Eaten Alive

A pair of Minnesota authors offers advice on how to keep addictions from consuming your family

After sharing a halfway house following treatment at Hazelden in Center City, Robert Poznanovich and Andrew Wainwright founded Addiction Intervention Resources to help people get their loved ones into treatment. Their new book, It’s Not Okay to be a Cannibal: How to Keep Addiction from Eating Your Family Alive (Hazelden, $13.95), draws on actual cases as well as their own harrowing stories to help families break the cycle of addiction.

How did you choose the metaphor of the cannibal?


If your son, daughter, husband, or wife was a cannibal, you wouldn’t let them sit in the basement and eat body parts and store them in the refrigerator. So if it’s not okay to be a cannibal, why is it okay to be an addict?

Why do you focus on intervention from the family’s perspective?


It’s a numbers game—the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If there are five people in the family, one is drinking, yet all of them are sick. It may be that the one who is drinking wants to keep drinking, but the other four may want to get well.

How does “Minnesota Nice” factor into intervention, which you describe as brutal and direct?


Minnesota Nice is based on the idea that we’re all going to be nice together. But when you put an active addict into that conversation, that’s someone who’s never ever going to play fair.

RP: Being nice isn’t the way to handle an intervention. It isn’t the way to handle addiction. We can’t love somebody sober, and we can’t love somebody clean.

You write that it’s not necessary—or even desirable—for an addict to “hit bottom.” Why not?


Addiction is an illness. It’s illogical and inhumane to say that someone has to get sicker before they can get better. That’s the whole objective of intervention: to get people to accept help where they’re at right now, so they don’t have to get sicker, so that recovery is easier.

How do consequences make people sober?


We talk about pain being the great motivator. When we tell the truth about what’s going on, the consequences become clear, and it’s time to make a choice. People usually choose recovery.

RP: Very, very few people wake up one morning and say, “My life is wonderful. I’m drinking my quart of vodka a day, the cops are thrilled that I’m driving to work drunk, my family is excited about the fact that I don’t come home at night, my employer loves the fact that I’m only working half a day. I’m going to treatment today.”

What are we doing to help addicts in our state get the help they need?


Rule 25, which provides funding for treatment on a county-to-county level, is legislation that has been in place in Minnesota for many years. It’s an imperative safety net and wonderful vehicle to help those who can’t afford treatment access really great quality treatment. The taxpayers should be commended for that, because they keep voting to renew those monies.