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Help for a Friend

Help for a Friend

For many people, our friendships are one of the most important and rewarding aspects of our lives. But when a friend develops a substance or behavioural addiction, their behaviour can have severe and detrimental impacts on those closest to them.

How can I spot the signs of addiction in a friend?

Many people dealing with an addiction become adept at hiding the signs from their friends and family. It can be difficult to spot the symptoms of addiction in a friend, particularly if you frequently socialise with them in situations where alcohol and other substances are more accepted such as a bar or nightclub.

However, as addiction progresses it can become harder to disguise the inevitable physical, psychological and behaviour effects. If you are concerned about a friend’s behaviour, read the following list to see if they are displaying any of the key signs of addiction. [1]

Common signs and symptoms of addiction in a friend include:

  • Often appearing to be under the influence when you speak to them
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope with the pressures and stress of life
  • Becoming isolated and withdrawn
  • Suddenly spending time with a new and unknown group of friends
  • Expressing a desire to stop the behaviour but being unable to
  • Experiencing negative consequences as a result of the behaviour but continuing to repeat it
  • A decline in their physical appearance and hygiene standards
  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, work and home
  • Sudden, unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • A lack of interest in hobbies or activities that they previously enjoyed
  • Engaging in risky behaviour such as unprotected sex or drink-driving
  • Displaying frequent mood swings
  • Resorting to selling their belongings or stealing in order to fund their addiction
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to obtain drugs or alcohol
  • Developing a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, needing to ingest more to experience the same effects

Should I step in if I think a friend has an addiction?

It can be daunting to think about approaching a friend who is displaying signs of an addiction. Your concerns may include:

  • Fear that you have misjudged the situation and will offend your friend
  • Refusing to acknowledge the addiction, despite your concerns
  • The possibility that they will become angry and choose to end the friendship
  • Believing that someone else will step in before you need to
  • Concern that the conversation will escalate due to your resentments over their past behaviour

Your fears and concerns are completely valid, and it’s important to acknowledge them. However, you should always step in if you are concerned about a friend.

If you are concerned enough to reach out to a friend regarding a potential addiction, it is unlikely that you have misjudged the situation. In the rare event that the problem turns out to be something else entirely, many people would appreciate your support and concern.

It is possible that your friend could refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem or even become angry with you for challenging their behaviour, but this could change over time. If they seem unresponsive to your initial efforts, your actions could plant a seed inside their mind that could cause them to reach out for help in the future.

You may be the only person in your friend’s life who has noticed the signs of addiction, so it’s important not to wait for someone else to step up. Addiction is one of the leading causes of death in the UK and you could potentially save a life by speaking out.

How can I help a friend with an addiction?

It’s important to be prepared before approaching a friend about their addiction. This is an opportunity to encourage them to seek help and to show your support, and you don’t want to risk pushing them further into their behaviour and becoming more withdrawn.

Below are a number of things that you should be aware of before approaching your friend about their addiction:

1. Educate yourself about addiction

It’s natural to feel frustrated and resentful at your friend’s behaviour as addiction impacts everyone around the affected individual. Before you meet with your friend, spend some time researching addiction and the physical changes that this disorder can have on the brain.

Taking the time to understand addiction can help to lessen any feelings of anger, as you will learn that your friend is likely not making conscious and rational choices. They are affected by a disorder that they may have little control over, and researching the most effective ways to help can have a noticeable impact on their life. [2]

2. Choose an appropriate time to speak to them

It’s important to select the most effective time and location in which to approach your friend regarding their addiction. This should not happen when they are under the influence, and the meeting should take place in a neutral location as opposed to a potentially distracting situation such as a bar.

This should be a two-way conversation as opposed to a lecture, with your friend given time to respond and be listened to. Provide evidence and facts to back up your statements, and keep your support and friendship as a running thread throughout the conversation.

3. Be supportive and compassionate

Although the conversation will likely be an emotional one you should avoid yelling, using an accusatory tone or attempting to make your friend feel guilty. It is highly likely that they already feel an immense sense of guilt and shame regarding their behaviour, but this emotion is not conducive to pushing them to seek help.

Begging, pleading and using emotional appeals may serve to drive your friend deeper into isolation and their addiction. Instead, let them know that you are there for them and that you will support them throughout their recovery journey.

4. Avoid enabling the addiction

While it can be tempting to make excuses for your friend’s behaviour and attempt to shield them from the inevitable effects of their addiction, you are likely doing more harm than good. It is possible to support your friend without enabling the addiction, and this involves allowing them to reach rock bottom and face the consequences of their behaviour.

Some example of this including telling them that you only want to spend time with them when they are not under the influence, or refusing to give them any more money to fund their addiction. This may be difficult at the time, but could lead to your friend seeking help in the future.

Considering a professional intervention

If your friend agrees to seek help, you can make the initial process easier by providing them with a list of treatment options that you have researched prior to the conversation. These options should work within your friend’s budget and lifestyle and include aftercare as well as initial detoxification and counselling. [3]

It can feel overwhelming to seek help for an addiction, but having the information in front of them from the start can help the process run smoothly and effectively.

1. Staging an intervention

Despite your best efforts, your friend may refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem and could be reluctant to seek treatment. In this situation, a group intervention may be the most effective way to help them to address their addiction and take steps towards recovery.

2. Find a professional

Seeking the advice of a professional interventionist can be crucial when planning an intervention, as they have the skills and experience required to ensure that the meeting goes smoothly and that each individual has a chance to express their feelings.

3. Keep it small

A large intervention can be chaotic and overwhelming, so keep it small by selecting around five or six people who are close to the individual and have been impacted by their behaviour. These can be other friends, family, colleagues and mentors.

4. Plan your statements

Each person should read a pre-approved statement outlining the effect that the individual’s addiction and subsequent behaviour has had on them. The purpose of an intervention is not to assign guilt or blame, but simply to get your friend to acknowledge that they have a problem.

5. End on a positive note

A successful intervention typically ends with the group members reinforcing their support and love for the individual, providing them with treatment options and encouraging them to seek treatment for their addiction. By the end of the session, your friend should understand the effects of their behaviour on those closest to them and have a plan for recovery.

Finding treatment for a friend with an addiction

It is recommended that anyone seeking help for a substance or behavioural addiction should consider a professional treatment programme or rehabilitation centre in order to benefit from a personalised recovery plan and the guidance of on-hand medical and addiction experts.

Here at OK Rehab, we offer a range of treatment programmes that include detoxification, various types of therapy and an effective aftercare plan to increase the chances of long-term recovery from any addiction – get in touch today and learn how we can help your friend heal from their addiction.

References

[2] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction

[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/step-by-step-guides-to-finding-treatment-drug-use-disorders/if-your-adult-friend-or-loved-one-has-problem-drugs/how-to-recognize-substance

[3] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/how-to-help-someone-with-a-drug-problem

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