How To Help Someone Who May Be Experiencing an Addiction
Are you concerned about someone who is using drugs, alcohol, gambling or another potentially addictive behaviour? In this blog, I discuss the best ways you can help them.
It can be really hard to know the best way to support someone who might be experiencing addiction. In our culture, we're mostly taught to mind our own business and we expect someone will ask for help if they need it. Unfortunately, this isn't usually the case with addiction because of the stigma, shame and embarrassment that comes with it.
It might be tempting to ignore or downplay the behaviour of someone you care about because you don't want to hurt their feelings, or have an akward conversation. Here are some tips on how to make the discussion a bit easier for both of you.
Don't be afraid to ask what's going on
If you suspect someone you care about is struggling because of using drugs, alcohol, gambling or any other potentially addictive behaviour, don't be afraid to ask them if they need support. You don't have to be intrusive - just make sure you have a moment alone, and let them know you're worried about them. You might be surprised how few people have reached out to them.
Remember, if the person doesn't want to talk about it, don't force them. It might take them some time to be ready for change. Let them know that you're here for them if they ever want to talk more, and tell them you care about them.
What to avoid: "You've got a problem and you need help. You have to do something about it!"
What to try: "I'm concerned about you, and I want you to know I'm talking to you because I care. Are you struggling with drinking alcohol/taking drugs/gambling? Maybe I can help?"
Listen without judging
When discussing someone's drug use, alcohol use or gambling, it's important to listen without expressing judgements. This doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they say or do, but if you genuinely want to offer help and support, it's best to listen without including your values or judgements in the conversation. Be as open as you can in your body language, tone of voice and attitude. Let the person know that it's safe to talk to you.
If a person feels they are cared for, accepted and free from being judged, they are so much more likely to open up and trust that you will help them in a way that works for them. Remember, what you think is right or helpful may not be the same for them - be open to the idea that you will have different ideas from each other, and that's okay.
What to avoid: "Drinking/drugging/gambling is so bad for you and it's causing so many issues in your life. If you don't stop, you're going to have serious problems."
What to try: "Tell me what's happening for you - I'm happy to listen for as long as you need."
Don't try and problem-solve
When we care about someone, it's tempting to want to jump to a solution. Of course, this is coming from a place of concern - but it can feel very invalidating for the person you're trying to support. The chances are they've already thought a lot about what they could do to make change, but haven't been able to do it yet. If this is one of the first times they're talking to someone about the issue, they're probably going to have a lot to say. Believe it or not, the most helpful thing you can do is just listen without interrupting.
What to avoid: "Have you thought about doing a cleanse, or Dry July? Maybe you could do more exercise? Being distracted and busy might help."
What to try: "It sounds like this has been really hard for you."
Offer practical support
Firstly, ask the person whether they want your help. Make sure you're clear about what they want so you don't accidentally overstep any boundaries. You might say something like "Do you have any ideas about how I can support you?" If they're not sure, ask them if they want some suggestions so they don't feel like you're advice-giving.
If the person is open to support, make it practical and simple. Practical support can take many forms - you can offer to help them find a counsellor, or make a phone call to a family member, or even go with them to see a doctor for further advice. Even things that seem small to you may be a big support.
What to avoid: "Let's call a counsellor right now. We can book you in for an appointment as soon as possible."
What to try: "Do you have any ideas about how I can lend you support? Would it help if we talked about practical things you might be able to do?"
Check in with them regularly
Now that you've talked about what's going on, make sure you check in with the person. With topics as difficult and sensitive as drug use, alcohol use or gambling, it may feel a bit uncomfortable to revisit. However, change doesn't happen quickly - it might take a few conversations and offers of support before the person is sure how to move forward. Do your best to check in with them about how they are, and offer ongoing support if you're able to do so. It's a good idea to make another time to check in - you can say something like "Is it okay if I give you a call next week to see how you are and whether there's anything else I can help with?"
What to avoid: Thinking that they will come to you if they need more support - they probably won't want to discuss it again if they feel embarassed or worried.
What to try: Gentle, non-confrontational check-ins such as texts, phone calls or offers of support.
If you're unsure how to proceed with a conversation like this with someone you care about, it can be really useful to ask a specialist addictions counsellor for advice. Click here to get in touch with me and I can help you get clear on what's useful and what's not, as well as ways to support yourself throughout the process.
Until next time,
The content of this blog is based on our counsellors' academic and clinical experience, but does not constitute therapeutic advice. This blog is intended as general information about counselling, psychotherapy, addictions and mental health issues only. For specific treatment related to you or someone you know, please contact us via www.sydneyaddictionsrecovery.com to discuss your needs.