How to help someone who may have an addiction

Addiction Awareness Week: November 18 – 22, 2013

Here are some thoughts on how you can help a friend or family member who may be struggling with an addiction. “Struggle” takes many forms. The simplest way to look at it is that the substance use or compulsive behaviour is causing problems in some part of the person’s life. Examples of problems may include deterioration in physical, emotional or mental health. Problems may show up as financial, social, marital, family or work-related issues. Any aspect of the person’s life can be affected by dependence on a substance or behaviour. Determining whether the person actually has an addiction is complex and beyond the scope of this article.

First, some things to do. Raise your concerns by letting your friend know that you are worried about them and want to support them. Provide them with the facts – what you have actually observed about their choices or behaviour. Be there to listen to them. This is far more effective than giving advice or issuing an ultimatum.

Be patient and persistent if they become angry or deny the problem.  Don’t take this personally. Denial is a common reaction from someone who is struggling with dependence on a substance or a compulsive behaviour.

Be encouraging and positive. Tell your friend that you are confident that they can make positive change, even and perhaps especially if they don’t share that confidence.

Provide information about available treatment options. There are many possibilities including local support groups, addictions counsellors, and treatment centres. Counsellors and treatment centres are available as publicly and privately funded and can be found by a simple web search. Local support groups are free and can also be found by searching the web. Addictions outreach programs can help to determine the best options for your friend. There are also many books on the subject that can help someone accept the reality of their problem and make positive choices.

helpIt’s important to understand that you can’t “make” your friend change – s/he has to make a personal decision to do so. But your support, encouragement and understanding can be a big help during a very difficult time. Most of the people I work with tell me that their decision to recover was one of the most important ones they ever made, and that recovering from an addiction is the hardest thing they have ever done.

Now, what to avoid. It will not help to blame your friend or make him/her feel guilty. In fact these approaches are quite likely to dig them in even further in an “I’ll show you” kind of reaction. Similarly, arguing with your friend or judging them will have the opposite effect to what you intended and make it less likely that they will seek help.

Pushing for treatment is not likely to succeed. Better to make the options known, as described above, and let your friend make the choice. Until a person is ready and willing to seek help of their own accord, it is unlikely that treatment, counselling or support groups will be of much help.

hope is not a strategyA favourite quote of mine is “Hope is not a strategy”. I wish I knew where I came across it. Ignoring the problem drinking, gambling, using, eating, etc. and hoping it will go away is not helpful.

Delay is the deadliest form of denial (CN Parkinson)

Don’t delay. I have yet to come across a client who tells me they wish they had waited longer before seeking help.

And finally, don’t despair. It’s not always necessary to hit the proverbial “rock bottom” before being ready to accept help.

rock bottom JKA wise man once said that a person can find their “bottom” as soon as they quit digging.  With your kindness and support, your friend might do just that.