How to Help a Friend with Addiction

Watching a friend struggle with a drug addiction can be overwhelming and heartbreaking. You want to help, but you’re not sure how. Different scenarios of how to approach your friend’s drug addiction may run through your mind: What if you say the wrong thing? Is it the right time to say something? What if it ruins your friendship? Talking about addiction sooner rather than later can make a difference in a friend’s treatment and recovery. If you want to know how to help a friend with addiction, we are here to help.

Many people who struggle with substance use issues are experts at hiding it. They may seem to live perfectly normal lives despite a hidden but growing addiction. There’s no exact formula for telling you how to talk to a friend who’s suffering from drug addiction. However, other people in similar situations have shared their stories on how they got the conversation started. If you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with addiction, it’s a good idea to discuss it with him or her. This may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. 

Here are some tips for making the conversation go better to help a friend with addiction. 

Help a Friend with Addiction

Learn About Addiction – Keep an Eye Out for the Signs

If you think a friend is struggling with addiction, it’s important to know the common signs and symptoms associated with drug abuse so you can better communicate your concerns to them.

People with addiction can exhibit a range of symptoms. Behavior, physical appearance, and social interactions can provide clues as to whether one might be addicted to drugs or alcohol. Although specific symptoms can vary according to the individual and the substance being abused, if you suspect a friend is battling addiction they may display some of these signs: 

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Neglected responsibilities
  • Loss of interest in school, work, or hobbies

Physical Symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Pupils that are smaller or larger than normal

Talk When They’re Sober

Initiate a conversation when your friend is sober. If they’re under the influence of drugs during the discussion, they are less likely to be understanding of the matter. Set a time when just the 2 of you can talk. Discuss your concerns, but understand the conversation is a 2-way street. Give your friend time to voice their feelings and listen to what they have to say. Your goal is to bring awareness to help a friend with addiction, not accuse them of wrongdoing.

Speak from a Place of Support and Compassion

When trying to help a friend with addiction, the last thing you want to do is judge, or approach the discussion as a confrontation. This talk should be completely about your concern for her welfare and your willingness to support your friend. People struggling with addiction often feel judged and disparaged already. They are often quite hard on themselves and they may feel oppressed by intrusive, self-critical thoughts. Joining that chorus of criticism is not likely to do much good. Instead, put yourself in that person’s place. Keep in mind that you want what’s best for your friend, and let them see you’re genuinely concerned. Convey your concern for your friend’s well-being with specific statements. “I want to talk to you because I am worried about you,” or “Our friendship means a lot to me. I don’t like to see what’s been happening.”

Help a Friend with Addiction – Give Examples

Sometimes specific scenarios can provide a clear explanation for your concerns. For example, maybe you and your friend attended a party together where they took drugs. You may have been responsible for making sure your friend got home safely and saw firsthand the negative consequences of their drug use.

You may even be able to discuss how their behavior changes after using a certain drug. Be honest about what you enjoy when your friend is sober and how circumstances change after they use the drug.

Keep Words And Actions Consistent

When talking with your friend, it’s important to keep your message clear and consistent. For instance, don’t discuss how your friend’s drug addiction worries you, and then watch them partake in that activity. In doing so, you’ll send a confusing message that can complicate matters. Additionally, be sure to steer clear from making accusations and criticizing. Rather than jump to conclusions, show empathy in their situation. Being aggressive will only make your friend feel defensive. Instead, try using phrases like “I’m worried about your health” or “I noticed some difficult situations you’ve been facing lately.”

Help a Friend with Addiction with Your Patience

It often takes someone a while to come around to believing they have a substance use issue. It might take several tries before he or she accepts they do have a problem that she can’t deal with alone. She might get angry or defensive. Try not to take it personally. You have a much better chance of getting through if you stay calm.

​​Set Boundaries

Communicate through your actions as well as your words. Remain consistent in your message so that your loved one doesn’t misunderstand what you want or expect of them.

For example, if you tell your partner that their drinking negatively affects you, don’t offer to split a bottle of wine with them over dinner. You want to communicate your boundaries effectively with someone who has an addiction. Communicating with someone who has an addiction can also be hard if you have a history of supporting the person’s addictive behavior. They might be surprised you are speaking up instead of enabling or ignoring their addiction. Letting them know that they act in ways that hurt you may even help motivate them to get help.

What if They Don’t React Well to the Conversation?

Talking about your concerns doesn’t always work the first time. People often feel scared or ashamed, or might deny anything is wrong at all. If someone is getting angry or defensive, try and keep things calm. You might have to end the conversation. If you do want to try and have another talk with someone later on, you might want to begin by apologizing for anything that upset them before. If someone isn’t willing to talk at all, remember that it’s not your fault. You’ve tried to reach out and help, and you shouldn’t feel guilty. They might not feel ready to talk about it now, but you may have made them more likely to open up in the future.

Find Treatment Resources to Help a Friend with Addiction

Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are two self-help recovery programs that offer support from other people recovering from drug addictions, address the factors behind drug abuse, and help people regain control of their lives. These websites have tons of information about addiction and getting help. If your friend isn’t willing to go to a support group, try suggesting a confidential telephone service such as DirectLine.

 If your friend is ready to overcome their drug addiction, there are various treatment options available. As their friend, stand beside them during both the good and difficult times that treatment may bring. It can truly make all the difference in a person’s life.

Big Tips to Help a Friend with Addiction 

  • Find a quiet place to talk to your friend about your concerns.
  • Tell him or her that you’re worried about their drug use.
  • Point our ways in which the friend has changed, but don’t be accusatory or aggressive.  Emphasize that you are worried about your friend’s health and safety.
  • Be supportive and caring, not judgmental.
  • Listen to what your friend says in return.  He or she might know there is a problem, but not know what to do about it.
  • Tell your friend that you’re there to help.
  • Encourage your friend to talk to a trusted adult, such as a parent, doctor, school counselor or nurse.  Offer to go with your friend to talk to someone.
  • If your friend is not willing to get help, talk to a trusted adult about the situation.  Tell the adult that you think your friend is abusing drugs and needs help.  Several anonymous resources exist to help people struggling with drug abuse.

Little Creek Lodge – Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We know that the journey can seem hard and the path can seem long. If you’ve made the decision to help a friend with their addiction you are already helping them take that first step toward a life in recovery. Recovery is not about being powerless; it’s about empowerment. We want men to feel empowered and to make strong, healthy choices for their future. At Little Creek Lodge, we help our residents do just that. To learn more about our services, or to speak with an experienced addiction and recovery professional, please call 570-630-9354, or fill out our contact form.

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