My friend is succumbing to drugs. Can I help her?
June 2, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

A is not a heavy user, but not a once-in-a-blue-mooner either. And its not just pot. Its been going on for a long time and its starting to take its toll. I'm not sure if I can help her, or how.

I've known A for over a decade. We're both in our late twenties. She was my girlfriend for a few years at first, and after we split up we managed to stay friends (me - guy). Now, she's one of my closest friends.

Ever since I've known her, she's been a recreational drug user. Pot, various uppers and downers, hallucinogens, but she's always drawn the line at crack and heroin. Over the last few years I've started to realise that the drugs are wearing her down. I want to talk to her about it, and I keep running it through my mind. Here's how the conversation would go:

I would tell her that she needs to lay off the drugs. She did them before, and she was ok, but it is now becoming unhealthy and she can't go on as she used to.

She will point out that this is rich, coming from me, as we used to do plenty of drugs together and I enjoyed it just as much as she did. This is partly how we became close. I will look down and tell her that she has a point. I haven't done much other than the rare joint in the last 5-6 years - I simply lost interest in drugs as my life developed and the morning-after worsened. This is where me and A diverged.

She will tell me that I'm making a big deal out of nothing - her drug of choice is pot/hash, which is harmless - no different from a beer after work. She only does the harder stuff on the weekends, so she's clearly not addicted to anything.

I will mumble something incoherent in response, because this is exactly what I used to say, and exactly what I used to do, and exactly what I used to believe about pot, though I no longer do.

She will tell me that there is nothing wrong with drugs being her recreational activity of choice, and that even though I don't want that for myself I should accept her choice as an adult and accept her as she is. And besides - drugs aren't just entertainment to her, they're a vehicle for introspection and creativity.

But - I don't accept her as she is - that is - someone who spends a significant chunk of their free time high, and the person that this is turning her into. I will lie and tell her that I do accept her for who she is, but that I'm just worried about her health.

She'll tell me that she's fine and she's touched by my concern, and then I would like to say the following, but I won't:

I would tell her that I realize she's not going to flame out Requiem-For-A-Dream-style, but that that's not the only way to go down. I'd tell her that I think she's fading, mentally and physically, and that the constant colds and deep coughs and fevers and tooth and ear infections are signs that her body can no longer handle what she's throwing at it. I'd remind her that she used to watch challenging movies and burn through novels and paint, but now her free time is spent getting high to the point of stupefication. I'd tell her that her wit is no longer as quick as it was, that her actual speech is becoming slow and addled. We live in separate cities, and I'd tell her that I call less because I tend to catch her high and the resulting conversation is nothing other than hard and sad. I don't write as often because her responses are increasingly incoherent. She is proud of earning her own living instead of relying on her wealthy family, and I would like to tell her that just managing to scrape by without leaning on daddy is not much of an achievement, and her pride in this is a sign of her diminishing faculties. I'd tell her that with her skills and intellect and education, she should be doing better than just scraping by.

These are all things I'd like to tell her, but I won't, because they'll do nothing but hurt her and make her defensive.

I know this is how the conversation would go because I've had it already. I don't know how to have any other conversation with her. She's lost friends and gained some drug-using enabling friends who I honestly think are beneath her. If I keep pushing I fear that the only result will be the end of our friendship, though it seems that its bound to end either way. I can't go to her family because her siblings are deep in California pot-culture, and her father (the only parent) has long been what is in my view a high-functioning alcoholic.

So my questions: Can I do anything? Should I? How? Is it even my place? How do I know when there's nothing left for me to do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If it were me, I would write her a long letter, a handwritten letter, and put all those things in it you have put here. And maybe more things besides. I would send it, knowing she might be very angry with me, and might even break off contact. I would make it clear in the letter that I valued her as a person, and that even if she was so angry she didn't want to talk to me, I would be there if she changed her mind in the future.
posted by Glinn at 3:40 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd tell her that I think she's fading, mentally and physically,
This until the end of that paragraph is what you should tell her. It's all about being honest about YOU, actually, about what you see and feel and experience of her. People just don't know how they're affecting other people, so when you're honest about her impact on you, that can be a wake up call for her.

So you tell her that you care about her, what she means to you, and how she's changed. Now what? Even if she wants to change, how would she go about doing that? And what are the consequences if she doesn't? If you want to have some type of intervention on her, you're going to need help. You may want to google "how to do an intervention."
posted by foxjacket at 3:42 PM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would tell her again. Be specific about how she's changed and explain that you miss the person she used to be.

