Our friendships can add immense value to our lives. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves concerned about a friend and his or her well-being. If you have a loved one who you suspect may have developed a problem with drug or alcohol use, it can be difficult to know what to do and how to go about it.
The good news is that your friend already has an advantage in recovery, and that’s you. Social support can be critical in mitigating the issues that arise with a substance use disorder, and intervention from loved ones could be the thing that tips the scales toward sobriety.
If you are concerned about a friend who may be using substances, here is a step-by-step guide for how to show you care.
How to help a friend with an addiction
Helping a friend with an addiction is a sensitive process, and it can feel overwhelming when you don’t know where to start. Use these concrete steps for how to help a friend with an addiction.
1. Understand your limited role
The first stage in supporting your friend is understanding your own role in his or her addiction. While your support and love are irreplicable, you should never consider yourself solely responsible for your friend’s recovery. Substance use disorders are chronic, relapsing brain diseases that require professional treatment and medication to overcome. You are not responsible for their personal decisions or for providing the services of a team of professionals.
2. Look for warning signs
It may be the case that you’re unsure if an addiction is at play. You may even wonder about the difference between casual or recreational use and a real substance misuse problem. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several warning signs of an addiction that you may notice in your friend, and when you spot these it’s time to get help.
- Needing to use a substance several times a day
- Needing more and more of the drug to feel the same effects
- Stashing a supply of the drug
- Spending money on the drug when you can’t afford it
- Missing commitments
- Acting secretive
- Struggling to concentrate on anything except obtaining and using the drug
- Failing to complete work tasks
- Having trouble with family life
- Doing illegal or risky things to obtain the drug, such as stealing
- Neglecting physical appearance
- Drastic changes in behavior
- Irregular sleep or eating habits
- Requesting to borrow money without a reasonable explanation
Any behavior that changes suddenly or seemingly without cause may be a reason for concern. You likely know your friend well enough to allow your intuition to guide you in discerning whether substance use is at play.
3. Have a tough conversation
Helping your loved one begins with a tough conversation. It’s essential that you bring up your concerns, voicing specific patterns you’ve noticed such as self-isolation, changes in appearance and paranoia or secretive behavior. Clearly identifying behaviors can help a person recognize the extent of the issue and will make it more likely that he will confide in you.
Sharing your concerns and the warning signs you’ve identified is just the first step in this conversation. The second is to express your intent to help in whatever way you can. Share that you are aiming to refrain from judgment and care deeply about your friend as a person. While you may be met with hostility at first, having this heavy conversation is proof that you value your friend and your relationships.
Having a conversation when you’re unsure whether your friend is struggling with an addiction and to what extent is still necessary. A proactive conversation, even before you have clear evidence of substance use, shows that you care and have your loved one’s best interests at heart.
If your loved one is not actually facing an addiction, he or she may be manifesting symptoms of something else, like chronic pain or mental health challenges. Opening a conversation about changes in behavior could be illuminating to your loved one and help her get support for a different presenting problem.
4. Be patient
Your friend may be unwilling to admit to a substance use problem immediately. However, she is now aware that someone (and likely many people) have noticed changes and the problems those changes have caused. Even if this doesn’t open the door to seeking treatment immediately, your friend will begin to gain perspective on the extent of the consequences that are resulting from substance abuse.
At this point, you don’t need to have a daily conversation about a brewing addiction with your friend. However, expressing support and encouraging rehab every so often keeps the door open to treatment and establishes a safe space to talk in your relationship.
5. Look for local resources
Your loved one may come to you at any point ready to engage in treatment, and unsure about the next steps. While you aren’t responsible for signing your friend up for treatment, it can be helpful to know some local resources that offer substance use treatment.
Consider jotting down a few places you can call so you have them ready when your loved one is open to finding professional care, whether it’s the location of a 12-step meeting, an inpatient rehabilitation location that can offer an assessment or a substance use counselor in your area or that operates remotely.
6. Continue your learning
Substance use disorders are complex in their causes and treatment and the process of healing is rarely linear. The more you understand about the treatment process, relapse statistics and protective factors for sobriety, the better you can walk with your friend during this difficult time.
High Focus Treatment Centers can help your friend find healing with mental health or substance use concerns. Get in touch today to learn more about the programs available.