Your Friend’s Substance Abuse
The Risks at Hand
When a friend develops a problem with drinking or drug use, it can be upsetting and confusing. The person who you thought you knew so well seems different. Her moods might be less predictable, and she may seem more irritable. She could be treating you differently than she used to, or may even be pushing you away.
If you are worried about a friend’s substance use, you may have thought about bringing it up, but you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. That’s understandable – you don’t want to risk losing the friendship!
When you approach a friend with your concerns, you will want to come across as supportive and non-judgmental. Your friend might or might not be ready to change. He might not even be ready to admit that she his substance use is a problem! But if you approach these conversations with sensitivity, he will start to see you a person whom he can trust and open up to. Keep in mind these essential tips for talking to friends about their drug and alcohol use.
Approach her when she is sober. Not only will she remember the conversation better, but she will also be in a better headspace to reflect and absorb the concerns you are expressing.
You’re not trying to convince him that he has a problem. If you relentlessly point out to your friend all of the evidence that he has an addiction, you will almost certainly put him on the defence. A better approach is to share an observation – for example, “it seems like every time you drink lately you black out.” Follow this up with an expression of concern, such as “Are things going all right?”
Don’t make assumptions. You might think you know why your friend is using, and you may even be onto something. But it is your friend – not you – who is the real expert on her life. Treat her that way! For more insight into why your friend smokes weed everyday before school, you might ask her: “what do you like about it?” or “how does it help you?” This helps her to see that you are trying to understand her problem from her perspective, and makes it more likely that she will open up to you.
Emphasize specific consequences – with compassion. Alcohol and drug use comes with consequences. Share with your friend what consequences you’ve noticed. Be specific, but gentle. You may notice that your friend has failed a class or gotten into a fight at a party, and ask if this is due to his substance use. Prefacing these observations with “I’m worried that…” or “I wonder…” helps remind your friend that you are bringing this up because you care.
Understand that change is dependent on readiness. When you raise your concerns with your friend, it will start to become clear if she shares your concern about her problem – and if she is ready to do something about it. If your friend is ready to act, you can offer to help her find the help that she needs – counselling or other resources. If she does not see her use as a problem, you can continue to relay the message that while you see her substance use as a problem, you care about her. This way, if and when she is ready to seek help, she knows that she can come to you for support.
September 15, 2017