How to help someone who has a substance abuse problem
Being the friend of someone with a substance abuse problem can be really difficult. On one hand, you want to help them before they seriously injure themselves or someone else - on the other hand you don't want to upset them, get them in trouble, or ruin your friendship. Here are some tips on how to help someone you care about who has a substance abuse problem.
- Show your concern for your friend and express how you feel about what you are seeing. Use "I" statements to diffuse defensiveness (e.g. "Conrad, I feel really scared when you get so drunk - I don't want anything to happen to you.")
- Be considerate of your friend’s privacy; choose a time and place that is away from other people when you choose to have a conversation about the issue. Do not confront your friend while he or she is intoxicated or high; choose a time when you are both sober and calm.
- Recognize that your friend may not realize that there is a problem, or your friend may become defensive and even deny that such a problem exists.
- Focus the conversation on the behaviors that concern you, citing specific examples when your friend put her or himself or someone else at risk. Do not attack the person’s character, but stay focused on the behaviors and consequences.
- Share with your friend the resources that are available on campus to help or support students with substance abuse problems or concerns. Make sure your friend knows where he/she can get this assistance. The Pacific University Counseling Center, Health Center, and Campus Wellness Office are all good resources.
- Support your friends, but don’t protect them from the consequences of their behavior. Help them understand what those consequences are before it is too late.
- Support your friend once he/she has recognized that there is a problem. Stick by when times are tough.
- Do not feel that you must accept responsibility for your friend’s behavior.
- Try to avoid putting yourself in a position in which you are invited to drink alcohol or use drugs with your friend.
- Get support. This can be a tough time for your relationship. The Counseling Center and the Campus Wellness Office both offer consultations on this topic. Talking with a professional can sometimes give you new ideas or perspectives.