Friend with Drug Addiction?
November 17, 2004 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I think one of my close friends has developed a serious drug addiction. They used to be an active, hard-working, happy person, but in the last couple of months they are reluctant to socialize, ended all outside commitments, are barely sleeping, have seriously neglected their hygiene, and I just found out they have stolen thousands of dollars from their work, at which they are well paid, in the last month. I thought it was 'just' depression, but the money seems to point to something worse and there is a history of casually using hard drugs. They don't seem to want help, so will it do any good if I try? Does anyone have any experience with interventions, or is that just something people do on television?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total)
This question always leaves me sad.

I have had a number of friends addicted to heroin. I loved them dearly and found myself frustrated and hurt at their seeming lack of interest in my doubling over backwards attempts at 'helping them'. My anger at their behaviour ended our friendships.

I had a girlfriend, whom I loved dearly, addicted to heroin. My overbearing desire to see her cease the injections lead to her lying and stealing from me rather than approaching me with the problems for fear of my backlash. I left her with a sense of bitter hatred.

When I was a drug addict, I had a few people attempt interventions. I promised them I would get better, and then hurt them by becoming sicker. I eventually found my own, personal rock bottom and quickly cleaned up on my own. Unfortunately, my behaviour had insulted and pushed away those who had come to my aid.

I suppose what I am attempting to present is that you may feel the need to 'help', but may find yourself resenting the person in the end. My advice is to cease the friendship as it stands with a statement of love and a promise to accept them when they are clean, and then return to support the person with open arms when they come to you for calm upon their 'awakening'.
posted by tenseone at 4:13 PM on November 17, 2004

This sucks, you're caught between two desires and neither will end in the way you want. You want your friend back, you want them to have their life back and they just want to be left alone to wallow in whatever pit they've crawled into.

The only course of action I can see that has any chance of keeping the friendship intact is to remove yourself from their circle until they clean up as tenseone suggests above.

It sucks but you can't make someone change until they want to change for themselves and they will resent you for trying.

Good luck.
posted by fenriq at 4:17 PM on November 17, 2004

It depends on what you want to save--the friendship or the person. Luckily, the one time I had to deal with a similar situation, the friend came to me for help, and I got her some, and all was good in the end.

But if she'd become seriously addicted and not come to me?

I guess I would have sacrificed the friendship and worked with her family to get her committed to a inpatient program, with or without her cooperation--but I don't even know if you can do that with an adult.

Bottom line is that this is a life destroyer, not some small social problem. Find out about your legal options, then weigh the consequences for you and your friend.
posted by frykitty at 5:12 PM on November 17, 2004

I'm no therapist, by any stretch of the imagination, but I recently heard a friend discuss on the phone some tips *if* you do decide to do an intervention. There was a lot of advice given, but the two things that stuck out in my mind that I thought were really important yet I'd not have thought of were 1) have a plan ready to take them to a treatment center if they agree to go, i.e. make sure you know where to take them, what they'll need (insurance stuff, etc.) and make sure that it can go as seamless as possible. 2) you may want to call some drug counselors/therapists in the area and see if they can recommend someone who specializes in interventions. Professionals can be a significant help.

And as the others have said, it very well may get to the point to where their addiction and their actions are having a serious negative impact on your personal life. There may be a point where you just have to walk away knowing that you did your best and couldn't do anything else.

Good luck.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:36 PM on November 17, 2004

If you really, really want to help your friend, make sure you have a ton of patience, don't give up, and sorry to say it, expect the worse.

In my experience, it's not easy, in fact, extremely difficult to help a friend with a serious drug problem.

It can be beat, but it's a long, difficult road for everyone involved.

It lasts forever too.
posted by punkrockrat at 6:46 PM on November 17, 2004

Frykitty, I infer from your post that you recommend getting legal authorities involved. Profoundly bad idea. Heroin and cocaine addiction are health problems, and applying legal muscle doesn't help. The best you could hope for is incarceration, which isn't treatment in any proper form, and which would result in a mark on their person's record that would make it harder for him or her to straighten out. This is the second thread in 24 hours that I've had to curb the misguided impulse to solve a drug problem with cops. Using cops to solve personal problems is like using an army to build a democracy.

