Addiction is almost never a simple one-person problem. Addiction affects everyone: friends, family, other loved ones, coworkers, even friends of friends. The sphere of influence grows as the addiction itself does.
Many people will cut themselves off from a friend who falls too deep into addiction. It’s a sad, but understandable reaction. Addicts tend to unknowingly do major damage to their relationships while in the thrall of addiction, and it takes a lot of denial and “it’s my life, I can do what I want” belligerence before they are hit with consequences hard enough to make them reconsider.
During that time frame, many people will distance themselves from that person, deciding that the addict’s erratic (often illegal) behavior and disregard for consequences simply isn’t worth the trouble anymore.
There’s no shame in that sort of self-preservation, especially if your friendship isn’t that close in the first place. But if the addict is an extremely close friend that you love and want to help, you probably don’t want to go anywhere. You want to help pull them out of this, and get your relationship back to what it used to be.
That’s both commendable and very possible… but it won’t be easy. Here are some tips to support your friend through this difficult time in their life, while also keeping yourself clear of the consistent peer pressure to join them in their addictive behavior.
Bring Up the Possibility of Addiction by Gathering Information
The first thing to do is gather information. Find out as much as you can about drug addiction so you understand what you’re looking for. Remember that the signs of addiction in adults and addiction in adolescents can differ somewhat.
Don’t just accuse your friend of being addicted, but ask them questions about their usage habits. You want to collect information so you have a much better idea about whether they have a problem before you start moving them to get help.
Try pulling from a drug addiction quiz to get some questions, such as:
- Do you feel sick when you stop using?
- Do you feel guilty for drinking or using drugs?
- Has it gotten you into trouble at work/school?
- Do you ever turn down drugs/alcohol when they’re available?
- Have you ever had a blackout when you’re using?
If you’re a very close friend, you probably are intimately familiar with the (alleged) addict’s life, and can answer at least a few of these without asking directly. You can also try a quiz specific to family members of suspected addicts. But it’s important to know how big of an impact their addiction has on their life, because the next step is confronting them about addiction.
Suggest They Get Help – And Don’t Expect Them to Take it Well
True friends can be honest and upfront with each other, and aren’t afraid to say something that may set the other off in a flash of anger if it’s something they need to hear.
That’s a good thing, because you’re going to need to bring up their addiction in a very direct way. Most addicts never get treatment, and you don’t want your friend to end up in that situation.
But there’s a right way and a wrong way to bring it up to get the results you want. Giving them a “piece of your mind” might be satisfying for you, but it’s probably going to damage your relationship even further, and worse yet, drive them further into addiction. The “tough love” approach is proven repeatedly to be even worse than doing nothing at all.
If you can’t think of anything to do but to tell them off, it’s literally better for you both if you just leave them alone altogether.
On the other hand, this is much too important for you to just skirt around the issue and not say what you mean. But be compassionate and respectful. Tell them you think they have a problem, you’ve seen it causing problems for them, and you’re concerned for their well-being.
Try not to bring up specific issues they’ve had as a result of their addiction. This is likely to make them defensive, and lets them change the subject to whether or not that other problem was a direct result of addiction. That’s not what you’re talking about – you’re talking about getting them help.
Regardless of how tactful and considerate you are when you bring it up, addiction brings denial, and denial means they aren’t going to hear what you have to say and respond with, “You know what? You’re right.”
They’re going to deny, make excuses, and possibly even push back at you. That’s okay; don’t press the issue if they get defensive. You’re not going to make progress with a single big discussion (unless you’re planning a large-scale intervention), the key is to stay persistent and unrelenting.
Eventually you might be able to get them to agree to a free addiction test and consultation, on the promise that you’ll stop bringing it up if they do it. Whatever way you can think of to get them to take that first step, use it.
Influence Them – Don’t Let Them Influence You
Most people stop talking about peer pressure after the high school and college years. But it never actually goes away. And you’re particularly more susceptible to the influence of the people you keep close to you.
Just like you would take your friend’s advice on that great Netflix series, you may be faced with a situation where your friend tries to get you to engage in their addictive behavior. And because you want them to be happy, you might consider actually doing it, or at the very least enabling it.
Remember the reason they’re doing it is because it gives them a rush of positive energy. That doesn’t mean it makes them happy. That means they’ve developed a chemical dependency on that behavior, and can’t function without it. It’s not that they’re happy being addicted. It’s that being addicted has removed their ability to be happy doing anything else.
Needless to say, don’t join them and don’t encourage their behavior. Don’t say “no thanks, but it’s fine if you do.” Don’t normalize their addiction.
That doesn’t mean to shame and judge them either; it just means to give them a firm “no,” and perhaps tell them it makes you uncomfortable.
This gets tricky when it comes to alcohol, which is legal and normalized. If you’re accustomed to drinking with this friend, it might seem weird that you suddenly turn down a drink. That’s okay though, simply tell them you “don’t feel like it right now,” or make some other excuse.
They’ll probably come back at you with something in the vein of “just have one drink.” But you know better: it never ends at just one. That’s part of the problem.
On some level, they may be upset with you if they offer to bring you in on their behavior and you say no. They’ll probably tease or berate you, suggesting you’re “scared” or some other juvenile taunt.
That’s okay. Stay the course and work on getting them into treatment, and remember, no matter how much addiction changes them, they’re still your friend deep down. Eventually you can get them into recovery, and there will be other things your recovering friend will say to you.
Do you have a friend you’re trying to help? Have you helped a friend into recovery in the past? What are your experiences? What worked and what didn’t? Everybody is different, and we encourage you to share you experiences in the comments below. Sharing your story may be a turning point in someone else’s.