To those who have not experienced it, many aspects of an addict’s psychology can be baffling, including the tendency that some addicts have to react to the fact that their life has become unmanageable due to their substance abuse by packing up and leaving town to start fresh somewhere else entirely.
This practice is known informally within recovery circles as “pulling a geographic,” and, like drug addiction itself, it is a usually misguided way of seeking external changes as a solution to internal problems, a literal running away from one’s problems as opposed to the emotional running away from one’s problems represented by getting high.
While an addict who is pulling a geographic may admit that they have a problem, they may declare that their surroundings are the problem, and thus that problem can be solved by simply changing where they live. If they can move somewhere else, escape their burnout and change their scenery, perhaps get a new job and then find a new circle of friends, then, they say, everything will be fine.
This, of course, ignores what might be clear to outsiders what is the most pressing cause of the issues: their substance abuse. While someone who is struggling with an addiction may indeed have problems in many other areas of their life, addressing those problems can be a tempting way for them to avoid facing the hard and scary truth that they have a serious substance problem and that getting clean for good is likely the only lasting solution to the reasons that their lifestyle has become dysfunctional.
In the worst case scenario, suddenly “pulling a geographic” while exhibiting many of the other signs that their addiction has escalated to a critically dangerous level may also be an indication of a person’s conscious or subconscious plan to go entirely off grid to continue abusing substances in a place where they may have less people looking over their shoulder, a dangerous indication of denial of or apathy to the seriousness of their circumstances.
However, in other ways, the desire to move to a new place could actually be a good sign insofar as it indicates a willingness to start over, a symbolic new beginning that could actually help them cut ties with the people, places, and things that they associate with addiction. A new start, though, is not in itself a cure, for one important reason that is another common saying in the recovery world: “wherever you go, there you are.”
In other words, if someone simply packs up and runs from a wrecked life without addressing the underlying issues that caused it to collapse and learning better coping mechanisms that they can use to manage their emotions instead, those issues are wont to reappear somewhere else.
So even if an addict is heading out with better intentions, maybe even intentions of getting clean, being away from one’s support system and any accountability might not be the best recipe for facilitating recovery, especially during their vulnerable early stages of it.
Pulling a geographic could also be a cause for concern because it may make it harder for loved ones to intervene in the case of an emergency or to even be aware that that emergency is occuring. For instance, they may not be able to contact emergency services in the case of an overdose, and the Marchman Act, a Florida law that allows for the involuntary commitment of someone whose substance abuse has made them a danger to themselves or others (provided that certain other conditions are met,) can generally only be served if the person is physically in the county that you are filing the Marchman Act petition in.
For these reasons, it might be worth trying to step in before an addict acts on plans to leave the area if you become aware of those plans in advance, perhaps by encouraging them to seek treatment rather than escape. Or, in what might be a good compromise, perhaps you could suggest that they can move in addition to committing to a more traditional treatment plan that will be in place in their new surroundings rather than instead of one.
If they remain intent on leaving without committing to such a plan, though, it may be best to try to intervene before they do. To learn more about how one of our skilled intervention counselors can help you start a conversation with your loved one about their substance abuse, and, if such an effort is unsuccessful, guide you through the process of starting the Marchman Act proceedings, feel free to call us anytime at 833-497-3808 or to contact us online anytime here.