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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

Editorial: Who takes care of the caregivers?

-Anon groups have been successful in helping their members, both those affected by addiction firsthand or witnessing it.
Image by Sarah Mai

This op-ed is for a sub-section of the general readership.

Some of you are well aware addiction is the most consuming disease that there is. It effects the body, mind and spirit of the person suffering from the addiction. That said, it goes beyond that as well. It impacts family members, close friends and even communities of those struck by it. 

There’s no question the person smoking, snorting, injecting or otherwise consuming is doing harm to themselves –– but imagine being a person who must watch this happen. This is not a pretty thing to witness. Seeing a functional, independent and spirited person “voluntarily” give away their vitality is heartbreaking in a way that, say a stroke or cancer –– while also quite sad, falls short of. 

This is not a quick process either, addicted persons can take years off their lives, but it also takes years to do so. If you have ever seen the website, Faces of Meth (I won’t endorse it here, since it is quite graphic), you know the damage done is pervasive. 

Again, imagine being a front row witness to this. Seeing it happen over time can leave you feeling depleted. That is to say nothing if you are the one who has to argue with them to stop, or the person who’s possessions they’ve stolen to sell. 

Even at college age, most of you have probably heard about Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These are 12 step, free support groups that meet in various community settings, basically daily across any given major city. I personally believe in the power of these groups because I have seen people get better through this support network. Remember: isolation is the poison that allows this disease to keep raging. 

That word – isolation – brings me to my next point.

What about those friends and family who are deeply impacted by an addicted person?

Isn’t it also quite psychologically and emotionally draining to witness and have conflict with someone you love?

You can see the addicted person act out of a sense of being possessed, as if it’s someone other than them operating their words and bodies. This experience is alien, hopefully, to most of you. However, I know there is a sub-population among University of Minnesota students who have had this experience and may not even know how to share it. Imagine a parent, a sibling or best friend in this situation, and you feel totally helpless.

You can’t – unless you’ve gone through it. 

So again, what about these caretakers? Luckily, for almost as long as there has been AA and NA, there have been sister organizations that focus on the close loved ones of these addicted persons. They are called Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, respectively.

For the most part, they look and feel like AA/NA meetings, but the focus is on ‘How do I help myself, so I can help the affected person?’ 

These ‘-Anon’ members are often overlooked because they are not the ones consuming the substance and/or directly causing the physical or social damage that comes with consuming. They can almost more easily feel isolated than the addicted loved one because that other person has the blatant attention on them, while they are left on the side to pick up the pieces time and again. 

Thankfully, Boynton Health has been proactive about this, launching their Recovery on Campus service for those affected directly or indirectly by Substance Use Disorder.

John Watson famously said, “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I say all this to tell the Al-Anon/Nar-Anon persons on campus what I hope you already know: you’re not alone. Most people with social circles not impacted (as far as they may think) by addiction should know that those around you impacted are impacted more deeply than they could feasibly explain in just one conversation. 

It’s a little early, but September will be National Recovery Month. I encourage anyone who is directly or indirectly impacted by addiction to stand tall and celebrate this year and those of you who are not to be an ally. I shared my opinion at the beginning of this piece, this is the worst disease that society has to deal with, but I think fighting it will bring out the best in us.

Dominik Dabrowski is an occupational and environmental medicine physician at HealthPartners and a graduate student at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. 

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