How to Be There for a Friend Suffering from Addiction
It’s so difficult to stand by as a friend is suffering. And addiction is an especially heinous beast.
With every fiber of your being, you want to fight the problem. You want to help your friend and solve their problems. But you can’t.
Addiction is one problem we have to solve on our own. And although it helps to have an amazing support system with friends like you, you can’t forcibly save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.
It’s a tough realization to endure, but nonetheless it’s true. Helping a friend with addiction may not look exactly how you’re picturing, but there are a few things you can do to be truly helpful in a time of need.
You may think you understand addiction, but you may also be surprised. Researchers have made a lot of headway in understanding what happens in the brain and body as people abuse substances and become addicted.
This has led to the American Society of Addiction Medicine to officially label addiction as a disease.
Understand that your friend has very few choices when they’re actively addicted to a substance. Their brain has been rewired to seek that substance above all else. So things like guilt and shame will absolutely not work. In fact, they are likely to backfire.
Avoid taking responsibility
One common problem is friends or loved ones taking responsibility for the other person’s addiction.
A crazy summer of drug use turns into a lifelong addiction and you feel responsible because you were in it together.
The truth is that addiction hits people in different ways, and it could have just as easily happened to you. None of us know how or when addiction will take hold. But if we continue dangerous patterns of alcohol and drug abuse, it’s bound to happen eventually.
Unless you literally forced the substance of abuse on your friend repeatedly until they became addicted, this isn’t your fault.
And this next bit can be tough to wrap your head around, but it isn’t really their fault either.
Yes, they made the decision to abuse a substance. But they probably didn’t have addiction in mind as an end goal. You and your friend could partake in equal amounts over the same length of time and it’s possible that only one of you becomes addicted.
Acknowledge the problem
If your friend is in the throes of addiction, they’re probably not going to admit it freely. And who could blame them?
There’s a chance they’re even dealing with some level of denial. In the early days of addiction, it’s common for people to think they have control over their habit. The problem is that it’s difficult to tell when you lose control, and the only way to know for sure is to take a break.
It’s the old cliché, “I can stop whenever I want to. I just don’t want to.”
Confrontations like these are never easy. You’re coming from a place of love and concern, but to someone struggling with addiction, it’s going to feel like an attack.
Addiction will cause a person to defend their substance abuse at all costs. This could mean lying, cheating, stealing and destroying friendships.
Be prepared for a confrontation when you have this conversation and enter the talk with a goal in mind. A good example of a goal would be to let your friend know that you see their struggle and are there for them.
A bad example of a goal is to enforce change. This is way too much pressure to put on one conversation. And remember that you cannot force change. It has to be your friend’s idea.
With an understanding of addiction, you’re likely to develop a great deal of compassion for your friend (in addition to what was already there). But enabling is a very real danger in this situation.
Enabling an addicted person is doing anything that helps make it easier for them to abuse a substance. And it could be as simple as turning a blind eye to the abuse.
When someone is addicted to a substance, they’re very likely to lie and manipulate to get their way. They may even lash out at you if you refuse. Understand that this is all part of the process and try not to take it personally.
But whatever you do, don’t let them get their way. Addiction is a very serious, misery-fueled and life-threatening disease. And while it may pain you to see your friend suffering, understand that every time they use is a potential overdose. Think about how you’d feel if you helped them score that fatal hit.
Expect that your friend will try to manipulate you and be ready for those tough conversations.
Take care of you
If you’re someone who likes to help others, it’s going to feel impossible to sit back and watch your friend self-destruct. But until they’re ready to get help, there isn’t much you can do.
In this time, think about how this is all impacting your life. This isn’t about being selfish, but it’s important to take stock in our friendships. If this friendship is taking a toll on your own mental health or emotional wellbeing, it may be time to take a break.
If you’re serious about helping your friend, you can let them know you’ll always be there when they’re serious about getting help. It’s at this point that you can help by researching addiction centers, navigating insurance claims and being there to listen to your friend talk about their struggle.
Addiction is a scary foe, but when your friend is ready, it’s one you can help them face.