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We don’t negotiate with addiction.

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By: Mark Constantino, CAP

Rob Park, the Executive Director of Hanley Center at Origins recently made the comment, “We don’t negotiate with addiction.” This phrase stimulated me to think specifically in regards to the work our Family Department does with Hanley Center clients and their families.

Negotiation is a common symptom that is frequently presented in many forms and acuities. Examples include the alcoholic agreeing to drink only beer or wine in order to stay away from the “hard stuff” or the teenager or young adult attempting to convince concerned parents that he or she will stop using cocaine, heroin or meth while continuing to smoke weed.

One of the most extreme negotiations I experienced was with a 22-year-old female client and her father back in 1989. The client had convinced her father to accompany her to a local crack house two or three times a day, purchase the crack, allow her to smoke it, and then take her home. This was all done in the name of “keeping her safe.” This is an extreme depiction of the progression of negotiations in parallel with the progression of the addiction.

Unfortunately, even after a client has entered treatment and admitted that drugs and/or alcohol have had an extremely negative influence on most major life areas, their negotiations continue. The most common negotiation we experience in the Family Program occurs when continuing care recommendations based on ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) criteria are first presented to the individual by the professionals at Hanley Center. An alarming amount of clients and their families resist and commonly refuse the recommendations. Despite most all of the research indicating an increase in positive outcome as it relates to an extended period of engagement in structured treatment, the negotiations begin.

Frequent rationalizations we hear are, “You promised I would only have to do 30 days,” and “If you make me stay, I will never talk to you again.” Others include, “They don’t know what I need” and “They tell everyone they need more (time) because they are only in it for the money.” Finally, there is my favorite, “I have done so well and come so far, if you push me into this, it will probably make me relapse.”

As mentioned above, negotiations are a symptom of the illness. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes the illness as “Cunning, Baffling and Powerful.” Negotiations are just that, a cunning, baffling and powerful method for the addiction to thrive once again.

Not only do Addiction Professionals need to stand behind this statement, we also need to assist the client and their families in recognizing the need to incorporate this statement as a core belief. “We don’t negotiate with addiction.”