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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

An Open Letter to Lindsay Lohan: You need the right kind of friends

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Dear Lindsay,

Anyone who isn't living under a rock has already heard you were sentenced to 90 days in the LA County Jail for violating your DUI probation. You must be frightened beyond belief. Serving time will be rough on you and on those who love you. But this can be a turning point in your life. Addiction to alcohol and drugs is a pernicious disease, and your recovery is dependent not only on you---but also on making some difficult choices about the company you keep.

You are fortunate to have a new advocate and lawyer, Robert Shapiro of O.J. Simpson's "dream team," who knows quite a bit about addiction; he lost his own son to the disease. Until your "surrender" on Tuesday, you are staying at Pickford Lofts, an upscale treatment and sober living residence in LA started by Mr. Shapiro in memory of his son. From its website, it looks like an appropriate place to think about the future. It also offers many of the amenities you are used to---including high-speed wireless Internet access---so I hope you get to read this note.

When it comes to friends, how can you separate the bad from the good? Here's my advice:

1) Be wary of enablers

You don't need friends (or employees, employers, or PR flaks) who profess they love you but support your addictions by making excuses, covering up, giving you too many chances, failing to make you responsible for your own actions, and allowing you to manipulate them and others on your behalf. Whether well intentioned or not, these types of friends hinder rather than help recovery.

2) Stay away from triggers

There are people, things, and places that will re-arouse the sensation-seeking part of your brain that craves illicit substances. Stay clear of temptation and stay away from friends who are known users and from places where you've used drugs before (clubs, parties, homes). You need to change the patterns of your previous behaviors and focus on doing healthy activities with healthy people. If a friend invites you to join her at a gym, enjoy a day at the beach, or catch a movie, just do it. Try to break out of your old habits and make new ones.

3) Hang with friends who understand addictions

If friends are blaming and accusatory towards you or try to talk you out of changing, it's clear that they don't understand that addiction is a disease; they are frenemies--- not friends. Your friends should be able to separate you the person, from addiction the disease, and give you another chance to change.

4) Choose friends who will be there for you

Some friends by virtue of their own lifestyle will be too busy to help you. You need some friends who can and want to be accessible: Friends who will answer your phone calls, respond to your texts, reply to your tweets, and invite you out. The months ahead are going to be tough ones and healthy friendships can provide you with support and reassurance. You might suggest that your close friends join Al-Anon or Nar-Anon so they are better equipped to understand.

5) Find friends who can be role models

Friends who have battled addictions in the past and have successfully recovered will understand your past, respect your decision to change, and help you chart a new future. Seek out these individuals and also take advantage of mutual support groups online or in your neighborhood.

I emailed my colleague Judy Kirkwood, a writer and member of the Parent Advisory Board of Partnership For a Drug-Free America for her advice. She said: "In order for Lindsay to put her sobriety, recovery, and survival, first, Lindsay will need to move in a completely different circle of people and choose activities that are healthy and safe. That eliminates clubbing, and contact with old friends who are using and anyone with whom she has used. She not only has to abstain from substance abuse, she has to abstain from the triggers that trip her cravings. The people Lindsay meets in recovery will become her new friends."

After an appropriate stint in treatment -- at least 90 days, preferably 6 months---there are many in the Hollywood community who could support you (Drew Barrymore comes to mind). Jane Fonda spoke out in 2006 when you both were making the movie Georgia Rule and you were chastised by the producers for your behind-the-scenes unprofessional behavior (late night partying that caused filming delays). "I just want to take her in my arms and hold her until she becomes grown-up," Fonda said at the time. "She's so young and she's so alone out there in the world in terms of structure and, you know, people to nurture her. And she's so talented."

It's unclear whether addictions are more rampant in the entertainment community or just more newsworthy. But whether you're famous or not, recovery is never a quick fix. Give yourself the gift of time to recover before you plunge back into a heavy production schedule. There is a whole new world waiting for you if and when you sober up. To get there, you have to leave the world you are in.

I wish you only the best and hope you take advantage of this new beginning!

Best,
Irene

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.