By now everyone not living in a cave has heard of the Josh Brent DUI case. Brent, a Dallas Cowboys player, was involved in an alcohol-related DUI crash on December 8, killing his friend and fellow team member, Jerry Brown. The case has spawned a lot of discussion and controversy over what both the National Football League and the community at large should do about the drunk driving issue. Many of the ideas put forward have merit and should be part of the community conversation. But there is something more effective that all of us could do.
Alcoholism is a condition characterized by denial. Much of the denial is reinforced by what drug counselors call enabling. When the people closest to the addict make excuses for him, cover up for him, bail him out of legal trouble and, with the best of intentions, shield him from the consequences of his behavior, all they accomplish is to keep the addiction going another day.
By all reports, Brent was a man with a drinking problem. My guess is his family, his teammates, his coaches, have all been a part of the enabling network. How many of his teammates saw this guy drink too much at a party, at dinner, or after practice? How many of them have been in a bar with Brent and saw him getting drunk? How many of them watched him go to his car when he’d been drinking? How many of them felt concerned, may have even said something to somebody else, but never discussed their concerns directly with Brent?
There are a thousand excuses not to do that. It’s none of my business, he’s an adult, he might take offense – we come up with multiple reasons not to share our concerns with the addicted person. Addictions experts call it the “conspiracy of silence” and the results are that addicts continue their behavior shielded by their delusions that “it’s not that bad” until someone get seriously hurt or dies and then we all wish we had said something before tragedy struck.
Providing honest feedback to the addicted person, coupled with an offer of help, is the shortest road to recovery. Neglecting the problem, actively covering it up, or simply keeping our silence are all missed opportunities to potentially move the addict into treatment. It isn’t easy. It is very uncomfortable. And all of us are afraid of the reaction we may get. But if more of us took it upon ourselves to gently confront those around us when their drinking or drug use is a problem, we would be preventing the thousands of Jerry Brown tragedies still waiting to happen.