How to help a recovering meth addict

I saw via my wordpress dashboard, that the top search (maybe the only search, I wonder) was how to help a recovering meth addict, so here’s my take on an answer to that.

As with all such questions, one wonders what the questioner is really asking… Do they really mean a recovering meth addict? Or maybe an addict still in active addiction? I’ll attempt to answer both. Bare in mind that this is purely my opinion. Yes, I was an every-day methamphetamine user and addict for five years, but everybody is different.

Assuming they mean a recovering addict, i.e. somebody who has cleaned up and is struggling to stay clean:

  • The most important factor is a good support structure. Most addicts place substantial value in the support obtained through other recovering addicts, i.e. the NA fellowship, step-work and a sponsor. I do not. I attend meetings (reluctantly), but I have no sponsor. There is wisdom to be gained from other recovering addicts, of course, but I’ve never found that I needed a meeting or advice from a fellow addict to help me stay clean. Different strokes for different folks, of course, and I know it’s a little ironic for me, a recovering addict, to advise not to rely on the advice of recovering addicts. I take the whole people, places and things concept I learned in rehab to a whole new level. I don’t socialize with anyone after meetings (not even for coffee). None of my friends are recovering addicts – I choose not to differentiate between addicts, whether in active addiction or not. Any one of them could relapse at any time – so I avoid them altogether. Of course Megan is also a recovering addict, but we are taking this journey through recovery together.
  • Edited to improve the clarity of this: Please do not misunderstand the previous point. The NA program works. It is an excellent program and has worked for thousands of addicts. I don’t follow it too closely myself, but I wouldn’t advise everybody to do this. The fact is you can’t stay clean on your own. And although I don’t intend getting myself a sponsor anytime soon, I do follow their principles. I don’t do drugs or alcohol. If I get prescribed any medication by any doctor, I make sure it’s not addictive. If it is, I request an alternative.
  • To me, a good support structure means having close family relationships, having people that I, the recovering addict, can be completely open and honest with. Close friends can offer the same kind of support. (OK, so I am completely open and honest with everybody, but that’s unusual. Most addicts probably aren’t.)
  • Regular drug tests can be useful, especially in early recovery. They’re useful both as a deterrent to prevent the addict from using, but are also a great way to boost their confidence. It feels good to have proof that you’re clean. Obviously, if they refuse to do drug tests, something is very wrong.
  • Discipline and structure are very important in recovery. The addict will have had this in rehab, but on coming out and back into the real world, a lack thereof could lead to boredom. Boredom can lead to relapse.
  • Trust is very important to the recovering addict. Nobody likes to be mistrusted. I know this can be difficult, especially if they’ve already let you down many times. When I first came out of rehab, I used humour to try to put people at ease. Instead of hiding my past and allowing myself to feel ashamed, I would bring it out in the open, and say things like “I’m a recovering addict. Watch out! You’d better hide your wallets and cellphones”. I never used to steal, but nobody would know that for sure. Walking into a room and making such a statement worked surprisingly well as an ice-breaker, especially when my brother’s family had visitors who knew of my condition, but hadn’t yet met me.
  • Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the addict. Yes, they screwed up. They know that. If you keep throwing it in their face, it could lead to feelings of low self-worth (they may already be low) and relapse. Positive affirmation works wonders.
  • In active addiction, many substances’ affects on the brain present themselves as very similar to bipolar disorder. Methamphetamine does this quite drastically. I was aware of this even when I was using, but many addicts are not. A doctor can easily misdiagnose bipolar disorder in someone on drugs who goes to them but isn’t honest about their drug use. Even if an addict has been in recovery for a while and is treated for bipolar or a similar disorder, they should consider the possibility that they might not really suffer this disorder at all, but are still hanging on to the misdiagnosed condition, for whatever reason.

That’s about all I can come up with off the top of my head. I may edit this post in future if I can think of some more.

