Whether you are in recovery from addiction yourself or not, seeing a friend or loved one struggle with his or her own addiction can be difficult and heartbreaking. Watching someone make mistakes that they likely wouldn’t make without the influence of drugs or alcohol, such as destroying relationships, losing jobs, and a continuous lack of financial stability can be upsetting, and your ever-present fear and worry about their safety, health, and future can be extremely trying as well. However, confronting someone you care about to discuss his or her drug or alcohol problem is not easy. In fact, the idea of doing so may make you very nervous and you may have no idea how to begin. But, talking to your friend or loved one about these issues sooner, rather than later, can make a huge difference in that person’s recovery, and in his or her life. You have to be brave and do it, for their sake, and for your own conscience.
How to Know If Your Friend Has a Problem
If you are in recovery yourself, you are likely quite good at spotting the signs of addiction. However, their addiction may differ greatly from your own, and as a result you may not know all the signs. Further, if you are someone who is not in recovery, you may not be sure how to tell the difference between someone who has a substance abuse problem and someone who just enjoys indulging from time to time.
Thankfully, there are many resources that list signs and symptoms of addiction available to you. Most make similar points, but you may find it helpful to consult several for your overall evaluation. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a United States federal government institute that studies drug and alcohol use of all kinds across our nation, offers a fairly comprehensive list on their website. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), an American advocacy organization, offers a similar list on their site. And, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic also features a very thorough and nearly comprehensive resource on this topic on their site as well.
Take some time to observe your loved one with purpose over a period of days or weeks, and evaluate the situation the best you can. Perhaps speak to other family members or friends of the individual to see what they think as well. Then when the time is right, get ready to make your move.
How to Approach Your Friend
There are numerous guidelines and smart tips to follow when approaching someone about such an intense topic. You want to go in strong, but you also don’t want to overwhelm the person, nor make him or her feel attacked. Letting the person know you care and are there for them, should they decide to get clean and sober, is paramount.
- Be safe. Before approaching the individual, make sure that you feel safe, both physically and emotionally. This will be difficult, but it shouldn’t be dangerous. If you are concerned that the individual’s reaction may turn violent, you should not approach him or her alone.
- Don’t wait. Many people believe that addicts need to hit “rock bottom” before they will accept help. This is not true; people with drug and alcohol problems can get help at any time and can start working towards getting better right away. Also, don’t wait for someone to ask you for help; even if they know they need it, they may be too scared or ashamed to reach out to anyone, and therefore they may be waiting and hoping for you to toss them the life preserver they know they need.
- Set aside a special time. Arrange a quiet, relaxed time and environment for the two of you to talk. Don’t go somewhere where there are a lot of distractions or interruptions. Discourage attempts to change the topic.
- Make sure both parties are sober. Try to initiate the conversation when your loved one is not using; if he or she is under the influence of drugs of alcohol they will definitely be less receptive to what you have to say. Further, you should be sober as well. Even if you don’t have a drug or alcohol problem, it is surely a bit hypocritical to tell someone they need to stop drinking while you are sipping on a glass of wine.
- Listen more than you talk. Make sure the conversation is a two way street, and after you have said your introductory piece, give your loved one ample time to process what has been said and to reply to you thoroughly. Be careful not to lecture him or her. This should be a dialogue, not a reprimand. Don’t be accusatory; it is important to explain that you are worried and concerned.
- Give examples. It’s hard for someone to fully understand where you are coming from without concrete examples. If you just speak in general terms, it’s likely you will not really be heard. Instead, give your friend or loved one specific examples of ways you feel their drug or alcohol abuse is effective their lives and the lives of the people around them.
- Show love and support. Most importantly, tell your friend or loved one that you care about them unconditionally, and that you are here to help them get through this. However, the best support includes setting boundaries; also tell him or her that you cannot be around them anymore if they do not seek help, and that you absolutely cannot offer any financial support to fund their habits.
- Be consistent. Don’t tell them it’s a problem then continue to stand by watching it happen. Show empathy but make yourself heard and stick to the boundaries you set.
- Encourage treatment. Come to the meeting ready to discuss options. Remind your friend or loved one that treatment does not always have to mean long-term residential treatment, but that it can exist in many forms. Suggest many things, and encourage, at the very least, an evaluation by a medical doctor for starters. Offer to help your friend in ways that feel right for him or her, and be careful not to force them to do it in a way that you feel is best. It’s up to the individual. You are there to support him or her on whatever path to recovery he or she chooses.
Consider Finding Support for Yourself
Whether your friend or loved one accepts your help or rejects it, caring about someone with a drug or alcohol problem can be very stressful. You may feel anxious and worried all the time, and you may lose sleep over this individual’s struggles and journey. Thankfully, there are lots of groups that can help you through this, too. Carer’s support groups, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, or a wide variety of online forums, can be very helpful to you.
While you wait and see and follow your friend or loved one down his or her recover path, remember – be patient; people do not get sober overnight. There will likely be numerous pitfalls and possibly even relapses along the way. Just hang in there, keep offering support however you can, help your friend to avoid triggers, remind him or her you are there for them, and so on. Also, if it does not work out, don’t blame yourself. Addiction is the responsibility of the individual and you can only do so much. In the end, it is up to that person. You can support him or her, but unfortunately, you can’t do it for them. Stay strong and do your best; it’s all you can do, and if you stay positive and helpful, it may be all that your friend or loved one needs to move forward on the path to addiction recovery success.
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