Helping a Friend with Addiction
Today marks International Friendship Day 2020, a day that compels us to take a look at how important our friends have been in our lives. For many who are struggling with drug addiction or mental illness, friends can literally mean the difference between life and death. Whether it’s calling 911 when a friend overdoses, helping them find treatment or just being there to listen during their more vulnerable periods, friends can be, and often are, a primary means of support when it’s time to get well. Even when close family gives up, friends can be the great differentiator between continued struggle and a better tomorrow. Before you can help your friend with their addiction, however, you need to know what to look for and how to intervene.
Data from the Pew Research Center indicates that nearly half of all Americans have a close friend or family member struggling with addiction. The reality is that friendships, especially casual ones, are often among the first casualties of this disease. One of the first behavioral signs of addiction is changing one’s circle of friends to form a common “bond” around using. At the same time, lasting and meaningful friendships fall by the wayside because drug use creates distrust, dishonesty, drama, heightened risk and the inability to depend on someone.
Rather than declare a friendship dead from drug addiction, there are steps you can take to help your friend get the treatment they need—and this starts with identifying the signs. While each person’s situation and context will be different, some of the more common immediate signs of drug addiction include:
- Increasingly High-Risk Behavior (Driving High or Putting Themselves in Other Dangerous Situations)
- Legal or Financial Issues Related to Drug Use
- Prolonged Periods of Isolation
- Mood Swings or Increased Irritability
- Lack of Sleep
- Lying about Their Whereabouts
- Denial When Confronted about their Drug Use
- Loss of Interest in Work, School or Hobbies
One or two of these signs can be attributed to other issues, but it’s unfortunately easy to connect the dots once your friend’s behavior gets out of control.
When you’ve determined that your friend has a drug problem, here are some important things to remember:
- Don’t try to talk to them when they’re high.
- Be honest and firm, but not judgmental.
- Let them know you’re there for them, but that there are boundaries where they’re addiction is concerned.
- Talk to them about what they’re addiction is costing them, whether it’s their children, their career, their health or any other area of their life they value most.
- Don’t feel like it’s “not your place” or that you’re meddling or butting in their personal affairs. This is about helping your friend, not telling them what to do or judging them.
It’s also important to keep your own safety and mental health in mind. The reality is that even peripheral contact with drug use can jeopardize your safety and lead to legal issues. It’s important to strike a balance between compassionate involvement and regard for your own personal safety. Talk to their family and friends about helping, as well. You can’t do this on your own, and you shouldn’t have to. There’s a lot you can do…but there’s only so much you can do.
It helps to have a plan in place to help your friend with their addiction if they choose to accept. Find the local phone number for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and give them the information to help them attend their first meeting. You can also offer to drive them to the meeting and go with them for support if you feel comfortable.
When you’re both ready, Recovery Unplugged is prepared to help you guide your friend toward the treatment they need for drug addiction. Support systems can come in all shapes and sizes, and we’ve worked with friends, colleagues, family members and many other relationship figures in our clients’ lives to help them gain lasting freedom from drug dependency. You’re not just a friend, you’re a lifeline, and we’re here to help you reach your full potential to help your friend in need.
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