What do you do when your friend’s substance use (of alcohol or other drugs) starts affecting their relationships, work, finances, or ability to get through a normal day? Friends and family can play a huge role in the journey of those struggling with addiction, but many don’t know how or where to start. Read below for five suggestions on things you can do to help:
1. Remember that you are not responsible for other peoples’ misuse of substances. The fact that you care enough about your friend to read this article is great. Many people struggling with addiction require ongoing support from many different people. But it’s not on you to fix their addiction, to provide more support than you are emotionally able or qualified to give, and you aren’t letting someone down if you can’t be there for them in every single way. Also, your friend may not even want your help at this point, and that’s okay too.
2. Start the kōrero. For many people, starting a discussion may feel like the most difficult step - you might feel like it’s not your place to speak up or feel like you shouldn’t make assumptions about your friends’ personal choices. But it is valuable and important to give your loved ones the opportunity to reflect on their relationship with alcohol/drugs. It’s very normal for people to react defensively about their alcohol and drug consumption, so tread gently with open questions.
Communicate in a respectful way what you’ve noticed about their behaviour and its consequences. Ask your friend how they feel about their relationship with alcohol/drugs. Try to figure out where your friend lies on ‘The Cycle of Change’ model: precontemplation (zero intention on changing behaviour); contemplation (realised there is a problem but haven’t committed to action); preparation (has intent to start addressing their problem); action (has/is taking steps to change their behaviour); maintenance (has made changes and is sustaining these new healthier actions); or relapse (fallen back to old patterns of behaviour). The conversations you have with your friend will be very different depending on where they are in this cycle.
3. Help your friend connect with other sources of support. When it comes to addiction, you can’t force someone to change their behaviour; they have to be at a stage of mental readiness to begin addressing their problems. If you have talked to your friend and they’re ready to start reaching out for more support, these are some places they can contact for more help:
- The 24/7 Alcohol Drug Helpline 0800 787 797
- The free text/call 24/7 national mental health and addictions helpline 1737
- Their GP
- Their district’s alcohol & drug services. Trained professionals in these services work with patients to provide a range of services that may include: assessments of the impact of drug use on people’s lives, education, counselling, detox services/methadone programmes/other treatment, relapse prevention, and referrals to other services including but not limited to rehabilitation programmes.
4. Be non-judgmental. Our society perpetuates a lot of harmful messages about alcohol/drug abuse. It’s important to challenge and work through whatever views we have internalised so that we can help friends with addiction issues in ways that don’t make them feel judged and socially isolated. A non-judgmental approach is fundamental in building trust and a safe space that empowers your friend to discuss their needs, goals, and feelings openly. It is also crucial to be non-judgmental if your friend relapses - relapsing is extremely common and should never be seen or treated as a personal failure.
5. Find support networks for yourself, too. Alcohol and/or drug use can have significant effects on families and friends. Stigma around drug abuse can result in family and friends feeling isolated, ashamed, anxious, and/or hopeless. Supporting someone through recovery can be a long, difficult journey and having support for yourself will help you be more resilient and manage your own feelings. In many regions there are family and friends groups and information evenings that you can attend, and you may also be able to access one-on-one counselling.Support Villainesse