But also realize that you can't "save" her, especially if she doesn't think she needs saving. So you may have to decide whether this friendship is too difficult for you to maintain.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:44 PM on June 2, 2011

I'm so sorry. I think you should tell her whatever you feel like you need to tell her. But do it because you need to, not because you think she's going to change as a result of whatever you say. No matter what you do, nothing is going to either get her clean or make things worse. She's going to have to come to the conclusion that things need to change for herself.
posted by something something at 3:45 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

People react differently to using recreational drugs just as people react differently to alcohol. I really can not give you a definitive answer to any of your questions and in my opinion no one else can either. I'll give you my experience in a similar situation which may or may not apply but should give you something to think about.

In my late 20's I met a young man with, in my eyes at least , great artistic talent. He even went to Yale for a few years before dropping out - kind of a bohemian type. We became an item for many years . He was a daily pot user - his life pretty much revolved around his daily intake of pot. He did odd jobs to get buy and more than occasionally produced some really fantastic artwork in a variety of mediums. We lived together for a while and I tried to convince him that he was displaying addictive behavior and in fact was addicted to the drug. We argued many times over it and I said, OK - if he wasn't addicted then if he could go without for 90 days I'd shut up about it forever - and he agreed. He really tried. He lasted just about a month. He never got a job that really supported him and I did most of the supporting. Eventually we broke up.

25 years later he rents a basement room in exchange for some carpentry duties. He no longer works in any art form at all - he no longer creates. His teeth are rotting out and he looks maybe 10 years older than he should be. He never wants to leave where he lives because he would lose access to his drug supply . No flying on airplanes , no driving in the car long distances with me because I don't want to get pulled over with a stash in the car, etc. We're friends but it's pretty sad.

I have no idea hoe your gf will react to her recreational drug - no one does. You see people like Bill Maher who are incredibly creative types yet cop to doing a lot of recreational drugs. I don;t know but I suspect that for ever Bill Maher there are 10 like my old bf. I really don;t know - just a suspicion. An addict will be an addict regardless of the drug of choice. If your friend is an addict then the drug will always be more important than your relationship. Keep that in mind.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 3:49 PM on June 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

I agree with the advice to write a letter rather than to have this next (last?) conversation in person. Reason being, when a person feels attacked (especially if she knows, in some deep part of her, that her "attacker's" remarks are true), her instant reaction -- anger, embarrassment, anger, shame, ANGER -- can block her from hearing what you're really saying. Instead her whole focus is on defending herself and/or going on the offensive against you.

But if you put this stuff in a letter, the words are there for her to return to when the first wave of anger has passed. And that is when they'll have the deepest impact on her.
posted by artemisia at 3:55 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

while composing your letter, take a minute to listen to come away from it by ani difranco. it discusses the "we did this together, but maybe you should cut it out" part.
posted by nadawi at 4:12 PM on June 2, 2011

There's truth in the addage that loving someone means letting them go (or setting them free or whatever). I learned this when a good friend suffered from some mental health problems. It involved talking to his family and it broke our friendship. But it was worth it because he was my friend and it was better for me to help him than to watch him hurt himself and others. He's alive and healthy now, and that's all that counts. (We're talking again, but it's awkward.)

You should do the same for your friend. You owe her the benefit of your experience and specifically your clearsighted view of how this actually has sapped the promise from her life, altered her personality, and is wrecking her health. Your friend is in denial and is an addict. Sorry, but a functioning addict is still an addict.

She's probably not going to stop until she hits bottom, and she may sever contact for a while (or forever) once you make the effort. Even if it takes a long time for her to understand what you're doing, you should do it. Before you do it though, you should consult with a professional who may be able to help you improve your odds of getting through.
posted by Hylas at 4:31 PM on June 2, 2011

I'm outlier, against the tide guy on this one. You're both in your late 20s, as you wrote. That means both of you are, for the first time, slowing down from the unusurpable energy of youth. Anything done to excess - eating wrong, sitting too long, working late all the time, whatever - will for the first time start to show wear and tear. That can be disturbing, especially if you think that it doesn't have to happen.

But it does have to happen. Her pace and reasons for it happening may be different from yours. Completely hypothetically, working a high stress Wall Street job at that age would also seriously fuck up your mental and physical health. But you wouldn't tell someone to quit their on-their-way-up 200K/year job now, would you even if it were killing them? But for a lot of the boys on the Street, it may as well be heroin.

Anyway, you are a good friend for being concerned for her welfare, but understand that her welfare is her choice and you have very little influence over that. You only real choice is whether or not you want to remain her friend.

