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It’s a tough situation to be in when you realize one of your friends may be suffering from drug addiction or alcoholism, and there isn’t usually an easy solution. On one hand, you want to help your friend, but on the other, you’re probably worried about overstepping your boundaries or making the problem worse.
If you’d like to help your friend address their problematic alcoholism or substance use, read on to learn more about the signs of addiction and how to provide constructive support.
If you suspect your friend is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, there’s a good chance you’ve already observed some unusual changes in your friend’s mood, behavior, or physical appearance.
Some changes are more easily observed than others, however. Remember that it can be difficult to recognize certain signs of addiction, especially if you do not live with the person or see him or her on a daily basis.
Signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes used to make a diagnosis of a substance use disorder include:1
Though different substances may have quite distinct effects profiles, some general signs and symptoms of substance use/misuse include: 2
While you may genuinely want to help your friend, you cannot make your friend stop using drugs: This is a decision he or she will have to come to on his or her own. You can, however, show them ongoing support and encourage them to seek professional help.
You may have watched the show Intervention or something similar on TV and been tempted to stage something similar. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends against this approach because there is no evidence that confrontational interventions work. In fact, they may do the opposite and discourage a person from seeking treatment.2
Instead of confronting your friend in a large group, it’s better to try to get him or her to see a professional.2 Conversations with friends and family can be emotionally loaded and may unintentionally make matters worse. People may be more willing to listen to a professional than they are their loved ones.
Some ways you may be able to help get your friend to see an addiction professional include:2
Some other helpful ways might include:
Enabling typically starts out with good intentions, such as a person who just wants to help his or her family member or friend.
However, when it comes to substance abuse, helping in this manner may do more harm than good. When we take away the natural consequences of a person’s drug or alcohol abuse, we take away their incentive to change the behavior.3
Some examples of enabling include:
When trying to help a friend with substance use, it’s best to avoid enabling behaviors. You can support a person without enabling by setting clear and appropriate boundaries.
Especially in the long-term, you may want to weigh your own physical and emotional well-being over a friend’s addiction. Remember that you are not responsible for that person’s health, well-being, or choices: You aren’t able to “fix” them.
Other boundaries you set will be unique to you and your friend’s specific situation, but may include things such as refusing to clean up messes related to drug use, not providing money for drugs, and not lying for them. Your boundaries should separate you from the person’s substance use and the consequences of it.
If your friend asks for help finding treatment, praising your friend for having the courage to accept he or she has a problem and seeking help for it is a good way to start showing support.
A simple place to start is calling or searching online for different facilities to find the right doctor or addiction treatment specialist. When choosing addiction treatment, you should:
Unfortunately, finances can be a significant barrier to treatment for many people. But even if your friend cannot afford treatment, there are some other potential options. If he or she has any form of health insurance, they may have more coverage for addiction treatment than initially thought. You can help by calling the number on the back of his or her insurance card and verifying what available substance abuse benefits are offered.
If your friend is uninsured or underinsured, there are still other options that can make addiction treatment more affordable. These include:
Some people who go through addiction treatment will end up relapsing at least once during their recovery.5 If your friend relapses and seems to give up hope of getting better, encourage him or her to keep trying.
Do not enable their substance use or other maladaptive behaviors; instead, continue to provide support and nonjudgmental concern for their well-being. Condemning or making them feel inadequate for relapsing could have the opposite effect. Instead, offer kindness, compassion, and understanding. Remind him or her that relapse is a normal part of recovery and does not mean he or she has failed.
Encourage your friend to continue to seek professional support. If he or she is not involved in any peer support groups or 12-step programs, you can help them find one. If he or she is involved, suggest that they call their sponsor for help as soon as possible. Depending on the situation, your friend may need to consider going back to treatment or trying a different form of treatment to help.
It’s integral for you and your friend to remember that recovery does not end when your friend completes treatment. Recovery is a lifelong process, and your friend will likely continue to need your support long after he or she has completed treatment.
To support your friend in maintaining sobriety: