Learning Activity for High School Students

Expected Outcome:

Young people will learn a process for helping and supporting a friend or family member whose use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco concerns them.

Focus Scripture: Proverbs 27:6 (NRSV)

“Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Materials Needed

    Chalk board, white board or flip chart and markers
    Situation descriptions cut apart to assign to small groups
    Blank Index cards for each person in the group to write the 6 steps and local resources

Activity Directions

Step 1 – Many of us will have times when someone we love or care about is using drugs, alcohol or tobacco in risky or unhealthy ways. When this happens, what is our role? What should we do? What should we say? Many times, when it comes to friends, the result is to say nothing out of fear that it is not our place, we don’t want to be judgmental, or we might say something wrong.

We need to understand that it is clearly the right and responsibility of caring, concerned people of faith to discuss such behavior with loved ones. We are our “brother’s and sister’s keepers.” The difficulty often arises in not knowing what to say. Perhaps the key to overcoming this difficulty is to give others simple and honest feedback. The most appropriate response is directly telling the person what behavior you observed and expressing your reactions to that behavior. Many problems can be resolved because of the concern and feedback of others. (It is important to note that you should never confront someone about issues such as this when they are under the influence.)

Step 2 – There is a six-step process that many people have used to help them talk to someone whose use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco concerns them. These steps help reduce denial and defensiveness because they focus on facts and behaviors that cannot be argued.

    It’s best to talk with someone about these important matters:
    when you feel comfortable,
    when you’re not likely to be disturbed and others can’t overhear your conversation,
    when you’re not likely to be rushed, and
    when the other person has not been drinking alcohol or using other drugs.

Write the six key phrases on the chalkboard or flip chart as you discuss them.

I care - First things first: Say “I love you. I care about you. You’re my friend. I want the best for you.” This establishes a personal connection and reduces defensive feelings on the part of the person you are talking to. Don’t just plunge into a list of complaints or grievances.

I see – Talk specifically about the behavior that concerns you. Above all, focus on the behavior, not the person. Present facts, not just impressions. Keep track of incidents. If a pattern emerges, that’s a clear sign help is needed. (For example, “I see my friend drinking at parties, lying to parents, and drinking under the influence…..”)

I feel – Be straight about how the behavior makes you feel. This will help remove any sense of blame from the interaction. It will also sound less judgmental and more caring. It’s not necessary or helpful to make assumptions about the cause of the behavior; you don’t have to diagnose anything or be an expert – you just need to be concerned. (For example, “I feel afraid when I see you drinking and driving. I’m fearful that you will be in an accident and hurt yourself or someone else.”)

I’m listening – Then be quiet and listen to what the person to has to say. Respectfully allow him or her to share feelings, problems and explanations. Be prepared for a variety of responses potentially including silence, the disclosure of a significant problem, or even the simple hostility of saying, “Get out of my life.”

I want – Be ready to be specific about what you want the person you are talking to do to change the behavior. From your perspective, suggest – don’t demand – what you want to see happen. (For example, “I want you to quit using and make different choices about alcohol and drugs when you are with your friends.”)

I will - Now be ready to say what you’ll do to help the person change. A ride? Moral support? Arranging a meeting with someone who can help? More listening? Make it clear that you’re willing to keep talking and if the person chooses to say nothing right now, that the door is open for future discussion.

Step 3 - Listed in the handout are eight situations involving either the use or potential use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco. The situations have been created to allow youth opportunities to practice the six-step process outlined above. While substance abuse is involved in each situation, it should be pointed out that this process works equally as well in situations where substance abuse is not the issue. Using one of the situations described, work through the application of the six steps.

Step 4 – Have the young people move into small groups of three or four. Hand out the strips of paper that have the description of the situations. A group can deal with more than one situation. Instruct each group to begin by discussing whether or not they would say anything to the person involved in each situation. Then have them discuss what they would say using the six-step model. Encourage the groups to anticipate how the person involved might respond. Some groups may want to role play the situations. Give them five minutes to deal with the assigned situations.

Step 5 – Now instruct each group to come up with situations that they either have been involved in or could envision happening. Give them time to discuss these situations by again using the six-step process.

Step 6 – Finally, bring the group back together. Ask if any of the small groups would like to share their responses to any of the situations discussed. Ask for volunteers to role play some of the situations for the entire group.

Step 7 - Review the six-step process again. During step 4, “I’m listening,” remember to expect a variety of responses. Many people will say nothing at all, others may share a very serious problem. Some will simply say, “Get out of my life.”

Also remember that our responses during Step 6 can range from simply being available to listen to helping arrange a meeting with someone who can help. If your friend or family member chooses to say nothing, let him or her know that the door is always open for future discussion.

Explain to the group that if behavior that concerns you does not change, you may discover a complex and serious problem that you are not prepared to handle. Or you may be confronted by an angry, upset, or uncooperative person who chooses not to respond. If this happens, it is important to talk to a youth leader, school counselor, physician, parent, someone in AA or Al-Anon, or someone trained in counseling. A determination of the nature and extent of the problem can then be made. Remember that it is not your responsibility to fix the problem. A referral for good professional help is often the most caring action we can take.

Ask the group if they have any questions about the six step process.

Step 8 – Conclusion – Ask the group to share which step might be the most difficult to do and why? Hand out blank note cards. Ask the group to write down the key phrases of the Six Step Process. Encourage them to keep the card somewhere where they can easily get to it when they need to help a friend or family member. Also discuss with the help of the group, local resources they could use to refer their friend or family member to for help.

Click here for Learning Activity 2 – Handout.