Substance abuse disorders can be devastating. When someone starts using a substance heavily, they can develop a tolerance, and eventually a dependence on that substance. Their habit can deteriorate their mind, their body, and their relationships. As their world starts to unravel and they begin to feel lost, they turn to their substance of choice for relief – but it only makes things worse.
This is a terrible cycle, but it can be broken. When a substance abuser has a supportive network of friends and family members to help them recognize their habit and connect them with the resources they need, they stand a far better chance at eventual recovery.
The question is, what steps can you take to be supportive to a friend with a substance abuse problem?
Understand the Situation
First, educate yourself. Work to understand the current situation, both from the perspective of your friend and as an outsider. What is the substance they’re taking? How does this substance function in the brain? What does it feel like, why do people use it, and what are the consequences of using it long-term? What does addiction look like and what does addiction recovery look like?
If you can, talk to your friend about how they came to start using this substance. Ask them how they feel when they use it and try to find out if they genuinely want to stop. From there, you can research various strategies you can use to support your friend throughout their attempt at recovery.
Next, be prepared to exercise patience. You won’t be able to give your friend a good pep talk and convince them to quit cold turkey the next day. You can’t expect them to get over their addiction in a day, a week, or even a month. In fact, it sometimes takes a lifetime to fully recover from an addiction.
It’s important to treat this not as a “cure” for a disease, but rather as a form of managing a chronic illness. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. To be the most supportive friend possible, you need to be prepared for daily struggles, periodic setbacks, and temporary periods of feeling hopeless. Relapses are common, and you’ll need to be prepared to deal with them if you want to support your friend in their long-term recovery.
Be Compassionate – Never Judgmental
If you’ve never been addicted to a substance before, or if you’ve never even tried an illicit substance, you may find it hard to empathize with the person struggling with an addiction. You may feel that they’ve made reckless, irresponsible, and poorly thought-out decisions, and that with a bit more thought and responsibility, this all could have been prevented.
However, expressing or alluding to these ideas can be destructive. If you seem judgmental, morally superior, or standoffish in any way, your friend may no longer trust you or may feel so ashamed they no longer want to deal with you. Even worse, these negative feelings may push them to use their substance of choice even more aggressively.
Instead, be compassionate. Try to understand their perspective, their feelings, and their decisions – even if you don’t agree with them. Sympathize with their pain. Allow them to open up. If you do, you’ll stand a much better chance of ultimately helping them recover.
Avoid Enabling the Habit
Throughout your support, avoid enabling the person’s substance use habit. It’s tempting to help the person however you can, but some ways of helping can actually be destructive.
For example, if your friend is low on cash and they ask you for money, you may want to financially contribute. But if you give them money, no questions asked, they may use it to purchase drugs, ultimately making the problem worse. Instead, consider asking them what they need the money for, then purchasing things they actually need – such as food or supplies.
In some cases, it’s even better to allow the addicted person to experience the negative consequences of their own addiction. Cutting them off financially, while still supporting them emotionally, may give them the wake-up call they need.
Find Healthy Activities to Try Together
Oftentimes, people turn to substances when they have nothing else to do. If they aren’t active, if they aren’t enjoying life, or if they’re chronically bored or depressed, drugs seem like a viable alternative option. You may be able to help them fill that void in a healthy way by finding new, healthy, enjoyable activities to try together. For example, you can go on a trip together, hike every day, or find a new craft to pick up. Try to keep their focus on the activity in question as a healthy distraction.
Acknowledge and Cope With Your Own Stress
Supporting someone with an addiction isn’t easy – especially if they’re prone to relapsing. If you want to continue providing support and being a good friend, it’s important to acknowledge and cope with your own stress. What are you feeling in your supportive role? Are you mentally or physically exhausted? Do you need to take a break and let someone else tap in to help?
Guide Your Friend to the Right Addiction Recovery Treatments
As a patient, kind, and supportive friend, you may be able to help your friend completely kick their habit independently. But unfortunately, these types of recoveries are rare – especially for entrenched and long-standing habits. Sometimes, the best way to help someone is to guide them to a professional who can support them even more effectively.
That often means connecting your friend to an addiction recovery center, where they can get the help of nurses, therapists, and licensed clinicians who can oversee medical detox, inpatient recovery, partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), and other forms of treatment.
If you’re interested in learning more, contact Just Believe Recovery Center today – we’ll help you understand your friend’s struggle with substance abuse and recommend the right line of treatments for them.