Maybe there was an incident. Or maybe not; perhaps it’s a wholly unremarkable occasion, just the latest in a frightening, lasting pattern of behavior. Everyone’s path to addiction is different, but the one commonality is that at some point, change is no longer an option. It’s mandatory.
The decision to talk to a friend or loved one about addiction can be a lot of things: difficult, awkward, unpredictable, sometimes heartbreaking. But above all, keep in mind that it’s an act of kindness – of showing that you care. While the circumstances surrounding each situation are unique, there are steps you can take to improve your odds of reaching your friend or family member.
1. Do your research
Prepare and make a plan. Educate yourself on addiction and recovery topics so you understand more than just your own perspectives. Consider attending an Al Anon meeting to get firsthand accounts from those who have already been down the path you’re on.
2. Meet at a neutral location – and only when your friend/family member is sober.
Keep in mind that alcohol and drug use can impair judgment and decision-making. While it’s OK to meet when a scary incident is fresh in everyone’s mind, it’s not necessary. What is necessary, however, is that you sit down to talk when your loved one is sober to reduce the chance of things being misinterpreted or forgotten.
3. Label the behavior, not the person.
And resist the urge to judge. Keep in mind that the behaviors are the problem, not your friend or family member. It’s also helpful to remember that drug and alcohol addiction is a medical condition, so don’t blame or criticize your friend’s struggle, just as you wouldn’t blame or criticize someone fighting cancer.
4. Watch your words:
- Speak in specifics and avoid polarizing “always/never” statements.
- Use “I” statements that reflect feelings; it’s hard to argue with the way someone says they feel about something.
- Talk about how substance abuse affects those things your friend cares about the most (e.g., his family, her career, etc.).
5. Strive for honesty, not perfection.
While what you say and how you say it are both important, they’re less critical than simple honesty. Be forthcoming about your feelings, your concerns, and your fears.
6. Be “ready” if they are ready.
- Share resources, whether that’s contact info for a friend/sponsor in AA or a local AA group, to connect with people who have been through a similar situation.
- Suggest a formal assessment by a professional. If he or she is not ready to see a professional, self-screenings also exist.
7. Show that you care and offer to help.
- Talk with someone at a treatment center to discuss costs, schedules, insurance, and to see if that treatment center would be a good fit. Our intake coordinator, Jordan Hamilton, is available 24/7 and would be more than willing to discuss any of this ahead of time with you.
- Be there when he or she makes that initial call, and offer to drive your friend to a residential treatment center such as Choice House if they’re ready to move forward.
Finally, what to do if they’re not ready for help.
There’s always a chance that the timing is off or your loved one isn’t quite ready to hear the message. (Denial is often a primary symptom of a substance abuse problem.) But just because he or she denies there’s an issue doesn’t mean your efforts were wasted. Many times, starting the conversation effectively plants the seed, serving as a catalyst for action the next time the subject is addressed. So, stay in touch and continue to communicate that you care. However, be careful not to enable: Don’t offer to meet at or pick them up from bars, don’t lend money, don’t take late-night calls when your friend is in an altered state. Caring sometimes means making the tough decisions.
And at the end of the day, regardless of the immediate outcome, know that those you love are better off when you address the problem rather than hope it resolves itself. These days it’s becoming more and more obvious that you show you care by taking action.
We know this is a lot of information to take in, during a stressful time in your lives. Feel free to contact us for resources, advice, treatment options, and more information.