Sunday, March 29, 2009

what would wanda do about an alcoholic friend?

Wanda, what would you do ... ?

A dear friend is an alcoholic and prescription drug abuser. She has been on antidepressants for years. She mixes booze and pills, knowing they can kill her. Recently, her shrink prescribed amphetamines to "help her get out of bed."

She talks of suicide every time I see her. She claims her therapist and her prescription shrink know this. I am beside myself with worry that the combination of speed, downers, alcohol and carelessness will finally do her in. What would you do?


Seriously. I would pray for wisdom about what to do in this situation, as well as praying for my friend's well-being. Then I would listen for inspiration--both from my inner voice and from interactions of those around me.

You say this person is a "dear friend." How fortunate that she is dear to you and I presume you are to her, as well. Does your friend know she is an alcoholic? Does she know that what she is doing is abusing drugs? Those may seem like stupid questions, but sometimes people really don't know. They might know something is wrong, yet not know what the problem is. If this is the case, I would talk to her. I would share my concern about her behaviors and her suicidal tendencies and tell her that these are symptoms of something being out of balance for her. Let her know that it is not because something is wrong with her and that with the right kind of help and treatment, she can get some help and relief.

I might offer to go to an appointment with her to share my observations with her therapist and/or psychiatrist. They may, in fact, know about her thoughts and feelings as your friend states; however, she might be relieved if you were to offer to go with her to share your insights and support her through this tough time. If she refuses...well, that is her choice--even though it is a crappy choice she is making. If she won't agree to have you go with her, you can ask her if you might talk (or write a letter) to her therapist and prescriber. Again, she might say no, but what does it hurt to ask? If nothing else, it reinforces for her your concern. If she says yes, mail the letter--don't ask her to deliver it. On the slippery slope of substance abuse, such missives can get lost if placed in the hand of the user. If you call the treaters, let them know that you are aware that they can't share information with you and that you talked with your friend who knows you are calling. They may simply say, "Thank you." They may even refuse to talk to you, but if they listen, you will know that they do know about your friend's alcoholic behaviors in conjuction with her drug use.

Another option is to do an intervention on your friend. This would take planning and I would recommend involving a professional to guide you through the process. Interventions can be life saving for the substance abuser. If her family and other friends will participate with you, the intervention is even more potent. Part of the reason for having a professional involved in the intervention process is to help come up with options, both for your friend and her treatment and for you if she refuses. You need to know what your limits are. For example, will you stop talking to her if she doesn't get treatment? Is she welcome to talk call you only if she hasn't been drinking? What will you do to take care of yourself once she decides what she will or won't do.

And, of course, the bottom line is that your friend does get to make her own decisions. Unless she is threatening to do harm to herself or someone else, she gets to make her own decisions, bad though they might be. If she is threatening to do harm and you believe her, call 9-1-1. Get her help immediately. Don't try to convince her of anything--just get her help.

This is a long answer to a short question about a complex issue. What would I do? I would talk to her. I would do my best to get her some help, share information, be supportive. And...most of all, I would take care of myself. If she refuses to do anything to help herself, I would do what I need to do to set my own boundaries--difficult though it may be.

I send my best wishes prayers to you and your friend. May she choose life.

That's what I'd do.



Anonymous said...

It's been my experience that some people are just determined to self-destruct, and the sooner you get out of their no-win game, the better.

Fully Bitter

Wanda said...

And Fully Bitter is right! Some people are hell-bent on destruction and there is nothing you can do to save them.

That is why my emphasis is on your taking care of yourself!

Please do.

Anonymous said...

Dear Wanda,

I am the Anonymous who asked the question. I am not bitter, fully or otherwise. I hope Fully Bitter has a good friend or two who can help through the anger and pain.

Thank you for your advice. I have read it through twice now.

The day I Asked Wanda, I had been praying and asking for guidance. That's when I remembered you and found the link that took me to you. Doesn't that seem like divine guidance?

Moments after I wrote the question, my friend called. This is significant because her voice mail is almost always full, she lives miles beyond my physical reach, and one of the ways I have been taking care of myself is to stop trying to reach her and wait for her to call. I pray a lot.

I believe in the power of prayer, especially in the power of prayer in numbers. Some may call it a coincidence that she called just after I wrote to you. I believe it is because another mutual friend and I were both worried sick about her that day, praying and strategizing and supporting one another, and sending out calls to the universe as well as caring humans like you.

I did not have the courage to confront my friend that day, though, and I don't know when I will, but I am asking for the right moment.

I will also look into the possibility of an intervention. It is very tricky business, as I am not a close associate or family member. I do not know how that can work, but I will explore it with our mutual friend.

This is not the first friend I have watched pursue this path. The other one died. I know this one may die too and there is nothing I can do to save her. I also know that I want to have done everything I could, no matter which way it goes. I need to do that for peace of mind. I realize that if she lives, none of us will ever know if something we did helped, but if she dies, we'll always wonder if we could have done one thing more.

Thank you for all your advice. You gave me much to consider and a number of good things to do. I will get back to you.

Wanda said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am glad to hear that you have a friend on this journey to support and care about your alcoholic friend.

You are absolutely right that interventions are tricky business and it is my opinion that a badly executed intervention is worse than none at all. A personal confrontation (addressing the issue head on, not a fight) would be the better choice if an intervention cannot be done well.

It sounds like you are establishing some personal boundaries and that, too, is very important. I wish you well...and your friends.