How to Help a Friend Through Substance Abuse

Drug addiction can be treated successfully, but it’s extremely difficult to stop using substances on your own. You may be in a situation where a friend is struggling with obvious substance abuse but has not asked you for help. The signs may be there, but you might not know how to help a friend through substance abuse.

Initiating A Conversation

You want to help your friend who is showing psychological and physical symptoms of substance abuse, but you may not know how or when to bring up the issue. Here are a few tips to get the conversation started so you can help:1

  1. Do not begin this discussion while your friend is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Wait until they are sober and then meet at a neutral spot where alcohol isn’t served. Express your concerns and your desire to help and support your friend.
  2. You can probably see the effect that your friend’s substance abuse is having on their family and close friends, or how it is affecting their career or schoolwork. Talk about how drug use is having a negative effect on the people and things that are important to them, instead of dwelling on how the situation is affecting them physically or mentally. They likely will care more about how the addictive behaviors are affecting those they care about, and they may not be aware of their impact on other’s lives.
  3. Know about the resources in the community that are available for addiction treatment so you can direct your friend toward professional help.

Constructive Ways You Can Help

Explain that support is necessary to overcome addiction. Ask that your friend seek out the assistance of a physician, counselor or a treatment center that helps those recovering from addiction. If your friend is in denial and refuses to discuss addiction or get help, consider staging an intervention with the help of a therapist and those who are closest to your friend.2

Learn as much as you can about substance abuse and addiction treatment so you will be more aware of what they are going through and what you can do to help. You can’t control another person’s actions, but you can educate yourself and speak with others facing similar issues.

Help a Friend Through Substance Abuse

Convey that you are available for support. As they move through treatment, acknowledge and celebrate your friend’s progress, but do not abandon them if they relapse. Relapse is a common occurrence in recovery, and it provides an opportunity to address missing skills.

Though this person is not a member of your family, they are important enough to you that you want to help. This is admirable, but remember not to get so involved in someone’s addiction issues that you forget to take care of yourself and your needs. You may need someone to talk to for advice and support, too.

What Not to Do

Try not to be judgmental. Remember that anyone can become addicted to substances, regardless of age, gender or economic status.

Don’t protect someone from the negative consequences of their addictive behaviors. Making excuses for someone or covering up their actions can turn you into an enabler. You want to help, not enable further substance abuse.

It’s important that the person you are trying to help understands that their addiction is an illness that can be treated, rather than a lack of willpower or a failure on their part. Convey your understanding that the best way through this illness means getting treatment and staying sober. Remember to express your commitment to support them in taking positive action toward recovery.