The Importance of Empathy When Dealing with Drug Addictions

A Bad Habit: There is a problem that everyone seem to avoid talking about: drugs. As a youngin’, I came up with all sorts of excuses to take drugs. Drug was my choice of outlet for everything. When I’m happy, I take drugs; when I’m sad, I take drugs; when I’m angry, I take drugs. I didn’t know better because everyone around me seemed to be doing it too. Almost every year, there would be one or two friends die from overdose. But none of us cared, we grieved and we used drugs to mask the sadness and fear.

The Bad Times: My impulsive and reckless decisions have put me in some pretty bad places. One night, I overdosed and woke up in the ICU, strapped down with a tube down my throat. I will always remember the disdain on the nurse’s face as she told me that my heart literally stopped and no mother should ever have to hear such news about their child. Her unsympathetic approach only made me angry and less than a week later, I was back to my old self. One drug that I had particular problems with was Xanax. The unfortunate thing about Xanax is that when you’re a long term regular user who stops taking the drug suddenly, you could have seizures or even die. On the several accounts of me not taking pills for a week or two, I had seizures at a gas station, in front of my roommates, at a friend’s house, etc… I went to the ER because I gave myself a second-degree burn while I was fucked up on the pills. For awhile, my life consisted of ambulance rides and ER visits.

No Good Sympathy: Some of my friends would act sympathetic toward the situations I was in. “Life is stressful,” “your friends were the bad influences that made you do it,” “your boyfriend is causing you all the stress, that’s why you need drugs.” the more sympathetic they were toward my situation, the more I found excuses to justify and continue my drug use.

The Change: I felt like I was losing my mind and control on my life. I got sick of the drug use but wasn’t sure how to stop. I began to see a therapist and he suggested that I attend a meeting that is similar to NA meetings. The first thing I noticed at the meeting is that there are all sorts of people in this group. There is a young mother, men and women in their 50s, young people of my age… One thing that everyone had in common was an addiction problem. We went around in a circle and admitted our addictions. Then we would discuss what kind of underlying emotions were causing these dependencies. These emotions include fear, anxiety, peer pressure, loneliness, etc… It was very uncomfortable but it forced me to hear other people’s stories and tell them about myself. I was surprised to learn that on some level, all these people are the same as me. We were all fighting the same battle, and most importantly, we’d made the decision to change and better our lives. All the people from the group expressed empathy when I told them about my story. Their empathy felt genuine because I knew they understood what I was going through and how I felt. Their empathy gave me the courage to change myself.

13248331_1288605841154417_6319110088063280989_oThe Result:  I started to distance myself from friends whose only interest were drugs. I said no when people offered me drugs at parties. I even flew back to Texas to stay with family for 2 months. I was able to reduce my addiction to very few occasional uses since January. As of today, I’ve been completely sober for 3 months! I’m extremely thankful for the people from the meetings. Their stories and empathetic advice aided me in my path to a sober life. One thing I’ve learned is that empathy is far more effective than sympathy when you’re trying to offer help. As humans, we desire understanding, not pity.
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15 thoughts on “The Importance of Empathy When Dealing with Drug Addictions

  1. Hey,
    That’s really great that you have been sober for 3 months. I know people who have/ are still struggling with drug addiction, especially with Xanax. I think it’s really hard for a lot of people to understand or to be empathic towards that. But in reality, that’s what the person using the drugs needs the most. There’s nothing worse than feeling like people don’t understand you, and in turn that can only perpetuate the situation. It takes a lot of strength to battle an addiction like that, and it sounds like you are doing really well, which is awesome!!

  2. Hi,

    I think this post is so authentic and moving. It is brave to express yourself in this way, and I think it is awesome that you’ve been working on sobriety and doing so well. It is easier to be sympathetic with something as serious as this, because being empathetic means you yourself have to be vulnerable and allow yourself to feel the things that person is experiencing. When someone then gives you a sympathetic response, it can leave you feeling empty. Empathy can be so powerful in comparison and I think your story demonstrates that!

  3. Congrats on 3 months of sobriety! I know how hard a battle with addiction is. I’ve watched a few friends and myself included work through it but unfortunately I know some who didn’t. It’s saddening to hear about how that nurse treated you. People don’t understand an addicted mind is in such a fragile state and being treated harshly just impacts an addict negatively.

  4. I cannot begin without saying congratulations to three months of sobriety! That is an amazing feat, especially when you are constantly surrounded by it in school. I also think it’s very eye opening to point out that addicts simply seek an understanding, and when it isn’t provided you then turn to the drug of choice for relief from no one understanding. I will whole-heartedly agree that empathy is more effective than sympathy when trying to offer aid to others. In my experience, it makes me feel like they aren’t trying to act superior, but rather put themselves in my shoes.

