Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Dealing with Relapse

Dear C;

relapseWhen his wife divorced him, my brother, Tom, was devastated. She moved to another state and he moved into a rented room. Then he had a run of bad lack that seemed due to severe depression. and got evicted for non-payment. Tom and I have always been close and I needed help with my rent at the time, so he moved into my spare room. Little by little, he seemed to pull out of the funk. He’s been a big help with chores and repairs so I liked having him around. He never interferes with my life, so this seemed a great solution for both of us. I didn’t find out about his crack problem until over a year in, that’s how secretive he is.

I’d always wondered why his marriage fell apart; I’d thought it was because of infidelity. But his ex told me that they’d had to sell their house because he’d gone into debt while hiding his addiction from her. He’s had many years of struggle with this problem.

When I discovered all this, I wanted to help Tom. He went to Narcotics Anonymous, and I went to Nar-anon. It wasn’t easy and he had a few relapses at first — home drug testing put an end to that. For the last three years, it seemed like he’d really gotten back on track. He discovered he had diabetes and his new medication helped him, so illness may have been part of his problem. He even started a furniture refinishing business that’s finally starting to make money. Then, last week, I opened a letter of his by mistake and had a rude awakening – Tom’s in debt again.

When confronted, Tom admitted that he’d borrowed money – but just to try to get his business going. Now, he’s working his ass off to try to pay everyone back. But, knowing his past, I still worried. Then yesterday, while looking for tape in his work room, I found a box of baking soda hidden behind supplies. This is what addicts use to freebase. Suddenly, his mood swings and chronic irritability took on new meaning. Was it from money pressures or withdrawal symptoms? I confronted him with the baking soda and he claims it must have been there for years. He readily agreed to a home drug test, something he always resisted when he was using. When it came up positive, he was astonished and swore it had to be a false positive. I checked pharmaceutical sources online, and sure enough – his diabetes medication can produce a false positive. Now, I really don’t know what to think. I know how secretive he can be, and if he’s still using after all these years, he needs to be checked into rehab. But there’s no real proof. Now what?




Dear Uncertain;

Your brother’s helpfulness and efforts to start a business don’t fit the profile of a typical addict, true. But there are also addicts who seem highly functional, yet are secretly out of control. Addicts are the world’s best liars. So don’t be fooled by his willingness to submit to the drug test, or by his surprise at the results. He probably knew all about the false positive possible with his medication. I understand that you can’t label Tom relapsed solely on the basis of a box of baking soda, but if he is back on drugs, you need to find out PRONTO so you can protect yourself and get him the help he needs.

I consulted my friend Dr. H, who told me some potentially damning information: He’s never seen a false positive from a cocaine test due to diabetes medication, nor, after making several calls, has he heard of one. Take your brother for a toxicology screen done in a hospital, which is far more accurate than a home kit. They use a fairly foolproof test called Mass Spectrometry that can bypass just about any interference from medication. And, while your brother may claim his medication produces false positives, his mirrors and desk tops ain’t on meds. You can get a kit online that detects cocaine residue on surfaces. To be able to refute any excuse that it’s residue left over from years ago, make sure you thoroughly clean every surface you intend to test and wait a week before you go back to it. But for undeniable visual proof, you might want to install nanny cams in his bedroom and work spaces … anywhere he can go and shut the door behind him. We are all at our most honest when we think no one’s looking.

But whatever else you do, get yourself back to Nar-anon. You need support and feedback. Nobody understands how to spot a relapsed addict better than someone who has experienced it for themselves. The pull of drugs is stronger than anyone can deal with on their own. Get help. It’s difficult to get tough with someone you love. A good support group knows what to do.