For almost as long as I have admired Amy Winehouse’s vocal talents, I have been saddened by her ongoing struggle with drugs and alcohol. Her death this weekend was unbelievably tragic, and I had to wonder; could it have been prevented? What if more attention had been paid to Winehouse’s documented substance abuse disorder? What if she had returned to treatment just one more time?
These are the questions we ask ourselves when we experience an addiction-related loss. Yet instead of worrying over hypothetical “what-ifs,” let’s focus on a question that could prevent future losses: what should you do if someone you know appears to be abusing drugs or alcohol?
Talk to him or her about it. This is particularly important if they have been sober and recently relapsed. Tell that person that you’re concerned about their behavior, and that you’re afraid they might lose something truly important (a job, spouse, a long-term goal, etc.) The bottom line is: if you’re afraid of losing someone to addiction, let that person know.
Expect that person to get angry with you. After all, they have chosen to use drugs or alcohol at what they think is a “manageable” level—but for most of us in recovery, “manageable” use just isn’t feasible. In any case, you shouldn’t allow someone’s anger to prevent you from sharing your fears.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself; if you don’t want someone drinking or using in your company or in your house, tell them. There’s nothing wrong with drawing a line.
Finally, remind that person that no matter what happens, you’ll be there if problems arise and they want help getting sober again. You’ll support him or her in any way you can. You’ll do your best to help that person get the help they need.
I’ve had the terrible experience of not pushing someone who said he would get help for his addiction—he was dead two weeks later. The questions we ask ourselves are inevitable: Could I have stopped this if I had pushed harder? If I had taken him to treatment? In my friend’s case, I’ll never know the answer. Is this my fault? For that question, the answer is always no. We don’t cause addiction, and we can’t cure it. But we want to know that we did our very best to help the people we love before it’s too late.
Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer