According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of tobacco, illicit drugs, and alcohol costs our nation over $700 billion a year in health care and work-loss related expense. This figure does not begin to touch the toll addiction takes on families and individuals whose lives are assaulted and often destroyed by the consequences of addictive behavior. The “big three” could be joined by persons with gambling and other addiction issues that are emotionally and financially costly.
Our books of business have individuals in them crippled by one or more addictive behaviors. It is or can be the huge elephant in the room when couples sit with us and talk about retirement and estate planning, long-term care needs, and how best to pass on a legacy to children and grandchildren. Advisors, likewise, may be ensnared in an addictive web that keeps them from being their best selves. Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer, and all of us have colleagues, friends and perhaps family members whose lives suffer from this illness.
What might we do as trusted advisors to help someone for whom we deeply care face this pain and find healing? First, the depth of your relationship is primary. How well do you know this person? Has your relationship extended beyond the business environment? If the individual is married, do you know his or her spouse? How well? Is the spouse an enabler and part of the problem? Have you witnessed this person’s behavior? If so, how did you handle that uncomfortable moment?
Second, do you trust the relationship enough to have a frank, private conversation? If you do, have the talk away from the office. Ask if you could meet someplace privately. Trust coupled with compassion is necessary at times like this. Look the person in the eye. Find the right words to express. You might say, “We have known each other for a long time. I care about you and your family. I fear you have a problem that may well kill everything you hold dear and I want to help you find healing.”
Twenty years ago, I did an intervention with a neighbor whose children were the same age as mine. I met him for lunch one day and, in a moment near the end of our conversation, I said to him with as much compassion as I could muster: “Mike, we both know you have a problem that is bigger than you. I want us to talk about that.” He looked at me with a mix of shock and fear and responded, “Could we go back to my office?” We did, and within five days, he was in a treatment facility. Today, he is still in recovery, sober, and a leader whose story and work through AA has touched hundreds of others.
Do all such conversations end that way? You and I both know, they don’t. The visit you have with your client may not end as well. Showing that you care, however, that you have the courage to name the elephant in the room, just may well earn you the right to have other times in the future when the offer of healing and hope is back on the table.
Addiction kills individuals. It forever wounds the people closest to the person in need of intervention. And yes, an addictive person often makes poor financial and personal decisions that hobble the future. If you are enmeshed in an addictive behavior, get help. As you serve others who may be in the grip of some destructive behavior, find a way to let them know there is a better way to live.
National Drug & Alcohol Treatment