When your friend goes through difficult times in life, you’ve always tried to be there for them. But now your friend has developed an addiction and it’s difficult to know what to do. Talking to a friend about addiction isn’t easy – especially if it’s something you’ve never talked about before.
Your friend may be drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs. Or they’re affected by sex and love addiction, an eating disorder, internet addiction, gaming disorder, gambling or shopping addiction. Irrespective of the addiction, you have reservations bringing it up with them. You don’t really know what to say to your friend. Or you fear saying the wrong things.
In this blog, we look at 10 common concerns about talking to a friend about addiction – as well as our tips to overcome them. There are also really helpful things you can do to support your friend. In some circumstances, it’s better not to say anything directly to your friend about addiction, seeking help from addictions professionals instead.
10 Concerns about Talking to a Friend about Addiction
1. “Is it really my place to say something about my friend’s drinking – surely that’s down to her husband or her parents?”
Showing that you care about your friend is not interfering in her family life. It’s not a judgment or criticism of her relatives and how they’re dealing with the situation. She may be in denial about her addiction, possibly because no-one has said anything to her.
It’s often the case that family members have tried to talk about addiction. They just haven’t been able to get through to your friend. It can be hard to take advice from relatives. This isn’t necessarily because there are conflicts in the family. Your friend may want to protect her husband or parents. She might not want them to worry about her.
If you have a good friendship with no history of violence or aggression, then we encourage you to be the person who notices that your friend is suffering. It can be a good idea to focus on how they’re feeling when you talk to them, rather than how much you’ve noticed their drinking, drug-taking or addictive behaviour. If your friend finds it hard to open up the first time, then keep noticing what’s happening – you never know when she might feel like talking.
2. “I’m frightened of how my friend will react if I question him about addiction?”
Firstly, if there’s any history of emotional or physical violence, then it’s best to get professional addiction help. You could speak to one of his relatives about calling Addiction Helper. We can arrange an addiction intervention for your friend. This is a carefully managed therapeutic process, led by a qualified addiction professional, to confront your friend safely about his addiction and encourage him to accept help.
If there’s no history of violence in your friendship but you’re just worried about upsetting your friend, it can be useful to stick to how you are feeling. So you can say, “I’m a bit worried about you – can you help me understand something that’s going on?” Then if they’re open to talking, you can mention something specific you’ve noticed around their addiction – perhaps a worrying comment they’ve made or a new pattern of behaviour. Don’t worry if your friend doesn’t accept there’s anything wrong – you may have helped him in ways you can’t see right away.
3. “If I say the wrong thing, could my friend’s addiction get worse?”
You are not in control of how bad your friend’s addiction gets or how long it lasts. She may get into addiction recovery tomorrow. She may never find recovery. So please rest assured, if you’re intending to be kind and supportive, you can’t really say the wrong thing.
Just asking your friend how she’s feeling can be a breakthrough because many people don’t ask that simple question, even when it’s obvious their friend is struggling. They don’t ask for all of the same reasons we’re covering in this blog.
4. “It’s kind of embarrassing, talking about feelings – it’s not the sort of thing that lads do.”
This holds a lot of people back from conversations they find difficult – especially when they’re going to talk to a friend about addiction and that involves talking about feelings. Even relatives and spouses can find it awkward to talk to a loved one about their emotions. It can seem easier to pretend everything is okay.
You might stumble over your words or find it strange to talk to your friend in this way, but your conversation doesn’t have to be fluent. You can acknowledge upfront in your chat that you aren’t great at talking about feelings – but you want to be a good mate. Once you’ve started the conversation, it often becomes a lot easier to talk. It might take a few attempts to find your flow – but that really doesn’t matter.
If you can’t find the words to talk to a friend about addiction, then your actions can be equally powerful. If your friend drinks too much, then be the friend who suggests coffee, the cinema or shopping. If your friend takes a lot of drugs in nightclubs, meet him for lunch instead. Be the friend who shows there are many different ways to enjoy life.
5. “She gets very angry if I mention how much cocaine she takes.”
You don’t have to put yourself at risk of extreme anger from your friend or physical attacks.
If you still want to support her, be the friend who doesn’t take cocaine with her. Leave if she decides to take cocaine. If she’s in a dangerous or illegal situation, such as getting into a car and driving away after using cocaine, then consider calling her family or the police. You might lose your friendship but you’ll know that you’ve done the right thing.
6. “I don’t know much about addiction – I wouldn’t really know how to advise my friend.”
You don’t need to give your friend any advice about addiction. That’s not your role. You’re simply noticing the changes in the way your friend has been acting and feeling. That’s all.
If your friend opens up about their addiction and wants help, you can give them our phone number at Addiction Helper. If your friend chooses to call us, then we can take it from there. If they don’t, you can’t make them do it.
7. “Say he really opens up about his addiction and tells me something awful from his past – what then?”
Remember, it’s not your role as a friend to give advice about addiction or solutions to traumatic events in his past. All you can do is listen without judgment and encourage him to seek professional help. Addiction Helper can arrange counselling or rehab for addiction and trauma, quickly and confidentially. You could also suggest he speaks to his GP or attends local support groups, although it may take more time to get the right help.
If your friend tells you about something very worrying, then it’s a good idea to get support for yourself. Say he discloses suicidal feelings, abuse in childhood, crimes he has committed or disturbing things he has done – you cannot resolve any of these things for him. If he presents an immediate danger to himself or other people, then seeking help and support from trusted people is vital.
8. “I use drugs too but not to the extent she does – isn’t it a bit hypocritical to question my friend’s drug use?”
If you take drugs but you’re not addicted, then you’ll still enjoy activities that don’t involve drugs.
Rather than talk to a friend about addiction, be a friend who does things with her that don’t revolve around drugs. If she tries to persuade you to get drugs or take drugs with her, then say no.
9. “It’s just not something I can face talking about – sex addiction, for example, or addiction to porn.”
That’s okay – you are completely within your rights to stay away from the subject of addiction altogether. You might not want to know about your friend’s addiction. What they are doing may seem strange or even horrible to you.
If you’re worried you might say something really critical or shaming to your friend, then it’s probably better to stay away from the subject. If they ask you for help, then you can refer them to Addiction Helper, to talk with professionals in confidence who understand their addiction.
10. “I think I’m addicted too – if my friend gets help, where does that leave me?”
This may be really hard to admit if it’s true for you. If you’re taking drugs or drinking excessively with your friend, then even if you really care for them, you might not want them to stop. You might both be addicted to gaming or gambling, for example, but your friend is showing signs of serious depression or even suicidal feelings.
In this situation, we’d encourage you to get help with your addiction. If you’re ready to change, then you could tell your friend that you’re getting addiction support. Seeing you change could be the most inspiring thing you could ever do for your friend.
Phone, message, request a callback or use live chat – to discuss addiction treatment and support with Addiction Helper.