go to rehab. So if you present them with another option, then they might look at that and go, “Oh, you know what? That could actually work for me.” And co-designing something that works for people is very 2022. It’s solution-focused.
On leading a full life on your terms
It’s okay to be yourself. What I see in a lot of people is that they do the thing that’s expected of them. They finish high school, they get the girlfriend, they go to the university, they get the job, they just do the thing. And so many of them just did it because that was what was expected of them. We live in a world now where you can change careers six or seven times. You can start a business, you can be an entrepreneur, you could do anything that you wanted to. So to have the bravery, have the courage to actually go, “You know what? I’m going to lead a life by design and I’m going to start a horticultural business, or I’m going to be a farmer, or I’m going to be a world famous architect instead of something else.”
Do what you want to do and figure out your paradigm. I’ve never been happier in my life, because I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I live exactly where I want to live with the people that I want to live with. And I connect to my hobbies and my passions and I dress the way I want to dress and I talk the way I want to talk, and I don’t have to show up for anybody in a way that is not organically and thoughtfully me. And that’s the best feeling in the world. So that’s my guidance. Just have the courage to figure out who you really are and what you really want.