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FAIR OAKS — David Lee played the role of a 26-year-old millworker who got injured on the job and hooked on prescription painkillers.

During a recent mock intervention, he was combative and conniving. He labored to convince his family that he would see a doctor, aptly named Dr. Pusher, who would cure his addiction.

His pretend mother wanted him to attend rehab. His fake father told him to go to work. His "sister" longed for him to be kicked out of the house.

By the end, nothing was solved.

Lee put on this mock exercise during a recent training for Northwest Indiana social workers to show that if you don't get the family to agree on a solution, you're going to have a hard time treating the addict.

Lee, the founder of Heartland Recovery Center in Lowell, knows from experience. He went to 25 different rehabs trying to get off drugs. It took him 18 years to be clean for one year.

Those treatment centers never reached out to his loved ones, who were rarely on the same page. Lee said his mom favored therapy, his dad believed in the "get-a-damn-job-and-quit-drugs" model, his brother wanted a putative approach and his grandmother thought God would fix everything.

"It's easier to talk an addict into treatment than talk a family into changing," said Lee, who also operates an intervention company. "Without the family's buy-in, a family and addict in five minutes will undo what you spent six months building."

Addictions often blossom within the family environment, Lee said. He argues that drug abuse stems from an addiction to avoiding the uncomfortable. To do this, his family used alcohol; growing up, he buried his nose in books and played on the computer as a way to avoid homework.

"Everyone talks about the drinks in my family," he said. "No one talks about the unopened bill."

Families must be willing to force the addicts in their midst to face the uncomfortable, Lee said. They can do that by setting boundaries, by making sure their loved ones attend therapy or support groups.

"It starts with the family and can end there," Lee said.


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.