Five ways to help a friend impacted by addiction

By Dave Jansa, program advisor & peer coach

Published Sept. 10, 2017

If you have a friend or even a co-worker with a family member struggling with addiction, you’ve probably wondered what to say or do. People usually want to help, but end up not doing (or saying) anything for fear of making a mistake.

The reality is that being open and supportive is never a wrong way to go. But because of the stigma and shame of addiction, people are often paralyzed and uncertain about how to lend comfort.

As someone who personally dealt with addiction in my own family, I understand how isolating this disease can be. That’s why it’s so reassuring to be able to count on a strong support system in your own healing process. 

Here are some positive ways to be there for someone who’s impacted by a loved one’s addiction:

1. Rally, don’t retreat. A common reaction is to avoid talking about it because you fear your friend is embarrassed. Don’t let silence take over. Be present. Check in regularly with notes and calls. Let them know they’re important to you and you’re thinking about them. How would you act if a friend’s spouse had cancer? Use that as your guidepost.

2. Banish bad advice. Be supportive but don’t become an armchair expert. Some things accepted as conventional wisdom around addiction are simply not helpful and can often make things worse. 

For example, urging your friend to use “tough love,” wait for their loved one to hit “rock bottom” – or to avoid “enabling” – might be part of popular culture but can actually lead to more guilt. Stay focused on offering non-judgmental support.

3. Help calm the chaos. When a loved one struggles with addiction, chaos and conflict are not far behind. Look for opportunities to make day-to-day life more manageable. Offer to help out with errands and other responsibilities. Find ways to ease stress. You could offer to pick up kids from school, bring something for dinner or take care of a home repair project.

4. Be a wellness buddy. “Wellness” can mean different things to different people. For some, taking a walk helps clear their heads. To others it might mean spending time with friends or focusing on a hobby. Find out what bring peace to your friend and help make it happen. Your friend should focus on his or her own wellness first.

5. Connect to support. Unfortunately, concerned loved ones may have a hard time finding the specialized support they need. Face It TOGETHER’s loved one coaches are peers – we know what it’s like when someone you love is struggling with addiction, and we walk with you every step of the way. Encourage your friend to reach out and make an appointment.

Loved one coaching