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8 Ways to Help Your Friend Through Drug Addiction

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It isn’t easy to watch a loved one struggle. Here’s how you can help a friend through drug addiction.


The National Institute of Health claims that 10% of US adults will experience a drug disorder at some point in their lives. The agency also details  that three in four of those adults report not receiving any form of treatment. Drug addiction is prevalent in day-to-day life, and it’s never easy to witness someone you know become part of a statistic. However, it’s not easy to help a friend through drug addiction.

It’s no secret that addiction affects more than the user, and sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start when addressing a loved one about such a sensitive topic. Addiction bleeds into relationships with friends and family, and love and support are vital for your friend’s healthy road to recovery. Here are a few ways of how you can help them with their addiction.


1. Help Yourself

The first step in aiding your friend through substance abuse is taking care of yourself. Assisting someone through addiction recovery can be difficult enough, but failing to balance this support with your own struggles will only exacerbate the problem. A few ways to keep your own mental health strong include avoiding self-criticism, continuing to partake in your favorite hobbies, taking care of your body, and learning to manage your stress. (For more ways on maintaining mental health, visit this article from The University of Michigan.) And remember, be sure to keep your own health a priority before reaching out to aid a loved one. 


2. Recognizing Addiction

Before you can help with substance abuse, you need to recognize the signs of addiction. Sometimes research can become overwhelming, so a good place to start is by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Does the person take the drug in larger amounts or for longer than intended?
  2. Are they unable to manage responsibilities at work, home, or school because of drug use?
  3. Do they give up important social, recreational, or work-related activities because of drug use?
  4. Do they continue to use, even while knowing that a physical or mental problem could have been caused or made worse by the drug?
  5. Do discussions about the person’s use end in an argument? 

These questions will guide you in recognizing some of the harmful behaviors of addiction. Once you can establish whether your loved one exhibits these qualities or habits, then consider moving forward to confront the issue. However, addressing someone’s addiction can lead to distrust in a relationship, so be cautious in the way you approach this conversation.


 3. When to Stage an Intervention

The goal of an intervention is to approach your loved one with the option of seeking treatment, but there are a few things to consider before addressing addiction in this way. Most “tough love” interventions depicted in the media aren’t always the best method of convincing a loved one to seek treatment. At Sprout, we’ve compiled a list of different types of interventions that may benefit your unique situation, but here are a few overall tips to keep in mind:

  • The best interventions stem from love. Your support is crucial to a loved one’s recovery, both in the initial conversation, and in the long-run.
  • Be aware that those who suffer from substance abuse may not recognize they have a problem. Prepare to respond to a variety of emotions, particularly denial or embarrassment, or even anger.
  • Don’t be afraid to involve a professional. There are intervention specialists who will guide you and your loved one through the conversation and provide a sense of order as a third party.
  • It’s possible that your friend or family member will refuse your help. Don’t be discouraged. Addressing your concern for the problem and offering your hand in support is a big step in the right direction.


4. Understand Co-occurring Disorders

There’s a good chance if your friend battles substance abuse, he or she may also be battling a mental disorder. A co-occurring disorder, once known as a dual diagnosis, is a “presence of a mental illness, personality disorder, or addiction alongside a substance abuse disorder.” It is common for someone diagnosed with a mental disorder to develop addictive habits, and vice versa: it’s common for those struggling with substance abuse to undergo psychological stress. This information is important to understand when dealing with addiction, because it can address the root of a problem the patient may have never known about.

Often times people relapse because they never address the underlying mental issues that accompany their addiction, or develop healthy tools to cope. Understanding co-occurring disorders can offer relief to those who have struggled with treatment in the past. They receive answers and a means to overcome both the physical and mental repercussions of addiction. One common way to tackle the psychological stresses of substance abuse is through cognitive behavioral therapy. Encouraging this kind of therapy after a detox program is one way to help your loved one. 


5. Know the Importance of Long-Term Therapy

Sometimes the road to addiction recovery requires more than just a detox. Co-occurring disorders are very common with substance abusers. In fact, a government study has shown that half of the people diagnosed with substance abuse also suffer from a mental disorder, and the best way to treat these clients include a combination of physical and mental treatments.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on the psychological side of addiction and combats the negative thoughts and behaviors that lead to substance abuse. This form of therapy gives clients the tools they need to manage anxiety and stress, which can be especially helpful for those with co-occurring disorders. Addiction often stems from harmful thoughts that lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drug or alcohol abuse, but CBT teaches ways to actively stride toward a healthier mindset that steers away from dwelling on past behaviors.

Here are the 5 phases used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

  1. Assessment: learn how CBT works and establish goals with a professional
  2. Challenge Negative Thoughts: learn to recognize unhealthy thoughts or emotions
  3. Develop Coping Mechanisms: develop a personal strategy in handling unhealthy thoughts
  4. Apply Coping Mechanisms: apply these mechanisms in everyday life
  5. Instill Lifelong Habits: learn how to handle unexpected stressors

Read More: The 5 Phases of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 


6. Consider Family Therapy

Family therapy is another great way to help a loved one with addiction. This is a type of therapy that specifically includes involvement from an individual’s family and friends. In this context, family can involve blood relatives or chosen loved ones—either way, it requires support from every member to help guide the recovery process. This type of therapy acknowledges everybody who can be affected by addiction and opens a bridge for conversation.

Family therapy also allows a greater sense of trust and a chance to re-build relationships that might have been damaged throughout the period of substance abuse. It provides a better sense of community for the individual undergoing treatment and show that they are not facing treatment alone.

While cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy are just two options, it is recommended that an individual participate in a combination of therapies to increase their chances of recovery.

Read More: Explaining Family Therapy 

Have questions about addiction treatment options?
Call us at 855-430-9426 to speak with a recovery specialist.


7. Suggest Financial Solutions

Sometimes the most daunting part about treatment can be the expenses. Many people fear that they cannot afford the proper attention they deserve, but there are always options. At Sprout, we offer a number of ways to manage finances. Don’t have insurance? Research the next Open Enrollment period through your state’s health plan to see if your loved one has better options. If you’re a parent, you may be able to add a dependent on your current plan. 

Our professionals might also recommend alternatives to insurance such as loans and financial aid, so be sure to explore different options before deciding you can’t seek treatment. Recovering from substance abuse is difficult enough—stressing about financial stability should be the least of your worries.


8. Avoiding Relapse

Integrating back into normal life is one of the most difficult parts of recovery, and returning to a home environment can often trigger addictive behaviors. Recovering addicts may experience difficult feelings when they encounter places or people that were once related to their addiction. This is a pivotal time for any recovering addict, and they will need your help now more than ever. Take them out to dinner, introduce them to a new hobby—find a way to replace old habits with new ones. Encouraging continued treatment and recovery support, such as through Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, can give your loved one added support. 

Stress also plays a large part in relapse. This is where friends and family members will reap the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy, which can team them strategies to manage their stress and discover new coping mechanisms. Everyone has their own unique ways in which they handle stress, but a few recommendations from Harvard can help you find relaxation techniques and set realistic goals. 

For more information about helping a loved one through substance abuse, visit our reference pages or get in touch with one of our experienced intake professionals to learn more about the available treatment options. 


Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.