How to save a life
If your friend were having a heart attack, what would you do? Would you call 911, or would you watch him suffer? Most people would seek medical attention as soon as possible. You want your friend to live.
If your friend, colleague, or family member were slowly dying from a substance use disorder or a mental health issue, what would you do? Would you seek help, or would you watch them suffer? Unfortunately, many people do not understand that substance use disorders and/or mental health issues are just as serious as a heart attack. Many people will die from these disorders if they do not seek professional help.
At the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, we get many calls from friends, co-workers or family members who are concerned about a person’s substance use. They call to inquire about what to do, but are afraid to let us know the name of the person of concern. They don’t want to “snitch” or get the person in trouble; they don’t want the person to know they called, etc. This does not help the person in need. The only thing you are doing is prolonging the inevitable.
A sad story at OLAP I will never forget is when a paralegal called OLAP several times concerned about her boss’s drinking problem and lack of professionalism. The paralegal did not want to give the attorney’s name because they had been friends for 20+ years, and she didn’t want to lose her job. The last time the paralegal called, she was concerned because the attorney did not show up for a client meeting. The paralegal called the attorney’s brother to let him know that she did not show up to work. The brother went to the attorney’s house, and he found her dead. It was too late. If only OLAP had known the name of the attorney, we could have intervened and helped her get the treatment she needed.
OLAP is 100% confidential. This means that the person you are concerned about will never know it was you who called. You are doing the best thing for the person. You wouldn’t let this person die in front of you if he/she was having a heart attack, right? So why would you let them suffer from something they cannot control?
Whether it is drinking too much, overusing prescription drugs or street drugs, substance use disorder is an illness that needs professional treatment. A concerned friend, parent, partner, colleague or supervisor cannot cure a sick person.
It is tough to understand the mindset of an addict if you are not one. Addicts will do whatever it takes to continue the lifestyle they believe works for them. A friend of mine [Jane] who has been sober for 20+ years told me a story of the lengths she would go to just so she could keep drinking. Jane was at work when her good friend Sara caught her drinking in the ladies room. Sara was concerned and asked Jane how she could help. Jane knew that Sara genuinely wanted to help, but now that Sara knew how problematic Jane’s drinking had become, Jane knew she had to sever the friendship. For fear of never drinking again and of losing her job, Jane made up a rumor about Sara, told their boss, and Sara got fired. Not only did Sara get fired, she got evicted from her apartment. All because Jane did not want to quit drinking. This is the mindset of an alcoholic/addict.
It is common that people with substance use disorders will disown you once you start questioning their substance use. They will believe you are over-reacting. Jane was quick to get Sara fired just because Jane wanted to keep drinking. The addict does not believe he/she has a serious problem. The easiest thing for them to do is to write you off.
People with substance use disorders will often turn the problem around on you--the friend, partner, colleague, family member. Some common excuses they will give are:
I wouldn’t drink so much if you would just stop nagging me.
I would stop taking my anxiety medication if you didn’t give me constant anxiety.
I wouldn’t have to drink if you stopped giving me so much work to do.
I would get help for my mental illness, but I don’t have a mental illness. You are the one who is always worrying about me. That’s your problem.
I don’t have time to get professional help, and I don’t even need it. You do.
What should you do?
If you are concerned about a friend, partner or colleague, the first thing you should do is call OLAP. We can provide you with information on how you can talk to the person, and how you can take care of yourself.
OLAP can also help you stage an intervention. We will coach you on how to compose very specific, hard-hitting but nonjudgmental written statements that point out examples of the person’s unacceptable behavior. We will then facilitate the intervention.
The most important thing to remember is that you cannot cure a person with mental health and/or substance use disorder. The best gift you can give the person is a call to OLAP. He or she will never know you called. If you stand by and do nothing, you could lose the person. If you call OLAP, you are saving a life.