What I learned from my best friend’s struggle with addiction

My best friend is a drug addict. That’s a heavy statement, I know. The term “drug addict” makes me cringe. It sends shivers down my spine. However, I prefer the term “drug addict” to any of the other derogatory phrases that could possibly be used to describe someone with a drug or alcohol problem.

I have read articles about what it is like to have a friend who is a drug addict. They all describe the friend’s addiction. They talk about what this person has done to them; how they have wronged them and screwed them over. These kinds of articles make me sick.

I believe that no one has the right to tell someone else’s story or to exploit them. So that is not what I intend to do here. I have thought about writing this for a long time, but never knew where to even start or how to write this without exploiting a person I love. I do not plan to talk negatively about drug addiction. I feel that there is too much stigma surrounding it, which could prevent someone from seeking treatment.

But what I will talk about is how this friendship has positively impacted my life, which it truly has in so many different ways. Ways that I could have never imagined. When my best friend and I first met in school, we made an instant connection. But at that time, I could not know the ups and downs that I would face with her.

Through this friendship, I have had the opportunity to perfect the art of a “thinking of you” gift to send to a treatment center. My penmanship has improved significantly from writing all those handwritten letters and cards to send. And I have developed superb detective skills.

She has educated me on what is like to be addicted to a drug, the pitfalls of addiction, how 12-step programs work, and what recovery looks like. I can now confidently say that I know what a druggie buggy is and what someone means when they say thirteenth stepping. (For those of you who are not as educated as me, Google it.)

But most importantly, she has taught me how to have empathy. She has inspired me, given me drive and confidence, and never judged me. She has inspired me to the extent that I plan to pursue a career in drug and alcohol treatment. I am not sure she realizes the gift of friendship she has given me. I am forever grateful for her friendship.

The most horrific thing that I have experienced while being friends with her is the blatant and brutal stigma that surrounds the disease of addiction. It is everywhere, and it is apparent to all those whose lives have been touched by the disease. To those who continue to judge and stigmatize drug addiction, please stop. Please take a moment to educate yourself. To those of you who have family members struggling, it is a difficult road to walk, but your support is priceless. To those of you who have a friend who is fighting an addiction, I know how challenging and scary it can be. If you can, continue to be there for them. And lastly, to those who are in recovery or fighting this disease, I have such admiration for all of you. Your strength shines through.

Bridget Bauer is a senior, social work major at a small, liberal arts, women’s college in Western Pennsylvania. When she’s not doing school work or worrying about what she is going to do with the rest of her life, she enjoys reading fashion books and magazines, watching documentaries on social issues, and eating Chinese takeout.

(Image by Haddon Sunblom)