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Responding to Help: How Should One Help a Friend Who is Struggling with Substance Abuse?

In a culture that nearly glorifies using drugs or alcohol, it is important to first define what substance abuse is. Substance abuse is when alcohol, prescription pills, or other legal or illegal substances are used too much or in the wrong way. Substance abuse and drug or alcohol addiction creates a long, scary journey for those battling these demons. It can feel as if the substance itself is the only option for living each day and can cause feelings of depression or isolation. But for those who have not experienced the same struggles, it can be difficult to understand what is really going on. So, what do you do if you have a friend who is struggling with substance abuse? Here we will discuss:

  • Tips to help a friend who is struggling with substance abuse
  • How to support a friend during ongoing recovery
  • What NOT to do
  • How Golden Road Recovery can help

Tips to Help a Friend Who is Struggling with Substance Abuse

            Whether you have a friend who seems to be drinking heavily, using cocaine regularly, or using narcotics to function, there are always ways to offer help. The first step you should take if you have a friend who is struggling with substance abuse, is to educate yourself on the substance abuse or addiction. Take the time to understand the way addiction happens, the signs and symptoms to look out for, and the different recovery options available in your community.

Substance abuse and addiction can affect the entirety of a person’s life as well as those around them. If you notice a friend struggling physically, emotionally, or financially, it may be time to say something. Find a quiet place to speak with them in private and address the concerns in a sincere and non-judgmental way. Being in a private place will help them feel heard and may allow them to express vulnerability, versus being somewhere public. It is very likely that your friend is aware of their problems and if they think you are coming at them out of a place of judgement or belittlement, chances are, they will become defensive and avoidant. Use understanding, non-judgmental and empathetic language when sharing your concerns with them.

Another tip is to simply hear them out and listen to what they have to say. Help them to better understand their feelings and make sure to validate them the whole time. This should be an open conversation to learn why they are choosing to use drugs or alcohol and help them come to their realization that they may need extra support. You can offer than resources and support groups that may help them recover. Most towns and cities have plenty of addiction recovery groups and a quick Google search can help you find some near you.

How to Support During Ongoing Recovery

Addiction recovery is an ongoing process and change does not happen overnight. If you have a friend in recovery, remember that their progress should be highlighted. Congratulate them and celebrate their sobriety dates, no matter how long it has been. Be there for them and provide understanding responses, especially if they ever disclose wanting to relapse or use again. The most important thing to remember, is to be empathetic and non-judgmental whenever discussing their substance abuse or addiction issues. And keep in mind, that every single day that a recovering drug or alcohol user goes without using, is a day to be celebrated.

What NOT to do

The worst thing you can do when talking with someone who struggles with substance abuse is blame them or make them feel any sort of shame. Comments like “how could you let it get this bad?” or “you’ve really messed your life up,” are only going to push the abuser farther and farther away and likely go deeper into their addiction. There is already so much shame and personal blame when it comes to addiction, and hearing that from other people is the last thing someone struggling needs.

Another thing to remember, is it never instigate the abuser to continue using, even just for a night out. This may sound silly, but the truth is, very little people actually understand the complexity of addiction and how quickly the switch in your brain can turn on to want to use drugs or alcohol. Comments like, “just have one drink with us tonight,” or “you’re not fun unless you are high,” may seem like playful comments but to someone battling the addictive demons, these can be incredibly triggering and will only add more shame into their life.

Also, never bring up your concerns while you or your friend are under the influence of any sort of drugs or alcohol. Find the time and place when you both are completely conscious and can have an open and honest discussion about it.

Final Thoughts

It is never easy to watch someone you love going down a dark path of drug or alcohol addiction. It can be painful and may bring up a lot of fear and worry, but there are ways to help your friend or loved one who struggles with substance abuse. Here are some final thoughts to remember:

  • Educate yourself on addiction and substance use to learn more about the complexity of substance abuse
  • If you decide to talk to a friend about your concerns, make sure to be in a private place, ideally with just the two of you
  • Use empathetic, non-judgmental, and understanding language
  • Never place blame or add shame to the user
  • Never attempt to have this conversation while you or your friend are under the influence
  • Offer them support and options for different recovery centers or groups

How Golden Road Recovery Can Help

If you or someone you know are struggling with an addiction, you are not alone. Golden Road Recovery understands that addiction can happen to anyone and it is a long, ongoing journey. Golden Road Recovery is here for you and will provide a safe and warm environment supported by many licensed and highly trained professionals that will help you throughout the entire process. The staff at Golden Road Recovery will help you better understand the root of your addiction while helping you learn to manage the cravings and prevent possible relapses. Addiction recovery is only a phone call away. Call (877) 372-0536 today to get the help you or your friend deserves.

Citations:

WebMD. What is Substance Abuse?Reviewed 28, November 2022

GoodRX Health. How to Help Someone with Drug Addiction and Support Their Recovery.” Reviewed 5, August 2022

USA Gov. Mental Health and Substance Abuse.”  Reviewed 21, October 2022

Partnership to End Addiction. Helping an Adult Family Member or Friend with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction.”  Reviewed June, 2014

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