If you're right, and she's on her way down, remaining her friend may be worth a whole lot more to her on her way back up than your "concern" is now.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:26 PM on June 2, 2011 [9 favorites]

She is proud of earning her own living instead of relying on her wealthy family, and I would like to tell her that just managing to scrape by without leaning on daddy is not much of an achievement, and her pride in this is a sign of her diminishing faculties. I'd tell her that with her skills and intellect and education, she should be doing better than just scraping by.

This and other bits like 'beneath her' sound a lot like class-ridden judgement of her life choices to me. I do not doubt in the slightest that drugs are having a negative affect on your friend, but I can assure you that any chance you have of getting through to her on this will be greatly increased if you cut out the judgment about her cultural and lifestyle choices aside from the drugs.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:28 PM on June 2, 2011 [16 favorites]

TELL HER WHAT YOU WROTE HERE. Better to have it come from someone close. She's already ruining whatever 'friendship' you think exists by wrecking her health. I agree with the idea of sending it as a letter. Do something like include a picture of the two of you from way back when you were all healthier.

Battling addiction is a tough process. For some there are groups like AA and NA that really help. It might be worth looking up whatever resources are local to her. Help point her in a better direction.
posted by wkearney99 at 5:34 PM on June 2, 2011

As others have already stated, the only way people typically stop using drugs is when they want to stop. It doesn't sound to me like your friend has much of a problem right now. Is it possible you're conflating drug problems with unrelated stresses in her life? Perhaps now that you've lost interest in recreational drugs, you're a bit resentful that she chooses to spend her time differently than you?

You're a good friend for being concerned, but you're right that the friendship will disintegrate if you continue to push the issue. To me, this situation should be treated the same way as when you see a friend involved in any unhealthy relationship. When your buddy is dating a chick from hell, telling him how much of a bitch his GF is and that it's getting in the way your friendship will just push him away. Your place is to be there your friend at the end of the road, whatever it is.
posted by WhitenoisE at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Its good that you care about your friend, but as others have stated the problem is hers and hers alone. Perhaps she is just stressed and burned out, and drugs certainly can compound her issues. Maybe she is depressed, thing is you should have a dialogue with her since you obviously care.

Another thing you seem to dwell on in your long (it was lengthy, not a bad thing) question is how you moved on. Some people do drugs and quit others don't. I have friends that do things I wouldn't do, but its not my life. Its there's. I can express concern, but that's where the line ends unless I choose not to be friends with them.

I've known some good people that have got involved with hard drugs (heroin) and I stopped being friends. It was hard, but they had no hope (or if they did, it wasn't apparent) and I've seen how manipulating some people can be once they've gotten to that point (when they start asking for money, selling possessions to get a fix).
posted by handbanana at 6:09 PM on June 2, 2011

Sometimes people you really get on well with do just turn into other people you don't. I lost a good friend recently over a deep-seated difference of opinion over the value of this transparently useless crap. It hurts when it happens. Nothing you can do about it except wish them all the best and stop trying to help. Sorry.
posted by flabdablet at 6:49 PM on June 2, 2011

have you ever heard of motivational interviewing? chances are she actually does know, deep down, that she's not doing great. but it's tough to own up to that especially when you feel like someone is attacking or criticizing you. based on people i've known, addictions like this develop when self esteem is low, and then the addiction makes the self esteem problem worse- so more drugs are needed for them not to feel horrible about their lives. it's a difficult cycle. anything you tell her, she probably already knows and you pointing it out as a statement of fact will not be helpful. instead ask her questions so she's forced to admit it to you and herself. (not all in rapid fire succession, but just sprinkle it in when you can.) "when's the last time you read a really good book?" "do you think you're going to stay at that job for a while or do you want to do something else?" "what is it that you really like about [drug]?" "don't you think your new friends are below you?" etc. then if she does admit that it's a problem, she's worried, or she'd like to stop but maybe doesn't know how- that's where you offer support. tell her you're willing to spend a whole day hanging out with her and doing distracting things so she won't turn to drugs out of boredom/ habit. do something that would be difficult for her to do if she was stoned, like playing chess or watching a 'challenging' movie and maybe she will realize she misses doing that sort of thing.

also, it's worth understanding that there are stages of quitting. i could only find it in reference to smoking cigarettes but i think the concept applies to other things that people may want to quit doing. but your help will probably be better received if you tailor your approach to whichever stage she's in.

people become addicted to things for all sorts of deep reasons which become worse once they are addicted. therefore quitting is a lot more complicated than "you're fucking up your life." "crap, you're right, i better stop." so if you try, try to be gentle and understanding. but if it doesn't work, then yeah, ending the friendship is probably the right thing to do. and you gotta accept that there's a good chance that will, in fact, be the outcome of this. lots of people won't quit til they hit rock bottom, which is only after they've lost all their friends. if their friends are still hanging around, then they can just keep on pretending that drugs aren't affecting their relationships, right?
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:53 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

err, re: motivational interviewing. i'm not suggesting you try to become your friend's therapist. just wanted to introduce the general concept of how asking questions in a non judgmental may can be more helpful than giving her a laundry list of what's wrong with her.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:56 PM on June 2, 2011

The only thing you can do is to NOT become a co-dependent. And try to stifle co-dependent behavior in others. Addicts survive because co-dependents help them.