My experience with addiction is that it's intensely personal. Because the addict is often walling herself off from pain, coercive tactics tend to backfire in proportion to their severity. The addict needs to know that you love her, but that you're not going to get bullshitted by her. Do not loan her money to get straight, do not listen to her rationalizations without calling her out.

Here's a simple tactic that I've adopted for dealing with my own addictions and compulsions, and those of my friends: overcoming addiction is only a matter of learning to tell the difference between the truth and bullshit. My addiction to nicotine had me believing for years the most outrageous lies about who I was and what I needed. Overcoming that addiction was simply (but certainly not easily) learning to identify when I was lying to myself.

Start with when your friend is lying to you. Model the behavior that there's a difference between truth and lying, and that lying won't be tolerated.

On preview, punkorat is right: serious addictions are managed, never completely conquered.
posted by squirrel at 6:51 PM on November 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

Interventions can be great, if they are done properly. In the old days, the intervention was a surprise to the addicted person, which was a terrible idea, and didn't work. These days, competent interventionists will involve the addicted person early on, and manage the process.

Good interventionists are critical to the success of the work. The person I've used is here in northern California, but I gather she travels a fair amount. Email me if you want contact info.

Also, you can check with any good substance abuse clinic for recommendations (e.g., Betty Ford center, Hazelden)

I think the advice given above is wise - addiction is tough, and successful treatment is very hard work that involves lots and lots of obstacles. Yet people do get into, and manage to stay in recovery. It's just a long and difficult process for the addict and for his/her friends and family. You might want to check out Alanon for help in support and learning about how to live when someone you know is having an addiction problem.
posted by jasper411 at 7:59 PM on November 17, 2004

I kind of wish there was an anonymous commenter... but here's some advice that may be obvious or may not be:

Never give them money. Not if they're trying to clean up, pay a bill, never.

My personal experience with people and addiction, unless you're very close to them and they value you, more then the addiction -- there isn't much you can do. I say with a somewhat heavy heart, addiction is a very internal thing and I think it's hard for those of us who aren't addicted to realize this. In that I agree with tenseone. Make it known why you're no longer friends with them, and then cut them off.
posted by geoff. at 8:22 PM on November 17, 2004

Just a thought -- does your company have an Employee Assistance Program you can call? A co-worker was in a similar spot once, with a friend with a problem, and they gave good tips on what my co-worker could do constructively without adding to the problem or getting hurt.
posted by Vidiot at 10:33 PM on November 17, 2004

Do what you can (see below)....and then don't take the results personally.

What you can do:

1) Let them know you know. Let them know you are worried. Let them know you know that they might not feel in control of this behavior right now (i.e. avoid the, how could yous, why would yous, etc.--be the good cop, not the bad cop).

2) Let them know you are fully prepared to help them get help--and as mentioned above, *have a plan to do so* (i.e. I'll take a day off of work and make phone calls with you about insurance, rehabs, etc.; I'll drive you to a detox and take care of your cat; I'll go with you to explain to a parent/spouse/EAP counselor what's going on, etc.). Let them know that this offer still stands for the indefinite future if they are not willing to take you up on it today.

3) And then leave it at that. Do NOT get into an argument, scream, plead, etc. Leave the drama at the door, because it's not appropriate in this kind of case. (As mentioned in a classic book on recovery, "Frothy emotional appeal" seldom suffices.) Again, don't take it personally if the person becomes angry, unresponsive, etc. It's not about you--it's really not. You may lose the friendship, you may need to separate yourself from this individual if they are not ready to get help, but that is far better than hearing about a death from an O.D. and wonder what might have happened if you had said something.

4) Be prepared a scenerio where the person is "at bottom" one day (or week), ready to look into getting help--and then changes their mind the next day/week.
posted by availablelight at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2004

Welcome, availablelight! Cool name.
posted by squirrel at 9:09 AM on November 18, 2004

Thanks, squirrel....chalk me up as one of the "I only joined for AskMe" new registrants. (Great reading, less trolling!)
posted by availablelight at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2004

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