- The first question is report them to whom?
- The next question is why report them?
- And what are you going to report?
When a family member, friend, classmate, or co-worker is using drugs, it can be devastating to everyone around them. Drug use causes multiple ripple effects and stressors in the family, workplace, and community:
- Deception and lies
- Fear and anxiety
- Lowered productivity and poor morale in the work place
- General drama and chaos
The urge to intervene will be very strong, especially if this is someone close to you. Addicts should not be allowed to cause disruption. For their own good, and the good of others, they must be held accountable for their actions. Effective action must be taken by those in their life. This is especially true if the user is your teenager.
Your Motives to Report a Drug User
Why do you want to report them? Vengeance? Anger? This is something which will impact your relationship with the addict. The best chance for eventual reconciliation, and successful treatment, is to enter this situation with good motives. The presumptions in this article are that you are making a report about someone you care about, and not seeking payback because of some wrong. Treatment centers get at least several malicious phone calls per week from people complaining that someone is using when they are reporting they are clean and sober.
The Potential Payoff when Reporting a Drug User
There are many good reasons to make a report:
- Addict accountability instead of enabling
- Setting limits and boundaries
- Promoting positive change and growth
- Community safety
- Personal safety and preserving your own sanity
- Protecting children
- Saving the life of the addict.
The Potential Risks
Addicts create very volatile situations with the people around them, especially in the family. Some things to consider:
- “Snitches get stiches and wind up in ditches”. This is a frequent refrain in the drug world. If you report someone for user, how will they react? Do they have the potential for violence?
- Loss of friendship or family relationship
Who are you going to report the drug use to, what are you going to report, and why do you want to report? And are you prepared to deal with the consequences if you report, or the consequences of you don’t? Are there any alternatives? This is not enviable position to be in. Do not count on your report staying anonymous. It is also very easy for the addict to determine who made the report.
The first option most people will think of is the police. The police may or may not take action. Police officers have a degree of latitude and discretion as to what they investigate as a crime. Hearsay that someone is using drugs is insufficient. There must be evidence. The police officer you initially contact should be told your specific concerns, how long the drug use has been going on, the impact it has had on your relationship or family, and where the drugs or paraphernalia is, or the person who is currently under the influence or has drugs in their possession. Options at that point are criminal arrest, again at the discretion of the officers at the scene, or civil transport to a public inebriate facility, commonly referred to as a drunk tank. Another option is transport to the local ER for both medical treatment if indicated, and/or a substance abuse evaluation through the local mental health crisis service. If criminal charges are filed, it may be a misdemeanor possession charge, if the amount of drugs was small and typical of what a user would have for their own personal use. It may become a felony charge if the quantity of drugs found are deemed typical of what a dealer would have on hand to sell to users. For many addicts, getting arrested is the best thing for them, because it will open a pathway to recovery, if they choose to take advantage of it.
Reporting can also mean contacting their employer. What you tell an employer will be hearsay, without evidence to the contrary. What action ensues is entirely up to the employer. They may hang up on you and take no action. They may listen, and if there have been suspicions about the employees behavior or productivity, they may be disciplined, terminated, or diverted to an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or other treatment options in lieu of termination.
Reporting can mean telling other family members from whom the user has kept their addiction a secret. Addicts are very good at hiding their behavior, and family members who love and trust that person may embrace denial, and be unable to believe their son or daughter is an addict. They may respond with outrage or disbelief when they are told the truth. It may take a while for their reality to sink in, and when they do, they will feel betrayed. They may or may not forgive. This will cause major disruption in what is probably already s fragile family system.
Acceptance and knowing when to let go and move on is a part of this. Addiction is something which tears families apart; Addicts within a family system have tremendous power. They make embarrassing scenes at family get to-gethers, they lie and steal. They bring shady characters that are dealing or using into your home. Addiction is the compulsion to use a drug despite adverse consequences with high tolerance for the substance, and withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not used. There are no threats that someone on the outside looking in can make that will scare neither an addict clean, nor any promises to never use again that an addict can keep. Addiction is a genetically transmitted, neurologically based, behaviorally chosen and maintained disease. It is chronic, complex, progressive, and terminal. Addiction can be arrested but it requires extremely aggressive and ongoing treatment. Making the hard choice to report an addict’s use to police, employer, spouse or family may be the initial step in getting them into treatment. They may never speak to you again after doing this, or they may thank you.
Addiction is not curable, and will require ongoing treatment for life to one degree or another, and the addict may relapse, in which case the cycle is repeated after a period of abstinence, this can be both infuriating and heartbreaking the to others. This cycle can be repeated many times. You have to decide for yourself where your limits are and when it is time to cut your losses and move on, whether this means terminating an employee, ending a friendship, or cutting off contact with a family member.