Last updated: November 27, 2023
When the news that Matthew Perry had died broke this past weekend, it hit a lot of us—hard. Not only do we grieve for Matthew and his family and friends—which includes the millions of fans whose lives the show touched—but the news likely stirred memories that caused many of us to grieve over someone we’ve lost who battled with substance abuse as well.
When tragedy strikes, it’s too late to step up and be that “somebody“ a struggling friend or family member can count on for support 24/7. Moreover, if we did make a vow, to be that “somebody,” it’s a big role to fill. We don’t want to let appearances lull us into a false sense of security. When the person we love appears to be on top of the world and happy, happy, happy, our dedication to checking in and being a constant tends to get pushed back a little here and, then, a little there…
It’s unintentional, of course. Meanwhile, our friend, brother, sister—the person we love—is determined to succeed and realizes that we have a life and, besides, they need to be able to stand on their own two feet so now’s as good a time to start as any.
Life with an addict
Having a close relationship with someone who struggles with addiction runs the gamut of emotions—sometimes on the daily. Once you realize they have a problem and confront them, the hope that comes with promises to change is often dashed when instead of beginning recovery immediately, they try to hide the problem. After a while, the stress and strain can cause issues in our own lives that must be dealt with or the outcome won’t be good.
Some choose to step away entirely—and we get that. It’s called tough love.
Others become enablers—a place no one wants to admit they are, but must if your loved one is to have a chance at success. It’s part of the tough love plan mentioned above. It, basically, boils down to setting boundaries and sticking to them.
We stand by that attitude.
It’s important to set firm boundaries. Not only does it let the addict know where you stand, but it frees you from torturing yourself over—well, honestly—not becoming an enabler. The particulars of that relationship change depending on whether you are a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend, of course, but standing firm is key no matter the relationship.
It can be the catalyst that instills the drive to succeed within the one you love.
You’ve recognized the signs
These days, most of us have dealt with someone in our lives who abuses drugs or alcohol. Still, it doesn’t hurt to recap the signs and symptoms.
- Using more of a substance than was originally intended
- Inability to stop or cut back on using the substance
- Despite growing physical, emotional, or financial problems, can’t stop using
- Craving the substance
- Use is causing problems in relationships
- Using in dangerous circumstances, such as driving, for instance
- Shirking responsibilities at home, work, or school
- Focused on using
- Giving up hobbies over buying drugs
- Obvious tolerance build-up which causes using a larger dose to achieve the desired effect
- Suffers withdrawal when not using
We mentioned the stress associated with being in any type of relationship with someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. Some of that stems from finding ourselves covering for them to try and keep them out of trouble. Once done, however, it can be difficult not to keep it up on a continuing basis—especially if the abuser is pulling at our heartstrings. Steel your resolve and confront the issue head-on. Let the person know that is not going to become part of their routine lifestyle going forward.
Not only is it not in their best interest for a multitude of reasons, you are reinforcing their substance use. Not to mention the fact that, if you’re covering at work, when they are found out, you could lose your job by the time it’s all said and done.
Here are some guidelines to set to keep yourself from exhibiting codependency:
- Let the addict face the consequences of their actions
- Don’t try and solve their problems—none of them
- Remind yourself that you can’t feel guilty because it makes you responsible for their life choice
- Share your concerns with them
- Suggest treatment and help them find it if asked
- Commit to taking care of yourself first
When you need help
There are support groups to help you deal with issues that arise when sharing your life with someone who is struggling with or recovering from addiction. Groups, such as Al-Anon, for instance, allow you to express your feelings in a safe environment. Everyone there has likely experienced the exact same emotions and, even, specific problems can mirror those of others.
These groups not only give emotional support but also give you the tools needed to keep being the emotional fortress your loved one needs you to be. They can also be the emotional fortress that you need should the relationship need to be severed.
That is never an easy decision but after exhausting all other avenues, there may come a time when it’s necessary. If it does, it’s going to require you to change behaviors that you’ve likely engaged in over a long period of time. Being in touch with others who have lived through it is going to benefit you immensely.
How to reach out
Below is a basic outline of steps to take when dealing with a friend or loved one suffering from substance or alcohol addiction.
- Remember that they didn’t choose addiction—it’s been determined a disease of the brain
- Ultimately, addiction isn’t cured but managed
- Set firm boundaries, don’t cave
- Encourage the person to seek professional rehab, help them find it if asked
- Find someone to support you, as well
- Set an example of living a healthy lifestyle, give up recreational drug use and drinking
- Be supportive but never cover for the addict in any environment
- Be optimistic, relapse isn’t a sign of failure, this is a hard road to travel, keep heading for the light just over the horizon
A friend in need
Matthew Perry started drinking alcohol at the age of 14 and by 18, drank consistently. He formed an addiction to Vicodin after being prescribed the drug to relieve his pain from injuries received in a jet-ski accident in 1997.
Realizing his life was growing out of control, he entered rehab for the first time in 2001 and was back multiple times after relapsing throughout the years. Despite the fact that he struggled unsuccessfully to conquer his addiction, he felt he should help others who struggled too.
In 2013, after moving to a new home, he used his former beachfront property in Malibu and established the Perry House, a sober living facility for men. Earl Hightower, an addiction specialist, teamed up with Perry and created meditation programs that coupled with a 12-step workshop.
Matthew closed the facility in 2015, however, stating that the beachfront property was too expensive to maintain. According to an article posted by People Magazine, shortly before his death, he was working on starting a new foundation to help those fighting addiction. The article also stated that those close to him hoped to bring those plans to fruition as a tribute to the beloved star.
Matthew is quoted as saying, “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life. I’m still working through it personally, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me”‘ I will always say, “Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself.’ So I do that, whenever I can. In groups, or one on one.”
Matthew Perry, obviously, didn’t hesitate to put others before himself and that makes him a friend in the truest sense of the word.