Last week I attended a local support group meeting for parents and teens living with addiction. The topic of the evenings session: Can someone trying to stay sober (for example, after coming out of rehab) hang out with their "old" friends when those friends are using drugs or drinking?
I have had numerous discussions about this very thing with the kids and parents where I work, I know it is a very prevalent concern. There were a variety of responses as the discussion progressed through the evening, at one point someone threw out the words "sober buddy".
And that is where my mind stayed the rest of the night.
And then it went right back to that same idea the next day.
A sober friend?!?!?!?!
A "sober friend"...a teen who does not drink or use drugs could mentor a teen coming out of rehab who wants and needs socialization, but who cannot go back to hanging out with his usual group because they use and he may go right back into what was being done before the trip to rehab.
This person would not be a sponsor.
Often teens who go to rehab are told to attend AA or NA after they are through the rehab program. Many teens have a difficult time with a 12-step program. Many, not all, resist the idea of God or anything even remotely spiritual so for these kids that aspect of recovery is not an option. 12-Step Programs can do great things for some, and has obviously had success over the years, but to those who struggle with religion or the concept of a Higher Power, it is not an option.
This sober friend concept I am talking about would be someone who has similar interests, someone a teen in recovery can spend time with doing fun/interesting things that don't involve drugs or alcohol.
The pros and cons of this "sober friend" concept just keep rolling at me. I have reached out to a few people who I think understand the gravity of this problem, at this point the idea IS a work in progress.
The timing for this idea could not be more perfect as this Saturday, in my hometown of Flower Mound, Texas, we are having a community information/education/let's look for some good answers summit on drugs!
Here are some of my thoughts on how a "sober friend" program COULD work:
1. What incentive would there be for a teen to volunteer to be a sober friend?
Ask area businesses to donate goods and services to incent teens who do not use drugs and alcohol to participate in the program (ie: movie passes, Starbucks gift cards, Subway, Taco Bell, gas cards, mini golf or go cart riding?) This gets the local business community involved in the program and would be a way to advertise their business.
Volunteering always looks good on a college resume. Could this program be considered community service and be eligible for hours?
What if we went a step further and someone (or some business, or the Town of Flower Mound even?) would be willing to give an annual scholarship to one of the volunteers? Sizable enough to be recognized by a teen going off to college...$2,500 or $5,000?
Where do we recruit the [teens to be] sober friends from? Area high schools and church group youth programs. I think a junior or senior in high school is the right age. Although a college student might have more maturity, we don't have enough access to that age group all year long in our town...
How do we know a kid is free of drugs and alcohol? Honestly, there is no totally fool-proof way. The best thought I have on this is to conduct drug testing. Before someone could volunteer for the Sober Friend Program there would be application, interview, background check, drug testing and they would have to sign consent to be tested on a random basis.
Can a parent with a child just recovering "make" him/her be part of this program? No. This would have to be voluntary on both sides to have the greatest chance of success.
Part of this idea comes from my knowing parents are looking for ways for their child to socialize once treatment is complete (everybody wants to socialize) but, they are very (understandably) leary about their child hanging out with former friends.
Part of this idea comes from my being a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) which is a mentoring program that pairs a family in the CPS system with a volunteer who consistently mentors the child(ren) in the family with regular visits, calls on all pertinent service providers for the kids for updates (ie: teachers/therapists/medical staff) and then reports back to the court about how things are going while the case is in the system.
Part of this idea comes from knowing I did not want my own son to go back to his old stomping grounds for fear he would be too tempted to return to his former habits.
There are things I am not thinking of....there are other pros and cons I haven't considered. This is where I need your help and feedback.
When I told my husband I wanted to write about this topic today he said, "The idea isn't perfect yet, wait 'til it's more developed." Well, I don't think this can wait. And I know it needs the input of other people before it gets where it needs to go.
So, I am throwing this idea out into the world to see if it will stick. I would LOVE your honest comments/criticism/questions and help. Maybe this isn't just a program for Flower Mound, Texas, maybe it's something that can be used across the state...across the country even!
Because one thing is for sure...addiction is not just a local problem and this CAN effect your family as well.
Give me your feedback here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org THANK YOU!