How to Help a Friend Who May Have a Substance Use Disorder

by apfotos / 04 March 2016 / No Comments

I don’t keep it a secret that I am in Recovery. I have had many conversations with friends, family, peers, and strangers about people with a substance use disorder. These conversations are ranging from one spectrum of a significant other or daughter dealing with a substance use disorder to a friend who you think might need help. People have asked me, “How do you know when it becomes a problem?” My answer is usually pretty simple, “You know it is a problem when you stop asking if it’s a problem.”

A very good friend of mine approached me a couple of months ago and she was in a state of confusion. My friend is not in recovery but is a supporter of recovery. She has been directly impacted because of a parent who is now in recovery, so she understands and knows the signs and symptoms of someone who may need help. She comes to me with a problem, explaining to me a friend of hers that is another college student, they are close, go out together and traditionally have always had a fun time. She continued to tell me stories of different things they did together, and I asked her what it is like now. She told me that they have become distant, she only contacts her to go out to a club or party to get intoxicated. They hardly talk on the phone, she doesn’t come to class, and she doesn’t know what to do.

It is difficult to explain the emotions a person goes through when someone they know is displaying symptoms of what could be a substance use disorder. How do you approach a person you love and care about and tell them that you are worried about them? It can be difficult to talk with family, but how would you go about explaining how you feel to a friend? You can summarize the potential outcomes in a few different ways, one idea could be that they take the information critically and become upset with you and completely disregard anything you may have said. This is obviously the more difficult way, but unfortunately, sometimes your friend can feel attacked and shut down. This can cause them to back away from you, and have a yearning to want to ‘prove you wrong,’ which inevitably can lead to more or worse behaviors.

There is also another tool that can be utilized when having to face this difficult conversation. Some people call it an intervention, where you get family and friends together in a room and everyone can come from a place of love and compassion to tell the person how their behavior is affecting them, or why they are concerned about their safety and wellbeing. My friend who came to me with her concerns told me that her family did not know what she was doing, and most of her friends had stopped trying to talk to her because of some of the unintended situations they had been through with her. Unfortunately, this approach would not have worked for her because there was already little to no accountability with her being responsible for herself. It reminded me of when I was in a similar situation, I lived on my own, took care of myself, and paid my own bills no one could have told me that there was something wrong with my lifestyle.

There is not a ‘correct answer’ on how to approach these situations. What I advised my friend to do was to sit down with the person and tell them that they are worried about them. When we have this conversation, we have to come from a place of love and not a place of confrontation. We must tell the person the consequences that we have experienced being a part of the situations. Most of the time when the person is not seeing the immediate consequences of their actions, they can listen and feel the pain of putting their friends in unintentional harm’s way. If the person is not receptive to this, that’s when you have to take other actions. The important thing is that you have started a conversation. So this may open a door to conversations in the future and when you come from a place of compassion, they will feel comfortable coming to you when and if they do want help.

If you or someone you know is going through this sort of pain, don’t think that you have to face it alone. There are plenty of people that you can talk to. If you are in college you can talk to school counselors and if not there are always community agencies that are available for you to talk to and seek advice from. Don’t be afraid to ask for help that is why we are here, to help one another.

Tara Moseley
Blog Contributor

Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431
Admissions: 1.888.PURPOSE