Although it has been many years since my friends and I graduated from high school, we meet once a year at my cottage on the Pacific Ocean. This year was a bit of a downer as one of my oldest friends was looking very fragile, and by the end of the first day and her third round of drinks, it became clear that she had a serious substance abuse problem.
Her shaky behavior and stream of disconnected chatter took me back to my childhood memories. My father had ten brothers and sisters, and five of them were alcoholics. Two of them, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Newel, died of complications from the disease. In my young eyes, they were wonderful people – friendly and kind. To their families, they were living hell. Shirley was a schoolteacher and Newel was an attorney and a past football hero. They had both been through two or three rounds of rehab, but kept on drinking.
A week after my friend’s visit, Whitney Houston died of drug and alcohol abuse, and I was asked to be a guest on several radio interviews to talk about the public’s response to celebrity deaths. Discussing Whitney Houston’s untimely death again raised my concern about my friend’s welfare. I wondered if I should call and confront her, contact her family or just pretend that things had not changed. I felt like I needed advice as my friend was not only drinking but also taking pain medication.
In a quandary, I called my friend, Jim, an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, to ask his advice. His comment was, “She knows she is an alcoholic and until she wants to deal with it all you can do is offer her friendship.”
Still concerned, I turned to the Internet for advice and information. I was interested in the signs that point to substance abuse in yourself or others. The following guidelines are taken from Healthguide.org:
- Feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking.
- Lie to others or hide your drinking habits.
- Have friends or family members who are worried about your drinking.
- Need to drink in order to relax or feel better.
- “Black out” or forget what you did while you were drinking.
- Regularly drink more than you intended to.
After reading the signs, I was convinced that my friend had a serious problem. Again I went to the Internet to seek information about how I could help. I was surprised to find on the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information website not a list of the things I should do, but list of those things I shouldn’t do:
- Don’t attempt to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach.
- Don’t try to be a martyr; avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
- Don’t cover up or make excuses for the alcoholic or problem drinker or shield them from the realistic consequences of their behavior.
- Don’t take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
- Don’t hide or dump bottles, throw out drugs, or shelter them from situations where alcohol is present.
- Don’t argue with the person when they are impaired.
- Don’t try to drink along with the problem drinker.
- Above all, don’t feel guilty or responsible for another’s behavior.
Really, when you read this list don’t you feel like your hands are tied? I wanted to preach to my friend, but I know she would argue with me if I challenged her behavior. I thought about trying the emotional appeal, but I guess in the end all I can do is what friends and family do and that is to love her and hope that she deals with the problem before it is too late. But then again if you care for people how can you help but feel guilty and responsible?
I think I will end now and give my friend a call.
Let me know if you have other ideas or stories or success with your alcoholic friends or family that you would like to share.
Dr. Gloria Horsley 2012