The conversation around addiction has certainly been amplified in recent years, but it’s still a topic that tends to get shoved under the rug and ignored until an incident brings it to light.

If you’ve never personally struggled with addiction of any kind, then it can be extremely challenging to know how to act or respond when a friend is in the throes of addiction. But you don’t need firsthand experience to be an ally. From the outside looking in, you have some positive influence and relational capital that can be brought to the table and used for good.

Understanding Addiction

News pundits, politicians, and media talking heads have spent a lot of time talking about gun violence over the last few years – and rightly so – while addiction seems to get pushed to the side.

Though there’s no way to put a price tag on a human life and detract from one death to focus on another, the reality is that drugs are a far greater threat to our national health and well-being than guns ever will be. As The Drug Rehab Agency notes, guns killed 15,549 people in 2017, whereas drug and alcohol addiction kills nearly 180,000 people per year. In other words, it’s a massive problem that can’t be ignored.

The biggest reason we ignore addiction is it seems to be a taboo topic. Our society tells us that drugs are bad – that they’re reserved for criminals and lowlifes.  But that’s where the misconceptions begin. Drug addiction is rarely, if ever, a choice. It’s a mental health problem and must be dealt with as such.

If addiction isn’t your struggle, it can be easy to have this mentality that people just need to have a little resolve and stop using/taking/drinking/etc. You probably look at it like most everything else in life: a product of free will. But this is the wrong way to view addiction.

Compassion, care, and encouragement are what drug addicts need. And if you have a friend suffering through a painful addiction to drugs or alcohol, you have a responsibility to step in and offer support.

4 Tips for Helping Your Friend

No two cases of addiction are the same, but some of the underlying principles are. As you seek to show compassion, care, and encouragement to your friend, here are some tips to think about:

1. Know the Difference

Be sure to educate yourself on some of the signs and symptoms of drug abuse. You should also understand that there’s a difference between abuse and addiction.

Drug abuse refers to a deliberate action to abuse a substance in an unsafe way. While abuse can lead to addiction, the former is chosen out of free will. Drug abuse should be stopped before it has a chance to develop an addiction, but this doesn’t always happen.

2. Express Concerns, Not Accusations

Coming at your friend with accusations of addiction will be viewed as unfair and offensive. Instead of suddenly making accusations about addiction, find a time when your friend is sober and express your concerns.

3. Be Consistent

In your position, consistency is one of the most important things. You need to be consistent in how you talk about your friend’s addiction, as well as your interactions. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to talk about alcohol addiction while the two of you are having drinks at the bar. Even if your drinking is totally under control, it’s a bad look.

4. Encourage Treatment

Most people will be unable to defeat addiction under their own willpower. If you can get to a point in your conversations where your friend is listening to your advice, encourage them to seek professional treatment.

Understand Your Role

You don’t have to be a savior to a friend with addiction, but you also can’t turn a blind eye and pretend like nothing is happening. Your role will land somewhere in the middle – advocating, encouraging, and assisting your friend as they (hopefully) go through the process of recovery. It’s also important to understand that you can’t make decisions for your friend. As much support and encouragement as you may provide, it’s ultimately up to them to respond. Try not to tie your self-worth up in the (un)successful nature of the outcome. Do what you can and leave the rest up to your friend.