The Dangers of Delaying Addiction Treatment
Dr. Philip Hemphill is the Chief Clinical Officer at Lakeview Health. He says many “people see substance use treatment as elective as opposed to life-saving,” something that can wait a few weeks until the new year.
This would definitely not have been a good idea for Ian two years ago. He had just turned 25 in November 2013 but had been to rehab seven times already. None of his attempts at recovery had been sincere, he admits today. “It was like getting an oil change, I went right back to using after the treatment,” he told me.
This had been going on for years, his mother Barbara says Ian had been using illicit drugs since he was a teenager. Years later, Ian was using Heroin, morphine, and fentanyl.
Shortly before Thanksgiving 2013, Ian’s substance use had reached a crisis point. He had been in a car accident with his girlfriend in August and was lucky to be still alive. He could no longer effectively steal to come up with the money to buy drugs because of a broken arm and he was sleeping rough on the streets of Philadelphia.
In mid-November, he finally reached out to his mother in Maryland. “He called me at nine o’clock in the morning,” remembers Barb. “He said, Mom, I’m homeless, I’m freezing to death, I need help.”
Ian’s family had reached a crisis point, too. Barb told him: “Ian, you’ve drained me, not only financially but physically, I cannot do anything else for you.”
She didn’t want him back in the house he had been kicked out of for stealing just weeks earlier. But she did get Ian into treatment. “I picked him up in Philly and put him on a plane to Florida.”
It was far away from home but “I wouldn’t have been there mentally anyway,” he says. “I would have just sat on the couch, not really there.
Being at home for Christmas wouldn’t have been very stressful for everybody in the family: “Everybody would have been hiding their purses, be on guard and watch me, because everybody knew,” Ian remembered from previous years.
And Ian knew that everybody knew: this kind of stress would result in shouting matches. “I would yell at my mom if she mentioned rehab,” says Ian and Barb would get upset because Ian would consistently use bad language. Much better to seek treatment right away and not delay any possibility of a fresh start.
“Delaying can be life-threatening because individuals are usually at their height of use and risky behavior,” says Dr. Hemphill. “The impact on one’s social support system is overwhelming at this stage and often traumatizing.”
Ian had only three options in the fall of 2013, says Barb: “He could freeze to death, overdose, or get into treatment.” Luckily, Ian went with the third option. He is much better now and his mom is looking forward to having him home for the holidays this year. “He is a good man, now that he’s clean.”