As for an addict who is still in active condition… that’s a completely different ball game:

  • Do they want help? The old saying is that they can’t be helped until they admit they have a problem. I don’t believe this. Your options are limited if they don’t want help, but it’s not impossible. Maybe they’re committing crime. Even if you’re a parent, and they’ve stolen from you, make a case against them with the police. There are ways to force people into rehab, via court order. Nobody in their right mind would choose jail over rehab. Once in rehab, they might realize that they have a problem, and that everybody else there has similar problems. Thus even someone who doesn’t want help, might still succeed in recovery once they see they are not alone. Having someone you love arrested etc. to force them to get help is a difficult thing to do, but hopefully they will thank you for it one day.
  • If they do want help, then it’s easier. Get them into a rehab, visit them, support them and encourage them. Investigate what your options are as far as rehabs are concerned. 28 day rehabs do not work. Long term rehab is a must. A minimum of three months. Search about the different stages of recovery. I won’t go into detail here, but will say this: After 28 days, the addict is most likely still in the beginning stage of recovery (called the honeymoon stage). They’re detoxed and may seem and feel fine, but they will soon go into the wall stage, which is a stage where they are very likely to relapse. 28 day rehabs are a money-making ripoff, and a terrible way for you to lose faith in somebody, who may really want to clean up, but fail.

I can’t think of anymore advice regarding an addict in active addiction, but hopefully my blog can help show anyone who is interested in reading it how tragic and terrible addiction is. It can affect anybody. I came from a good background. I had loving parents, good schooling, and a comfortable middle-class life.

If you are trying to help somebody afflicted with addiction, I wish you, and them, the best of luck. It is never easy.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent seven years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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6 Responses to How to help a recovering meth addict

  1. DB says:

    Wise words. I hope the person who did the search comes back to find it.

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  2. Viva says:

    Great blog.
    As a 12 stepper, and a single parent (ex/father is an addict now in long term rehab after plenty of failed 28 days), interesting to hear your story of alternative methods. Key point for me is that you started later in life where, in my experience, most addicts as you say start much earlier. Addiction is a sad situation and both addiction and recovery is such a long term process….decades for some. I’ve heard stats of for every year of addiction, you need to spend 3 years in recovery (I should be dead by the time my 60 years are up !). Stoked for you that you are in recovery, if not for you, but for cute boy.

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    • Jerome says:

      Thanks a stack! Yes, at Careline, they recommend 2 years recovery there for most people, although their basic program is 3 months. But I think the longer term rehab is mostly for the chronic relapsers. There’s a guy there who is in his 32nd rehab!

      I don’t get only the positive criticism. I’m called arrogant and over-confident often, although I feel that I’m being cautious. I don’t deny that I’m arrogant, and once shared on this at an NA meeting, after someone shared about being a “good” person. Before active addiction, I was selfless, and tried to make everybody happy at my own expense (and had the weird proving myself worthy thing going that I mentioned, to rejection) and this led to depression, and ultimately, to addiction.

      In active addiction, I became very selfish. I chose to take some of this selfishness with me into recovery. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to please others, I don’t have to prove myself worthy to anybody, and I don’t always have to be a nice person. I’m selfish, arrogant, conceited, vain and narcissistic when it suits me, and that’s OK. Overall I try to be a good person, but I always put myself first. Even my devotion to Megan and Josh ultimately serves my own selfish needs to some extent, although of course I do love them very much.

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      • Viva says:

        Recovery is selfish. But (to me), it’s good selfish.
        Congratuations and looking forward to more of your story.

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  3. Jerome says:

    Thanks. I agree, it’s a good kind of selfish. You have to look after yourself and love yourself before you’re capable of looking after or loving anyone else. Someone once told me that a few years ago (actually it was Shaun, who posted a comment to my next entry) but I neither believed nor understood it at the time.

    I’ll try to keep it interesting. I never knew I had so much to say…:)

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