Book review: Beyond Addiction

We just finished reading Beyond Addiction, and we really enjoyed it.

Beyond Addiction is quite different from anything else we’ve read in the space because it’s directed at the family members of the person struggling with a substance abuse issue, rather than the person themselves.

It was good to step back and consider the perspective of the family member for a bit, and get some straight, evidence-based answers about the best ways of helping someone else.

In some ways, it was what you’d expect the right answer to be. It reminded me a bit of consulting training that involved practicing speaking to clients in an empathetic, relatable way (instead of being a bit of a cold analytical fish, as new consultants are prone to be).

But in a situation where you’re either deeply concerned about a loved one’s drinking, or very angry at a loved one’s carelessness and destructive behavior when drunk, it can be hard to think clearly about the best way of pushing for change. That’s where a book like this can be quite helpful.

Here’s why we liked the book:

  1. It felt practical. Like many of our favorite books, it was not dogmatic that everyone must hit rock bottom and then immediately embrace sobriety. It teaches that relapses are to be expected, not feared; that respectful conversation works better than attempts to force change through shouting; that there are options for treatment. This practical flexibility seems thoughtful and more likely to encourage people to change.

  2. We share a lot of the same underlying understanding about how alcohol use disorder works. Addiction is a spectrum. Alcohol use disorder has a variety of causes in each person - genetic, environmental, social, and more. Dopamine plays an enormous role in addiction, and in particular in making it harder to find healthy substitutes for drinking.

  3. It felt empathetic. It acknowledged the frustration and despair many parents or spouses may feel in pushing their loved ones to change, and anticipated concern that taking this practical, thoughtful, empathetic approach might not get through to their loved ones. It also felt like the authors understood the experience of the loved one addicted to a substance, too - acknowledging that they do perceive a benefit from using the substance; understanding that they will react poorly to feeling forced into any particular course of action.

  4. We thought it was fascinating to think about the journey of the loved one or family member in the same way as the journey of the person struggling with AUD. The family member has to take care of themselves, too. The family member has to analyze what drives the subject’s behavior to figure out the best way to help them. The family member has to monitor their own happiness to ensure they aren’t pushing themselves too hard. The family member can help by thinking of rewards the subject would really appreciate for sticking with their goals, and can help them set realistic goals. It was interesting to see that these authors believe that the family member has a lot of similar work to do in order to be helpful. It makes sense - if you truly want to help someone, you have to truly empathize with them.

All in all, we thought this was well worth reading for anyone who wants to help a loved on quit drinking (or abusing another substance - this book isn’t restricted to alcohol).

If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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