I’m going to need to keep this vague in order to protect the person and their situation. That being said, it recently came to my attention that a friend is struggling with a pretty serious addiction. Only a handful of people know about this, and none of us seem like we know what to do or how to help him. Any thoughts you have would be great.
I am so sorry, and I’m so sorry for your friend. I know that “sorry” doesn’t really help anything, but at least know that you have my deepest prayers and most heartfelt admiration for how you’re desiring to lock arms with a hurting comrade and face down the giant together. To that end, I’m going to give some very practical advice that will hopefully serve to get you, your friend, and the surrounding support group on the right track. But before I do that, I need to preface the heck out of this article:
Preface 1: If your friend is harming or has plans to harm him or anyone else, stop reading and get help now. I know it’s not fun and it will feel like a betrayal to your friend. But if he’s actively doing something harmful (or thinking about it), call the police, a parent, his counselor or anyone that can get him (and others) out of immediate danger.
Preface 2: Addiction is extremely complicated. And even if you told me the exact nature of your friends addiction, the path from addict to survivor is unique to each individual. So please accept this article as more of a “what to do right now” piece, rather than a comprehensive map to wellness.
Preface 3: To write this article, I needed help. So, I conferred with a friend and incredibly wise teacher, Jack West. Jack is the Care and Recovery Pastor at Mariners Church, and I called on him because, quite honestly, I didn’t want to mess this up. To that end, I would encourage you to do the same. Please get help from people around you that can provide expertise on this extremely tricky subject. It won’t make the journey any easier, but it’ll certainly give you direction and peace of mind.
All right Brian, now that you’ve been sufficiently prefaced, let’s talk about the next steps that you and/or the other people around your friend can take.
1. Have a Conversation
So often, when the lightbulb goes off and we realize someone we know is in the throes of addiction, we panic. That’s totally understandable, because we’re not sure how to help and addiction is really scary. Families, livelihoods and even lives are at stake. It’s a big deal, and feeling like you’re in a tornado is normal and indicative how much you care for your friend.
However, even in the midst of the storm, we often forget to do one thing: to talk to our friend. And not just talk, but have a very non-judgemental conversation about where they’re at, what you’ve seen and how they’re doing. This isn’t an intervention, and you’re not necessarily trying to get them into rehab (though if they offer, by all means grab the bull by the horns). What this time is about is establishing that: a) You’re their friend. b) You’ve noticed that things aren’t as they could be. c) You’re there to help, love, support, whatever.
The larger purpose of this talk is to establish your role in their recovery, which is someone they’re not going to lose. Because if your friend is like most addicts, they’ll likely lose a lot in their life: money, career, friends, family—just to name a few. But having a non-judgemental conversation lets them know where you stand—with them—and that’s crucial.
2. Help Them with a First Step
All right, so you’ve established that you’re on their team and your friendship isn’t fairweather. Now what? Well, your friend has a decision to a make, that is, to get help or not. And while I can’t possibly overstate the importance of this decision in your friend’s life, I must also tell you that it’s solely their decision to make. Your job is to love them as they process this, be there as they lean away from (and possibly give into) their addiction, and finally—hopefully, God willing—decide to do something.
And when they do decide to take a step, a great way you can help is to have one, single, helpful step ready for them. Yes, this step may be dramatic like checking into a facility, but likely it’ll be less huge, but no less important. This step may look like you driving him to an appointment with a counselor and then buying him lunch after and once again affirming your friendship. Or this step may look like being with him as he sits down with his parents or spouse and shares with them. Whatever it is, just have one step ready in your back pocket for when the time presents itself.
What I can’t stress enough, though, is that that the journey of recovery isn’t yours to take your friend on, or talk them into. They have to decide to start, and they have to do the hard work of change. What you can do is be there to launch them on the path of wellness. And then…
3. Be Part of the Support System
Think of it like this: A person in recovery is balanced on a three-legged stool. The three legs are: God (or a spiritual connection), Treatment (counseling, recovery groups, rehab, etc.) and Community (you and their friends and family who aren’t quitting on them). If any of these legs falter, well, they falter. But if those legs are strong, they remain propped up.
So, put simply, your job isn’t to keep them going (that’s up to them), nor is to create a full treatment plan and recovery strategy. Your job is to be supportive and not falter in your view of them as someone who is bigger than the addiction, more than the sum of his mistakes and someone whom God values deeply.
Brian, you are not your friend’s savior. His Savior is his savior. You are his friend, and he must be responsible for his own recovery. However, if you can have a non-judgmental conversation, be there as he’s ready to take a first step, and then remain a cheerleader as he does the hard work of change, your friend has a great shot of not letting an addiction define his life.
We are all more than just the things that challenge us, and we all need a team who is with us even as the winds blow us off course. Continue to be part of that team, Brian. Many of us will be praying for you and your very brave friend.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.