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Joe and Judy's son Bob started getting into trouble at 14.

The problems initially were minor - curfew violations, shoplifting, disorderly conduct.

But the bad behavior escalated as he got older. He'd smoke marijuana or drink. Alcohol soon became the main concern.

"It got to be more of a drinking thing," said Joe, who agreed to be interviewed if the family's real names were not used. "We had him sent to a residential treatment facility, and he was there for eight weeks."

"It would be good (for a month or two), and then he'd fall back into the same thing," Judy said.

Now, after more than 10 years of trying to get Bob to stop drinking, a new approach seems to be working.

Community Reinforcement and Family Training concentrates on more positive statements and strategies as "alternatives to nagging, pleading and threatening," according to the book "Get Your Loved One Sober" by Robert J. Meyers and Brenda I. Wolfe.

The book is available at Coulee Council on Addictions, which also began offering classes on the approach this spring. Three sections of the class have been offered, and another will start after the current class ends.

"The response has been really good," said Coulee Council Director Pat Ruda. "I really feel people find it to be helpful."

Ronda Lettner, a substance abuse counselor and family therapist who conducts the Coulee Council classes, said treatment counselors used to rely on intervention - usually by friends or family - to get people into treatment.

This would involve the intervening party meeting with a therapist ahead of time to "kind of do an ambush on the person who is the alcoholic," she said. "They have treatment planned ahead of time and give the person an ultimatum. Sometimes that intervention is a life-saving process, but many times that confrontation seems like a betrayal of trust."

Intervention worked about 30 percent of the time, she said. Research on the less-confrontational approach shows about 60 percent to 70 percent success in national studies. There are no local statistics available for this relatively new program to La Crosse.

"This approach builds on what we already have in place that's positive," Lettner said.

An example, Lettner said, of how the approach works:

"If I'm talking to a person who has had a relapse, and they drank on one occasion. Instead of focusing on that one occasion, I will work with them, thinking about the last couple of weeks. There were probably 99 times when they made a positive choice, and those 99 times versus the one time they made a bad choice puts it in perspective, and they don't feel so much like a failure."

In their book, Meyers and Wolfe encourage family members to write down what they know about their loved one's drinking habits - including what can trigger drinking.

Those triggers may include boredom, depression, a bad day at work, irritation with children or an argument with a spouse.

The authors also encourage people to write down the consequences of their loved one's drinking and coming up with alternative strategies to deal with it.

In one case, a husband used to argue with his wife when she came home frustrated and ready to start drinking. The alternative had him rubbing her shoulders and suggesting she take a hot bath while he made dinner.

The goal, the authors say, is to find ways to deal with stress that don't involve drinking.

"We increase a person's motivation to do the right thing or make the right choice by focusing on what they have going for them that's good, rather than the confrontational, critical, pointing out trouble," Lettner said.

Counselors and family members also are working more today to start treating addicts at a younger age.

While meetings 10 years ago primarily might have had spouses of alcohol abusers - Joe said he remembers being "kind of the odd duck out, being the parent" - parents now make up the majority of the group, Lettner said.

"Which is very hopeful," she added.

More information on the book, the classes or addiction problems in general is available from the Coulee Council on Addictions, 921 West Ave. S., or by calling (608) 784-4177.


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