As to getting her to pull up from her addictions, she can not be helped until she wants to be helped.
posted by Flood at 7:34 PM on June 2, 2011

Party people get over it at different rates, and sometimes not at all, and sometimes they can persist and never pay much of a price. That happens too. And sure her voice is getting slurry, she likes to smoke weed!
posted by rhizome at 8:38 PM on June 2, 2011

I agree with everything that's been said. I think writing her a letter (an actual letter, not email) is a good idea. Where it goes from after that will be up to her. You can't change her life, only she can. You can give her your perspective and respect her reaction to that, whichever way it goes.

If she meets you with accusations of hypocrisy then you can say, with all honesty, that what you've done in the past doesn't mean that you're incapable of change and that she is too.

Whether she chooses to change is completely up to her. You get to decide if you can continue communicating with her, whatever her decision.
posted by h00py at 5:52 AM on June 3, 2011

I'm sorry, but I'm not convinced you actually know what you're claiming to know. You seem to have a classist, judgemental view of her activities, but can't seem to point to anything that actually demonstrates she's lost control.

You have also seemingly diagnosed her entire family as addicts. Maybe you think all recreational use must stop at the end of college; maybe you think it's for lazy people, or stupid people, or maybe your friend actually has a problem. Problem is, I can't tell where, exactly, your concern is coming from, and that makes it impossible to tell if your concerns are justified or not. Your friend may have the same problem when you say this to her.

If you made your thoughts known, make sure you seperate what you are saying from your belief in what is "beneath" her, or your belief that people in certain "cultures" can't be talked to. Very simply state you think you have noticed, and ask her to think about slowing down. Then let it drop forever.
posted by spaltavian at 9:40 AM on June 3, 2011

She only does the harder stuff on the weekends, so she's clearly not addicted to anything.

If she's having the troubles you describe (lost friends, health problems, mental 'fading') then she seems to have a skewed view of what addiction actually is. So here's the Dr. Drew definition: "Addiction is continued use in the face of adverse consequences."

Too many people see addiction as something out of Requiem for a Dream and think, "I can stop, so I'm not addicted" or "I can still keep my life together, so I'm not addicted" or "I can continue this behavior and no one will know, so I'm not addicted."

And if there really are no serious consequences, maybe they aren't addicted, even if they use everyday.

But once you start trading your friends or your health for your substance or behavior, you are clearly addicted and need help.

I'm sorry for what you're dealing with.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:13 AM on June 3, 2011

"her drug of choice is pot/hash, which is harmless - no different from a beer after work"

It's arguably less harmless.

You also mentioned hallucinogens and "various uppers/downers". That last bit makes me think that she may have actual addictions. Pills can be evil.
posted by melt away at 11:54 AM on June 3, 2011

I agree with digitalprimate to some extent. I think most people grow out of it around the 30 mark. It may be better to ride it out for a while and let her make her own decisions than get heavy. Change has to come from the person.

Having said that, you could say something without going the whole 9 yards and writing a long letter etc. "You seem tired lately, have you thought about giving the drugs a rest for a while" and see what the reaction is.

Even if it's not an addiction as such, sometimes wanting to do drugs can point to something up emotionally. People feel they can't relate to others properly sober, or haven't got anything going on in their life to make it meaningful so need the escape. Consider that it might come the other way round, she might get more confident, or want more of a life then drop the drugs.
posted by Not Supplied at 11:54 AM on June 3, 2011

I think the problem is that you don't actually want to have a conversation with her, you want to tell her something. So, when you imagine a conversation, of course it goes badly, because the most obvious way for back-and-forth to actually happen is for her to disagree with you.

I think one thing you can do that's constructive is to show, not tell, the benefits of a (relatively) drug-free lifestyle. I mean, you've been there and done that, so you could come at her with less of a "drugs are bad" angle and more of an "other things are better" approach.
posted by psycheslamp at 12:53 PM on June 3, 2011

« Older Oxford/Cambridge PhD decision!   |   book on value of tradeschools Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.