How to Help a Friend Suffering From Addiction
Before your friend or family member enters residential addiction treatment, you need to know how to recognise the signs of addiction and know how to help.
Having a loved one struggling with addiction to drugs and/or alcohol can be a harrowing experience. It’s easy to feel hopeless, helpless and isolated; but it’s important to remember that you are not alone and help is available – for your loved one as well as yourself.
How Can You Tell?
It can be difficult to see the signs of substance dependency. Addicts are often very good at concealing their substance abuse and this can lead to you questioning your instincts and suspicions. That said, there are some fairly reliable indicators that something is not right.
Changes in Behaviour
Addiction is a brain disorder and can have dramatic effects on your loved one’s behaviour. Persons addicted to drugs and/or alcohol may:
- Become usually withdrawn
- Isolate themselves from friends and family
- Lose interest in their usual social and recreational activities
- Struggle to meet the demands of work and/or school
- Exhibit dramatic mood swings
- Become overly defensive when the subject of substance abuse is raised
- Experience financial difficulties
- Experience relationship difficulties
- Seem agitated and restless for no reason
- Exhibit bizarre sleeping patterns
It’s not easy to distinguish the physical symptoms of substance abuse from symptoms of regular ill-health. However, your loved one may be struggling with addiction if they:
- Exhibit sudden weight loss or gain
- Get unexplained shakes
- Have a constantly running nose or the sniffles
- Have red or bloodshot eyes
- Have frequent nose bleeds
- Appear to be experiencing withdrawal systems
- Need to consume increasingly large amounts of drugs and/or alcohol to feel the effect
- Present with small or dilated pupils
- Slur their speech
Apart from physical and psychological warning signs, drug and/or alcohol abuse also comes with physical evidence (i.e. paraphernalia). Some things to look out for are:
- Blackened spoons
- Discarded syringes
- Hand-rolled cigarettes with a rolled-up cardboard filter
- Singed bits of foil
- Discarded wrapping (i.e. small pieces of clingwrap, cardboard or foil)
- Pipes or home-made smoking paraphernalia (i.e. plastic bottles, light bulbs or drink cans)
How Can You Help?
Before you attempt to help a loved one struggling with addiction, it is important to understand that it is not within your power to force them to make a change. While you can absolutely be supportive and caring, the decision to stop has to be made by the addict. That said, there are a number of things you can to in preparation to help them when they are ready to accept they have a problem.
Breaking the vicious cycle of addiction isn’t easy. Even once an addict has sought help and gotten clean, the recovery period extends far beyond the first step of detox and rehab. Set-backs and relapses are to be expected – so, you need to be realistic in your expectations to avoid unnecessary disappointment and distress.
Healing from addiction takes time and no matter how supportive you are, there will be times when your loved one will seem ungrateful or just straight-up cruel in their responses to your efforts. Try not to take it to personally and disengage from confrontational exchanges as soon as you can. There is little point in getting into an argument; it is much better for everyone involved to drop the subject and try again once tempers have settled.
Timing & Tact
Starting a conversation with a loved one about their substance abuse requires some planning and finesse. Some strategies that can be helpful include
- Never try to have this conversation when your loved one is drunk or under the influence of drugs
- Meet in a neutral space to talk – however, stay away from places that serve alcohol or facilitate drug use
- Be prepared to listen without judgement
- Describe the effect your loved one’s addiction has on people close to them. For instance, an addict may not be concerned with the damage they are doing to themselves; but they will be horrified to realise that their substance abuse and associated behaviours are hurting their children/colleagues/partner
- Do your research on drug and/or alcohol recovery services in your area before you have this talk. If your loved one is receptive, you can direct them to these services for the next step in getting help.
For more information on helping a friend or family member struggling with addiction, download our free Family Guide to Addiction.
Queensland’s only private rehab centre with ACHS accreditation
We are proud to be the only private drug and alcohol addiction treatment centre in Queensland to be independantly accredited.