Making the decision to help a friend with a substance abuse problem is a big one. When making this decision, be aware that you’re likely to experience many different emotional reactions, such as anger, frustration and sadness, to name a few. You might find yourself asking questions like: “How can I be helpful?” and “Is there anything I can do?” These are all reasonable responses, and while they may be uncomfortable, they need to be addressed if you’re actually going to be able to offer help. So, let’s slow things down and see if we can begin to understand ourselves.
Where are these responses (emotions or thoughts) coming from? Yes, when under the influence, our friends can be awkward or maybe even obnoxious, but what else? Is that all there is? Maybe part of the frustration is also coming from our friend’s denial, despite all the problems they are having? Maybe some of the anger is due to the half-hearted or failed attempts at controlling the problem, quitting or maintaining sobriety? What about that sense of feeling powerless in making someone do something better for themselves? That can be very upsetting. I’m sure we can all come up with plenty more examples, though the takeaway here is that being aware of our reactions and addressing it can help us in avoiding the unhelpful things we do when it comes to our friends in need.
There are many ways we can help someone with a substance abuse problem. However, it’s essential to remember that helping is different than being responsible for making someone better. Our role in this kind of situation is to offer support; we can be available, we can show up, we can listen, but we cannot make change happen. Our friend is the only one in control of whether or not their behaviors change. If you’re still with me here, let me offer some suggestions regarding ways you can offer your support:
• Show your concern by saying it clearly (and likely repeatedly).
• Be patient. Substance abuse problems generally develop over a long period and take time to resolve.
• Arm yourself with information. Knowledge about substance abuse will help you understand the process and anticipate hurdles or stumbling blocks.
• Confront your friend after they report a bad experience with a substance or when they have a hangover. Always be specific in your confrontations. One option is to quote what has been said by your friend previously. You can also point out observable behavior.
• Offer options. Do some research so you can offer a suggestion about where your friend can go to receive help and or treatment. You can always recommend they talk with the substance abuse resource coordinator at Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500.
• Let your friend know the extent of your availability to help. It’s crucial for an individual struggling toward sobriety to know who will and will not be around for them. Just as importantly, once you commit, stick to it.
• Firmly, but sincerely, tell your friend what you intend to do if they do not correct the problem. Once you draw a line in the sand, it’s once again important to stick to it!
Witnessing someone achieve sobriety, and being a support during that process, is an experience you’ll never forget. The resiliency of the human spirit is truly amazing. However, there are also times when your friend might not be ready to receive the help. This can also lead to the difficult question of knowing when it’s OK to accept that you can’t help and then figuring out how to deal with that reality.
If any of this hits home for you or this article makes you think of someone you know, consider what your next step might be. Now might be a good time to be proactive. Now might be a good time to reach out for help and develop a plan to get sober or help someone get sober/figure out how to allow someone to go down their own path.
The Substance Abuse Resource Program at PSB, which can be reached at (213) 738-3500, is an excellent place to start. This could be one of the best steps toward preserving your future success, and the program is here for you. You can also contact Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) from the list below. Or, if you prefer, there are numerous peer support members throughout the Department, and chaplains are also available. Whichever lane you choose to take, it’s confidential