How to Help a Family Member Struggling with Addiction

Tania Bhattacharyya, AM830 Angel Radio Interview with Bruce Cook

New Directions for Women is proud to partner with Bruce Cook on his weekly local radio show Angel Radio at AM830. Bruce is a champion of recovery in our community, and invited Tania Bhattacharyya, Foundation Executive Director, to have a chat with him about drug and alcohol rehab for women, stigma in our community, and how to help a family member struggling with addiction. A transcription of the recent show is included below.

Bruce Cook

Ladies and gentlemen, angels, radio listeners, I’m Bruce Cook. If you’re just tuning in or you’ve been with me for the whole hour, you just heard a commercial on the air for an organization called New Directions for Women. It’s an alcohol and drug addiction residential treatment facility in Costa Mesa. It has been helping women, as you heard in the commercial, for years with more than 5,000 graduates in the program.

Addiction is tearing our society apart. If you’re driving down the street tonight and you’re passing by a major intersection, or you’re going under a freeway overpass, or driving by the pathway to a park in your neighborhood, you see tents. Addiction is part of the reason that there’s homelessness in this community, in this country, in our time. New Directions focuses on helping women with addiction. Joining me now is the executive director of that organization, an amazing woman with a very soft and sweet voice but a powerful hand. She is the executive director. Her name is Tania Bhattacharyya. She joins me now on air live. Tania, are you there?

Tania Bhattacharyya

I am here. Thanks, Bruce, for having me on the air. I love that description. Thank you for that. Thank you for that intro.

Bruce Cook

It’s absolutely true. Radio listeners, since this is audio only, I’ve got to tell you. This is a very small, beautiful woman. You wouldn’t think she could have a powerful punch but she is helping people beyond belief right here in our community, right here in Orange County. Tania, tell us about New Directions. Tell us about why you’re there.

Tania Bhattacharyya

Sure. I’d be happy to. I’ve been at New Directions about 11 years. I got there just as I was finishing up my college degree at a local school. I was living on the college campus. I just accepted a certain level of alcohol use and partying that was all around us as students.

I applied for a job at New Directions, which is a non-profit addiction treatment center for women of all ages. When I got there, I saw a woman that I knew from school. We had the same major of psychology. We had been in a lot of the same classes. I assumed, incorrectly, that she was there for the job interview as well. In actuality, she was a patient there. She was there to recover from her substance use disorder.

After my job interview was done, we sat and we connected. We sat in the rocking chairs that are on campus. She told me all about her story. She had struggled with substance use all throughout college and felt a lot of shame around it. She still did at that moment. For me, that was an ah-ha moment because she did not fit the picture in my head that I had at that time of what an addict or an alcoholic looked like. She was somebody just like me. Since that moment, I’ve been passionate about sharing education, about recovery with people in the community, especially so that more people can have that ah-ha moment and change their understanding, which I think is the key thing to breaking down stigma.

Bruce Cook

Stigma. There’s the trick word. For decades, not just years but for decades, there was a horrible stigma about anyone that was addicted to drugs or especially to alcohol and, in your case or the case of New Directions, in the female population. That’s broken down a lot but there’s still a ways to go. What can we do to avoid that stigma, to tell people not to be afraid to pick up that phone and call you, and/or check you out online, and/or talk to a loved one? So many of your patients, I’m sure, just like the girl you described from your school, live a secret life. How do they break that? How do they break it? We’re in a time where we’re supposed to be open about just about anything but this is still something that is closeted.

Tania Bhattacharyya

Absolutely. Stigma is the main reason that only one in ten Americans with an addiction will receive professional care for that addiction. Even when the symptoms are so obvious to everyone around them, individuals and family members often avoid seeking help because they’re afraid of even acknowledging the problem. I’m thinking of a couple of different things that I have for advice for people who might be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. Remember, if you’re wondering whether or not your level of alcohol and drug use is normal, it probably isn’t. It’s always better to seek help earlier rather than later, especially for women, because drugs and alcohol actually effect our bodies more intensely than it does for men.

Bruce Cook

Let me interrupt you for a second. You just said something important. If you think that your level of drug use or alcohol addiction is not a problem, how do you know? You said it probably is if you have to think about it. How do you get over that?

Tania Bhattacharyya

If you’d had some thoughts, like “I’m drinking differently than a lot of my friends do” or if you’re constantly worried about going to work the next day with a hangover, that is definitely a sign that you may be going into the waters of disordered drinking. I say this knowing that one of the hardest things to do is to pick up that phone and ask for help.

Earlier, you asked about some advice for people who might need help and don’t know how to ask for help. For me, one thing that I always encourage to families is write a letter. Write an e-mail. Write down your thoughts. It’s not the case for everyone but sometimes writing things down is easier than speaking, especially when it comes to asking for help. There’s something about writing your thoughts down that allow you to just collect your thoughts, organize them in a way that makes sense.

