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How To Approach A Friend Who Needs Addiction Treatment

Watching a friend struggle with an addiction is scary… but deciding to talk to a friend that is struggling with an addiction and encourage professional treatment (such as rehab) can feel like an absolutely insurmountable and terrifying task. It is natural for those struggling with the disease of addiction to be in denial of their disease for a long time, to believe they don’t need addiction treatment, and perhaps even be combative or emotionally turbulent at the thought of it. This fear may drive you away; you may conclude that talking to your friend about their addiction won’t do them any good- it may only upset them or drive them away from you. You may even think that it is none of your business, and that what people do is “their choice” and you have no right to interfere in their personal problem.

But to an extent, you do have the right to interfere. We’re not sure if you needed to hear this today, but if you love someone deeply, some may even say you have an obligation to be honest with them about their behavior or about what you see in their life that may be harmful to them. This perpetual or continual damage may be the behavior of others, or their very own self-destructive ways. You have a right to speak up and let your friend know that you are concerned about them and that they may be a danger to themselves and/or others, as well as the right to strongly encourage that they get professional treatment for their addiction and pursue help for their illness. You have a right to voice your own feelings of possible hurt, betrayal, and worry. It is not being nosy – it’s having respect for yourself and respect for your friendship.

Here, we’ve gathered some tips for you to help you speak to your friend struggling with addiction and help them find sufficient treatment for their disease:

Understand What Addiction Is And How It Feels

The first thing you will want to do is educate yourself on addiction.

You may not understand firsthand what is going on, but in order to approach an addict or alcoholic in a way in which they will be most receptive, you’ll have to try to do as much research as you can (congratulations, you made it here!) in order to step into their shoes and get into their minds as much as humanly possible. This way, you can speak to them in a way in which they may be more receptive.

Addiction is speculated to be caused by legitimate factors such as genetic predisposition and is linked heavily with traumatic experiences and comorbid mental illness. Addiction manifests differently – yet the same – in everyone who becomes addicted. For example, everyone who struggles with an addiction will experience anxiety when without their drug of choice and do whatever they can to attain the substance in order to relieve their craving and continue feeding their dependence. However, not everyone will end up homeless because of their drug, and you shouldn’t withhold a conversation with a friend just because it hasn’t gotten “that” bad yet. Empathy and openness are important when approaching your friend on any matter, but especially one regarding their addiction.

Understand What Addiction Looks Like

Before you can talk to anyone with any lick of conviction, you must, in even just a small sense, try to understand what it is you’re talking about. In order to approach a friend about addiction, you must understand the signs of an addiction taking hold of someone. For example, some social symptoms of addiction may include becoming more and more withdrawn, missing school or work, legal issues, relationship and marital turbulence, etc. Physical symptoms (depending on what drug is being used) can range from weight loss, strange or sped-up speech, looking malnourished, and an overall “unwell” appearance or demeanour. Withdrawal can affect the steadiness of hands, balance, cause nausea, and an array of other unpleasant symptoms.

Do your research so you can understand the signs and be able to clearly understand why it is you’re deciding to have a conversation with your friend.

Do Your Research On The Types Of Treatment

From rehab centers, detoxification centers, 1-on-1 cognitive or dialectical behavioral therapy, medication, outpatient treatment – there are plenty of options for addicts who need to overcome their disease.

Speak To Them When They Are Sober

No one is going to be optimally reasonable while under the influence of a mind-altering substance (probably not even you!). In order to ensure the best outcome possible (here, the ideal outcome is addiction treatment or rehab), catch your friend when they are sober and ask if you can sit with them and talk to them for a bit- no pressure. Insist it is important to you.

Come From A Place Of Love

You are speaking to your friend about their addiction because you love them – because you don’t want to see them injuring themselves and hurting those around them any longer. Make this clear. Try to make as many statements as you can that focus on the way that their actions towards you and themselves have caused you to feel, for example: “Seeing you withdrawal from our normal activities together hurts me and causes me to worry about you.” or “Watching the way your hands shake in the morning because you need a drink scares me for your life and safety, and I think it may be helpful to suggest you go to treatment”.

Be insistent that their behavior is worrisome, but also keep the conversation about your friendship and the affect their addiction is having on it, as well. Non-threatening language is key here. Clearly state your observations of their behavior and suggest they seek help. Create an environment of safety and openness where your friend feels free to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns as well.

Know That You May Not Get An Ideal Reaction

Understand that part of addiction is denial (and perhaps it’s one of the most ominous parts of addiction in general). People get threatened and fearful when faced with something that they don’t want to see about themselves, and it can be overwhelming to the addict to be faced with the effects of their actions at first. Do not let this deter you from speaking to your friend, and we’d say you may want to go as far as being prepared for it.

Consider An Intervention

If you feel as though you have done all that you can do to conversate with your friend, but your friend is still continuing their self-destructive behavior, you may want to contact an intervention specialist. These people are trained professionals whom sole specialization is to set up communal mediation for the addict and those who love the addict with the intent of convincing the addict to get help and go to a reputable treatment center.

Consider Al-Anon

Understand that it is normal to be angry, hurt, confused, and baffled by someone’s addiction and what they do when they are at its mercy. Al-Anon is a 12-step program created for the friends and family who have (or had) loved ones who struggled with an addiction of any kind.

Al-Anon will help you identify your own unhealthy behaviors that may be destructive to yourself and others, if you have any (and sorry, but to be honest here… most of us do!)

Remember that your friend, though in the grips of addiction, is still a human. Their addiction causes pain in their peers and they are not exempt from the hurt they cause. Yet, on the other hand, they are struggling with something that has immense power over them – something that someone who has never faced or overcome an addiction could possibly thoroughly understand.

Unfortunately, addiction becomes more than something personal and morphs into something communal, affecting everyone around the addict. No matter what you think, you have a right to speak up and let a friend (or any loved one) know that it’s hurting you to watch them hurt themselves. You are allowed, and encouraged, to voice your concern and opinion and suggest they get professional help.

You can’t expect to save anyone – that’s unfortunately unrealistic. But you may be one of the reasons a friend chooses to save themselves- and that’s worth a conversation.


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