  5. Hey Adan,

    Thanks for sharing this post with us. A lot of people in this world completely misunderstand drug addicts and drug addiction as a whole. It is easy for people to brush it off when they have never experienced it themselves, or been around someone who struggled with drug abuse. I’ve helped friends with drug problems, and I still am today. It’s not enough just to talk to them, and say you will be there for them. In my experience the only way to help people with drug problems is to be a replacement for the drug.

  6. Adan,

    Let me say again, congratulations on three months of sobriety! You were so open and honest about drugs in your post, which should be the standard when dealing with these kinds of issues in my opinion. I know a few people who struggled with Xanax, including my freshman year roommate who had to leave because he was in a really bad place. I guess Xanax does kind of serve a purpose medicinally, but it just sucks how addictive and soul crushing it can be.

  7. Hey Adan,

    I have a cousin who had a pretty tough childhood and turned to drugs. Nobody knew the severity of his problem so when he was caught they would try to discipline him through countless ways that were not effective at all, it would just make it worst and he wouldn’t stop. Then he overdosed and that was the first real scare he gave my family, what was frustrating for me is that I knew what he was going through but I didn’t know how to help him. It wasn’t until he was forced to enter into a rehab program that he started getting better, I would take him to the NA meetings and that’s when I realized that the best way for me to help him was just to be there for him and be supportive and not try to be sympathetic, I saw how much better he came out of those meetings and how much it helped him and understood that I couldn’t provide that for him because because it was impossible for me to be empathetic to his problem unlike the others in the NA meeting. He is now 2 years clean and better than ever so keep on the path you’re currently on and congratulations on being three months clean!

  8. Hey Adan,

    Powerful read. I think this was my favorite blog post of the week just because of how much I can relate to it. The way you described all of those situations in your post really resonated with me. Drugs can be hell, but I am glad you are able to reflect on these experiences and learn from them. For me personally, experiences like the ones you described have taught me a lot about life. Hope all is well.

    -Max

  9. Hello Adan,
    Throughout highschool and my early years at college, I too dealt with frequent drug use as an outlet for anything going on in my life. It really does have the ability to begin to take control of your life and I totally understand what you meant and were going through. I too shared a similar experience of distancing myself from friends who shared the same habits and it brought a much better outlook on my life when I could be with others who did not need to use drugs as an outlet as frequently.
    Walter.

  10. Adan,

    Incredibly brave of you to have the courage to share such a moving and powerful piece of your life. The troubles that lead down that path are something that can quickly pick you up and destroy all that you have. Having a group of people that can feel that pain because they have been there or understand it well is so incredibly important. That empathy is such a key aspect to overcoming something as difficult as addiction. Glad to hear that things have been going well as of late.

    -Garrett

  11. Adan,
    First of all, congratulations on three months! It takes a strong person to make a change like that, and furthermore, I feel that it is awesome that you can share your story. I found your post particularly moving due to the fact that I have been on the other side with a couple of really close friends. Addiction is so hard to deal with, and a person showing empathy and sympathy have such a different effect on the person.

  12. Hi Adan,
    Your story just brought tears to my eyes. My dad has been sober for 28 years now and I have had the privilege to be at some of this meetings and yearly conventions with him. Your post just made me remember that feeling empathy and community that NA has. Congratulations on your three months, I admire your strength and determination.

  13. Hi Adan,

    Congratulations on being sober for three months, that is a big accomplishment when it is something that you were surrounded with. It is a hard thing to be around and it really shows how strong you were by being able to empower yourself to take a step back away from everything in order to stay in your best interest for yourself especially with flying home to Texas to get away from everything.

  14. Hey Adan,
    I understand what you went through. Its amazing that you have made it three months sober. I am still struggling with my own issues with an addiction to nicotine (Chewing Tobbaco). Its crazy how much it can affect you and your mind. I am glad that you are taking a step back and doing your best to stay away from it. You’re a strong person, no doubts about that. I’m also glad to hear that you are doing much better. Keep up the good work.

  15. Hey Adan,
    Sorry to hear you’ve been through so much. Speaking from experience, it can be easy to slip into bad destructive habits, especially if you are trying to run away from other bad habits. I’ve always had difficulty separating myself from those “friends” that like to party on a different level. The only real way to get out is to get help; congrats on taking that and many other subsequent steps. You’ve begun a great and positive journey because of what you have overcome.
    -Matt

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