Then make an appointment with your doctor or a therapist and tell them what’s going on because not much phases medical professionals. It can be very scary to go to your husband or your son, your father, your mother and tell them what’s going on. More than likely, your doctor has likely seen this and heard this before. So, those are some thoughts that I have on that topic.

Bruce Cook

Don’t you think the husband, father, brother, or son has also got a clue? Maybe they just have trouble facing it because of this “stigma” or worse. They’re just basically afraid, afraid of what will happen to their loved one, afraid of what’s going to happen to their life. How does the family deal with this before the woman goes to find treatment when this mounts month after month and even year after year until sometimes something horrible happens? Often, it just comes to that point where there is no return.

Tania Bhattacharyya

That’s a great question. I definitely want to address the family system because substance use disorder effects the whole system, not just the individual. So, this is a great question. Family members are at risk for developing codependency and codependent behaviors. They want to help the person but too often this “help” – and I say help in air quotes – enables that addiction, which is so damaging on a long-term basis. So, some of these behaviors might include driving that person to and from the bar so they avoid getting a DUI or giving the person money in an effort to just maintain that relationship and keep them close.

Participating in groups like Al-Anon or CODA can be really helpful for the family to get that family recovery piece. Remember, you don’t have control over the individual that you love who is struggling with addiction. You can only control your own actions and behaviors.

At New Directions for Women, we work with families all the time to facilitate intervention. Gathering a group of loved ones together with a professional certified interventionist – I want to repeat that – it really should be with a professional certified interventionist. Don’t try to do this by yourself. It can be a way to really show your love and support and set boundaries around addictive behaviors. The best thing is, too, these interventionists are trained in prompting that person to accept help.

Bruce Cook

Tania, share with us another story about somebody that’s come to your facility, has gone through it, and come out of it. Something that could inspire someone to perhaps hear this tonight and make a call.

Tania Bhattacharyya

Oh my gosh. That’s such a good question. I have so many examples to choose from.

Bruce Cook

I’m sure you do.

Tania Bhattacharyya

I will choose one particular woman. She came into treatment actually from out of town. At New Directions, we serve all women, whether that’s the young woman who is struggling with college because of her addiction and has dropped out or the more mature woman, who her grandchildren have put her in care. I particularly want to tell you a story about a woman with a child, even though we, again, serve all women. It is a unique service to work with women with children and pregnant women.

We had a woman come to us from out of state. She had come to us from a different treatment center where she got stabilization. She was there for 30 days. When it was time for her to find after care, she told her case manager I will not go to treatment and get any more care unless I can have my child with me. To me, that makes perfect sense.

The biggest reason why women leave treatment against clinical advice early is because they want to go and be with their children. Seventy percent of women who access treatment actually have children. So, to serve the entire family population leads to better outcomes.

This woman came to us with her child. When they got there, there wasn’t really a relationship between mother and child because in their active addiction, unfortunately, the child had taken second place to drugs and alcohol. When they got to New Directions, mom got parenting classes. She got mommy and me time. She got to bond with her child and live with her.

At the same time, that child learned about what addiction was in child appropriate terms. She learned that she didn’t cause her mom’s addiction. She learned that she couldn’t control it. She couldn’t cure it. But she could celebrate all the things that she did love about her family. Today, that family is celebrating eight years of recovery.

That young girl is an amazing advocate for recovery here. She speaks about recovery in amazing ways. She talks about meditation. She talks about helping her teachers clean up the classroom during recess. She talks about giving back and being of service. It’s just amazing what recovery can do to a family.

Bruce Cook

It’s a wonderful way to end our time together. Before I let you go, talk about your big breakfast meeting that’s coming up on March 19th and give us a phone number before we say goodbye.

Tania Bhattacharyya

That sounds good. We have an annual fundraiser and friend raiser at the Balboa Bay Club there in Newport Beach. That’s on March 19th at 8:00 AM. If you come, you’ll hear amazing inspirational stories from women who have transformed their lives from addiction into recovery. We’d love for you to come. Give me a call personally. That’s (949) 313-1192.

Bruce Cook: Say it again, Tania.

Tania Bhattacharyya

(949) 313-1192.

Bruce Cook

Tania Bhattacharyya, wonderful having you on the show. We love to hear that beautiful voice of yours and, mostly, the great words you have to share. I hope you’re listening, ladies and gentlemen, because I know there’s a lot of people out there, a lot of women in particular, given this subject matter, that are suffering. Make today a day of change. Think about this really seriously as we enter the week to come. Give Tania a call. Tania, thank you so much. Have a wonderful week. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show today.

Tania Bhattacharyya

Thank you, Bruce.

Bruce Cook

You’re welcome. Thank you.

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