Bob Poznanovich ’78, photo by Scott Cavanah
Imagine wrapping yourself in cellophane from head to toe in an attempt to kill the bugs that are crawling all over your body. Picture yourself so desperate to end the itching and scratching that you almost suffocate yourself by covering your nose and mouth with the cellophane wrap, as well. Bob Poznanovich ’78, now president and CEO of Addiction Intervention Resources (AIR), a national addiction crisis consulting company headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, can imagine this scene all too well.
In fact, his vivid description of the wrapping process painted a scenario of the intensity of “cocaine bugs” that felt all too real for him and everyone listening. It all began 20 years earlier in Chicago during the disco days when cocaine was a glamour drug.
“For me, it was the time,” said Poznanovich. “It was the early 1980s; it was Studio 54. It wasn’t for the fun or the high. I wanted to be with the rich and famous, to become a part of another class of people. I was in my 30s, and I had a future ahead of me as an executive at Zenith Data Systems. I had money and power in Chicago. The appeal of the lifestyle and the grandiosity sucked me in. I never smoked cocaine; I only snorted it. It was my way of rationalizing my use of the drug. Addicts smoked cocaine, not me.”
According to Poznanovich, addiction has three phases: addicts first rationalize that they have control over when they start using and when they stop; second, addicts have control over when they start, but no control over stopping; third, addicts have no more control over when they start or when they stop.
The statistics offered by Poznanovich are staggering. One in eight people has an addiction to something; 13 million people need immediate treatment; and roughly one in 10 people you know is addicted to drugs or alcohol. He said people are told, ‘Don’t do drugs,’ but many don’t know where to go or what to do when they need help recovering from an addiction.
Believing his cocaine habit was purely recreational, Poznanovich “kept it under control” for 10 years. He said he managed his addiction by setting up personal rules. For example, his first rule was that he would never buy cocaine for himself. His second rule was that he would only snort every other Saturday night. Ultimately, he failed to follow his self-imposed rules, eventually losing his job in a corporate downsizing, losing his fiancée, and finally succumbing to a $1,000-a-day cocaine binge for 2 1/2 years.
“I was a zombie,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to feel, didn’t want to be a part of society. I did not want to die, but I knew that was an out. I was using an ounce a day. Life was pretty much over. For an hour or two I could pull it together, but for the final two months, I never got off the couch. I would urinate into cans. I would binge on pizza occasionally, but I would also go without water for days.”
“I looked at myself physically. I had sores. I looked terrible. My life was getting crazy as I tried to keep my house of cards under control. And then my mom, who was terminally ill, confronted me. In 1995, she called Hazelden, a treatment center in Center City, Minnesota, where I was admitted.”
Life at Bradley
Poznanovich grew up with little on the south side of Chicago, and believed if he had gone to junior college and stayed in his neighborhood, he would have ended up working at the steel mill like everybody else. “Bradley University gave me a chance,” he said. He escaped from his neighborhood, attended Bradley, and joined Sigma Chi, where he immediately found mentors who became his lifeline through college.
In fact, one fraternity brother and fellow business major, John “Chip” Dempsey ’78, still finds it hard to believe that Poznanovich, the former Bradley student body vice president, president of
Poznanovich found help at Hazelden. Nevertheless, in 2001, already in recovery for six years from his cocaine addiction, he gained 130 pounds and once again entered treatment, this time to battle food addiction. “The food addiction is more difficult to continue working on than the cocaine addiction because we all need to eat; abstinence is not an option,” Poznanovich said with a smile. He lost the weight in six months and has maintained the weight loss for five years.
Building a business
During the years following his successful treatment, he and his business partner, Andrew Wainwright, an Oxford graduate and Hazelden client recovering from heroin addiction, built AIR into a national company offering families and companies the tools needed to confront and help individuals with addictions. AIR focuses on referring addicts for treatments ranging from substance abuse to gambling to overeating.
“Think of AIR as an addiction general contractor,” explained Poznanovich. “We help families and organizations that are in crisis as a result of an addiction, develop an action plan to get the addict to accept help. Help is typically defined as inpatient treatment. Our company is the before and after treatment. We help them find an appropriate treatment center that meets their needs, clinically and financially, and we develop an intervention plan that motivates the person to accept help. After treatment we help addicts move into recovery with our Recovery Assurance Program, a transition back into the workplace or home. Addicts recover at a high rate if they are monitored and continue to do what they are told.”
Co-authoring a book, It’s not okay to be a Cannibal: How to Keep Addiction from Eating your Family has helped Pozanovich make sense of his story. The book encourages those with addictions in their family or workplace to understand they can make a difference and can stop the “cannibal.” He said it’s wrong to fight the war on drugs a million miles away when Americans are creating meth in their own backyards. “We’re not going to stop the supply side, but we can stop the demand side,” added Poznanovich. “No one wants to fight house to house, but that’s how we must fight it: one individual, one home, one office at a time.”
Poznanovich contends that addicts are surrounded by two major myths: You can’t help addicts until they hit rock bottom, and treatment doesn’t work unless the addict is willing to admit a problem
“What is bottom?” Poznanovich questioned. “Addicts may never find a bottom. They bounce from bottom to bottom, taking those who love them for the ride along the way. There is no true bottom except the ultimate bottom, which is six feet under.”
Visit addictionintervention.com for more information or call 800-561-8158.
WHAT YOU CAN’T DO
You can’t expect things to get better by themselves.
You can’t remain silent about the things you know.
You can’t “call the authorities” and have them take your addict away.
You can’t destroy your family system (relationships, finances, respect) in an attempt to save one person.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
You can be proactive and take responsible steps
You can speak up and out to anyone who will listen.
You can involve knowledgeable professionals
You can make decisions based upon the greater good of the family as a whole, make help available to the addict, and set livable boundaries.
Indeed, you must do these things. If you do anything less, you are an enabler, an accomplice, a co-conspirator in the addicts’ crimes against themselves, against you, and against others.
The above excerpt is from It’s not okay to be a Cannibal: How to Keep Addiction from Eating your Family Alive, scheduled for release by Hazelden Publishing in 2007.