We have all heard the tragic news about one of America’s most beloved actor, Robin Williams, committing suicide on August 11th. The news of his unfortunate demise has dominated Twitter, Facebook, and headlined top news programs since the event. Perhaps one of the most poignant details of the entire tragedy is the fact that a man whose uproarious personality brought so much laughter and light to millions throughout his extensive career, was suffering so silently. We have since learned that he was struggling with depression, and has been in and out of rehab for substance abuse for years.
When a beloved actor like Robin Williams, Heath Ledger, or Cory Monteith dies- we are always reminded what a silent struggle drug and alcohol addiction can be. Unfortunately- once the press dies down, so does our awareness of the millions of people across America currently struggling with these issues. We are facing the worst heroine, prescription pill, and meth epidemic in history. And much like in the unfortunate case of Robin Williams- without the support and guidance they need, these individuals’ stories can also end in tragedy.
“We all feel so hopeless when we see our friends or loved ones become addicted. We usually preach to them, ‘If you cared about your family your job your kids, then you would stop’. But that doesn’t help. It only makes those already struggling feel even worse,” says Jim deVarennes – President and Founder of Sober Living America – an organization that operates sober living facilities and has helped over 50,000 find sobriety. “We have all been through the traditional preventative drug classes- like DARE or the Just Say No campaign- but the problem has increased.”
Sober Living America‘s One in 12 campaign tackles the addiction epidemic in a new way- rather than focusing on prevention, they provide tools for friends and family members to help their loved ones in need. “What we don’t see in typical drug awareness programs is what to do if someone is already addicted. One in 12 people in America lose control when they drink or take pills. All most all of us have known someone affected. If we arm people with the tools they need to help their friends- we could lessen these tragedies in the future“.
The organization, whose motto is “Friends Helping Friends” give us some suggestions for how to start a conversation with someone in your life that you know or suspect might be struggling.
1) Learn the signs. “Addiction isn’t always what people think,” Jim says. “They think if you don’t drink before work or every night- you are ok. But there are other signs that you should be looking for to know if you are ‘one in 12’. Do you often blackout and forget what happened when drinking? Is your 30 day prescription gone in 15 days? Do you choose drugs or alcohol over family and friends?” Look for a full list of warning signs and take a self assessment at www.soberlivingamerica.org.
2) Talk to your Friend. “Make sure to talk to your friend in the right way. This might be the most important step- because it takes a gentle approach to have the most impact.” Jim suggests approaching your friend with facts, and carefully explaining to them what you have learned. “Do not argue with them, don’t try to convince them, just let them know, that One in 12 lose control and that they may be one in 12. No amount of will power is going to help”.
3) Let them be in control. “Unfortunately, you cannot make someone be ready for sobriety. However being supportive, available, and a good friend can make a huge difference. Let your friend know you are there for them, and that you will drive them to treatment, Detox, or a 12 step meeting. This is a critical time for them, and they need a friend like you now more than ever.”
4) Be a friend. “Not everyone who tries drugs is going to be a drug addict- that is just a fact. Some of us have the chemical makeup causes us have a different reaction to alcohol and drugs, some people don’t. So if you have a friend that is has a different reaction, you need to let them know – You might be One in 12. Friends you can help when no one else can. Your friends will listen to you. By focusing on friends, it extends the circle of responsibility, and creates a support system. That is one of the most important factors in making a successful recovery.”
While it is hard to take away a lesson in the sad loss of a beloved actor- it is an unfortunate reminder that while addiction and depression issues are often hidden, they have certainly not disappeared. “We should take comfort in the fact that we are not alone- addiction and depression is something that people like to keep quiet about, or are afraid to discuss. But if we were more open about these issues, we would see that almost every single person has been impacted in their lives one way or another. As a friend (or a mom, or a brother) you really can make a difference. Say something- don’t give up on them.”
Jim encourages anyone who may have questions about what to do or say if they are ready to talk to a friend to reach out to Sober Living America at www.SoberLivingAmerica.org.