Today’s expert is Caleb, a psychiatrist working for Nelson Marlborough Health.
Mrs D: How do you come into contact with people who have a problem with alcohol?
Caleb: People can self refer to our service, or be referred by their GP or another health professional within the hospital. I usually see people who have already had an initial assessment with one of our case workers.
Mrs D: What sort of approach do you take with someone when you first meet them?
Caleb: I try to keep things pretty relaxed and conversational. I try to create an environment where the person feels safe, and able to be open and honest.
Mrs D: Do you think people are always honest about their drinking habits?
Caleb: Not always. They may have even being lying to themselves about their drinking habits, or the impact it has had on their lives. That is why creating a safe and trusting relationship is crucial to facilitate an honest conversation. That is when change can really begin.
Mrs D: What sort of impact can heavy alcohol use have on a person’s emotional wellbeing?
Caleb: A hugely negative one! It may seem to help quell anxiety at first, but regular heavy use can actually worsen this, as well as contribute to depression and other emotional distress.
Mrs D: Often we think the alcohol is helping us deal with stress and negative emotions (I know I did), how do you work with people to turn their thinking around on this?
Caleb: Hopefully, by allowing them to be honest with themselves, and reflect on the causes of their negative emotions, and begin to explore healthier alternative strategies to deal with them.
Mrs D: Is alcohol misuse the main problem they face? Or are there often other underlying issues they are battling?
Caleb: Very rarely is it the only issue they face. I would say 90% of people I see have other mental health issues. And the other 10% probably just haven’t told me theirs yet!
Mrs D: Do you think alcohol ‘gets in the way’ of a person being able to address underlying underlying issues?
Caleb: Yes. As well as contributing to emotional issues, it can impair a persons cognitive functioning and memory, making it harder to process the real issues.
Mrs D: How can you help someone gain the strength and determination needed to remove alcohol from their lives? How can they help themselves?
Caleb: By helping them develop trusting and honest relationships. With me, their family, whanau or other supports, and most importantly, themselves. Sometimes medications can be useful to help with various symptoms, but healthy relationships are the key.
Mrs D: Are there any particular books or resources you would recommend?
Caleb: I am a big fan of Dan Siegels books. Mindsight, The Whole-Brained Child, and Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. They are not specific to addictions, but have heaps of useful information and strategies for developing healthy relationships and behaviours.
Mrs D: Is there a ‘normal’ period of time that you would work with a person helping them recover from addiction?
Caleb: Nope. Everyone is different (yay!) Sometimes I may only see someone once, and be a small part of their recovery. Other times I may be involved for years.
Mrs D: What’s the best part of your job?
Caleb: Seeing positive transformations.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to add?
Caleb: How about this quote from John Wayne I recently came across: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes to us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in your hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”