Addiction is a very complex disease, and it can be extremely difficult to wrap your mind around. Because drinking and using drugs is an action, it seems as if the alcoholic or addict should be able to decide whether or not they continue or quit. Those who lack an education about substance dependency might wonder why their loved one can’t just stop – especially when they’re facing serious consequences. Maybe you have a friend who has been struggling with a drinking or drug problem. Say you have a friend that recently got a DUI. You want to be there for them – everyone makes mistakes, after all. But you find that even after facing serious legal consequences, your friend continues to drink heavily. When you express concern, he or she gets extremely defensive; maybe even cuts you out for a period of time. Say you have a close friend that you know has been misusing painkillers, a prescription that was written after a minor surgery. He or she has offered you the painkillers multiple times, but you know that opiates are extremely dangerous to experiment with. When you refuse, you’re met with peer pressure. “Come on man, just try it – one time won’t kill you.” You want to say something, but you’re afraid that your friend will get upset if you do.

It can be extremely difficult to navigate when and how to talk to a friend that might have a substance abuse disorder. It’s a touchy subject, and you likely don’t want to upset your friend or accidently push him or her farther away. So, what do you do? What do you say?

Helping an Addicted Friend

First of all, decide whether or not you want to intervene. If the behavior of your friend has been self-defeating, or if behaviors have become unpredictable and potentially dangerous, intervening may be the right thing to do. Keep in mind that even though you may want to take a step back and wait for someone else to intervene, this may not happen – and active addiction, unfortunately, is a time-sensitive matter.

How Do You Know?

How do you know if your friend is struggling with a substance abuse disorder? There are several telltale signs to look for in your friend, though keep in mind, this list is not all-inclusive.

  • A lack of interest in hobbies that he or she used to enjoy. 
  • Decline in grades at school or performance at work. This could look like failed classes, more absences, missing shifts, or showing up hungover, drunk, or high. 
  • Your friend has been pushing close friends and family members away, and spending time with new friends – friends that drink and use drugs regularly. 
  • Obvious changes in mood. One minute your friend is happy, laughing, and having a good time, and the next minute they are irritable, snappy, and short-tempered. 
  • Changes in appetite or weight. Maybe you go out to eat with your friend and they barely eat anything, whereas they used to be able to house seven tacos in one sitting. 
  • The places your friend spends his or her time begin to shift. For example, instead of spending time outdoors, he or she spends time in the local dive bar or inside, at home.

Look for signs and symptoms, and if it becomes apparent that something is going on, decide what steps to take next. There are generally two things you can do – you can approach your friend yourself, or you can speak to his immediate family about your concerns. The most effective approach will vary depending on your friend and on his or her family members. If your friend doesn’t seem too far gone, and he or she is still receptive to you, then you may want to sit down and speak with them one-on-one.

Having a Conversation with an Addicted Friend

No one innately knows how to communicate with an addict, especially considering that addiction affects the brain in a variety of complex ways. Ultimately, it leads to a complete lack of reason. Keep this is mind when you’re sitting down for a conversation – logic is out the window. Also keep in mind that it’s extremely important to come from a place of love, respect, and concern, and never a place of accusation, ultimatum, or blame. Rather than say something like, “It’s your fault that we aren’t friends anymore,” try saying something like, “We aren’t as close as we used to be, and it makes me feel sad. I miss spending time with you.” Rather than saying, “If you don’t quit, you’re going to die,” try saying something like, “I’m concerned about your well-being.” Addiction is a disease of denial and defensiveness, and if you come out with your guns blazing you very well might push your friend even farther away.

If you have any questions at all regarding how to approach the situation or what steps to take next, please feel free to reach out – we have numerous resources available, including the contact information of several trusted interventionists. If things get bad, staging an intervention is an appropriate next step. For more information, please feel free to reach out to us today.

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