Breaking a friend out of prison: How to help conquer an addiction

This article originally ran in the Winter 2014 issue of Mouth.

Look up the statistics and it’ll be apparent how big of a problem addiction is. Not just with drugs or alcohol, either. Every day, people face addictions related to drugs, sex, gambling and even food. Odds are, you know or will know one of these people. You may even be one.

Addiction is a serious disease, one that can consume a person. It’s a prison. And before you can break out of prison, you must first realize you are locked up.

This is where you, the friend, can help.

After reading that sentence, I’m sure the reservation and anxiety is already starting to rise within you. After all, we’re all fond of our friendships, and anything to put that in jeopardy makes us squirm.

But if our friend wanted advice, we’d give it. If our friend asked for an opinion on a tie color or what new book to read, we’d give it. If our friend needed our help with a crisis, we’d give it.

The most dangerous parts of a person’s life are the ones they can’t see. And if friends aren’t meant to be a good set of glasses, then what are they for?

Talking to a friend about addiction can be a difficult and frightening thing. It may be just as hard on us to say it as it is for them to hear it. Luckily, there’s plenty of help. There’s a wealth of data and research and advice and blogs on the subject. What follows is a summary of the best of advice from the websites of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence:

1. Do your homework. Before you suit up and help your friend fight the good fight, you must understand the disease. Study it. Learn how the disease starts, how it manifests, what triggers it, and how to conquer it. Many resources have sections for family and friends that can help guide you in the most effective direction to your friend’s recovery.

2. Plant the seed. Your friend needs to know how the ripples of the addiction affect the ones they love. Change often starts with a caring conversation. Talk to your friend about the addiction. This should be done with love and gentleness. Don’t blame. Don’t argue. Don’t criticize. They need to know that you have seen a change, that it worries you, and that you are available to help. It’s not always about saving your friend right then, right there. It’s more about planting a seed that, with proper water and sunlight, will grow to fruition within your friend.

3. Forgive. One trap people often fall into when confronting someone with addiction is a lack of empathy. They can’t understand how someone can fall so low. After all, it’s not that hard to say no, right? But it’s not as black and white as saying yes or no. Addiction is more than a lifestyle choice. It’s a disease like any other. Empathy and forgiveness are imperative during this time. Remember the person that your friend truly is, not the one they have become. If anyone can see the true potential buried within them, it’s you. Their recent behavior, the hurtful actions and words and thoughts, aren’t them. It’s the disease.

4. Listen. An important moment in recovery is when the addict opens up and talks. If you are present for this moment, do the right thing and listen. Allow your friend to release all of the emotion and tension they have bottled up for so long. Don’t interrupt. Don’t challenge. Don’t make it about you. Just listen and be the friend they need you to be.

5. Be Loyal. If this was a patient of yours, you wouldn’t utter a word to anyone else about it. It’s illegal and unethical. Your friend’s situation is no different. Don’t gossip. Cherish this recovery process for what it is. You are helping your friend through one of the most important periods of their life. Keep it sacred. And stand by their side.

6. Know when to punt. It’s important to remember that the road to recovery involves many people, many meetings, many support groups, and a reliable therapist. You are not these things. At some point on the journey, you will need to get off the bus. Know your role in the recovery, and allow the experts and proven methods to do what they do best. You did your part. You lit the match. You aren’t losing a friend. You are allowing your friend to reach their full potential. Continue to make yourself available should they need a companion.

French poet Paul Valery has said “the best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” See the potential in your friend. Believe in them so that they can believe in themselves. Be the set of glasses that allows them to see their world in a whole new light.

Wake them up.

ASDA’s Wellness Month is generously supported by ADA student members insurance plans underwritten by Great-West Financial.

~Joe Vaughn, Alabama ’15

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About The Archives

ASDA's Archives feature articles previously published by ASDA. In addition to Mouthing Off, ASDA prints a magazine called Contour that is delivered to all members. In the past, ASDA printed a newsletter called ASDA News and a magazine called Mouth. The archives serve to revisit the best of these publications and give new life to articles that may have been missed by our ever-rotating membership. If you have a favorite article from the archives that you'd like to see featured on Mouthing Off, email Editor@ASDAnet.org.

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