Hey, Can We Be Honest?
It’s a sentence that scores fear into the heart of the recipient, but when your friend messages you and tells you that ‘we’ want to be honest, it means there’s a problem and that can raise some anxieties.
But, what if you are the friend sending that message because you know that someone in your life is massively struggling? When you know a friend of yours is suffering through an addiction, you could feel helpless. At a loss. Wondering what on earth to do because you are watching someone that you love fall down a rabbit hole and you have no idea how you’re supposed to help them.
You may feel hurt by their actions – even though you know addiction isn’t something they chose to happen.
You may feel their actions are selfish – which addiction is, but they are not.
You may even resent that they’re not there for you – how can they be, when their addiction consumes them?
There are a lot of things that are difficult when you have a friend who is overtaken by an addiction, but one thing you should always remember is that you are their friend. You are there for them in times of trouble and times of happiness. You are there to be by their side while they cry, laugh and even when they don’t want to do anything. But how do you handle one of the most difficult conversations that you could ever have?
You Should Expect Some Difficulties
The very first thing that’s going to be difficult is trying to broach the subject of addiction. You could try one of two things:
- You can turn up unannounced, with leaflets bearing words like “Medication-Assisted Treatment: Fact vs Fiction” to get them the help they need with a treatment program. This may not give you the response you hoped for because they feel bombarded.
- You could try gently broaching the subject and wait for them to come out of their shell about it – but you could be waiting a while.
The thing is, your friend is right now in a time that they are not thinking about anything but their next fix. Here are some of the issues you could run into:
- They may not even realise that their quiet habit has turned into a full blown problem. They’ve always had a glass of wine on a Friday. It’s just stress that turned that glass into a bottle. Per night.
- They may not see anything wrong in what they are doing, getting angry with you for sticking your nose in and refusing to change anything. Classic denial, hold your patience.
- They could be afraid that if they admit there’s a problem and they have to go to a rehabilitation program, it could affect their job prospects, access to their kids – a lot of issues in one.
- They may just simply feel embarrassed that they are not as ‘together’ as they have been showing everyone that they are. Which means that their mask will slip and they don’t want that to happen.
- They may feel awkward discussing something so personal. Perhaps they’re not ready to open up to anyone about it.
- They could have fallen into the addiction as a way to escape another area of their life that they don’t like.
- They like what they are doing – which is the worst option of all, because it means that they allowing themselves to spiral out of control and they just don’t care anymore. It’s much harder to bring someone back at that point.
Overcoming Addiction Together
There really is no easy way to help a friend who is in the midst of addictive behaviours. I don’t say that to make you feel like you can’t win – you can – but it’s a long slog and you have to be ready for it. Overcoming an addiction requires a willpower and determination that – as yet – your friend may not be ready for; and they have to be ready. You can only do so much as a good friend before they have to meet you halfway. While you won’t always be able to persuade them that getting the right help is a good idea, you will be able to hold their hand and take some steps with them to make changes in the long term. So, what else could you do to help your friend?
Step 1: Build Trust
It’s a hard step to take, because your friend isn’t your friend right now. Right now, they’re a person overcoming an extremely tough time in their lives. There are some trust-destroyers that you need to try to avoid in your friendship, including;
- Lecturing them on their addiction
- Yelling and calling names
- Engaging openly in addictive behaviours yourself – there’s no need to be a hypocrite.
Always be aware that although you want to help, your behaviour can come across as controlling, which can lead them to rebel against your help. Your friend also likely uses their addiction as a way to separate themselves from the stress in their life. The least stressful the atmosphere, the less likely they’ll want to indulge in their addictions. The whole trust-building thing is a two-way street and you have to work with them and they you to build it properly.
Sometimes, people with an addiction won’t change unless they have experienced consequences. It’s why most addicts don’t seek help until they hit that rock bottom and lose their job, friends and family to their addiction. Be prepared for this.
Step 2: Help Yourself.
Right now, you have to remember that whether you are a friend or not, you need to get help for yourself. It’s stressful to help an addict to recover and you need to take care of you, too.
Step 3: Indulge In Communication.
Using your words has to be productive. Reminding them that their addiction is a problem and they need to change isn’t going to help. It’s threatening and it doesn’t make your friend feel like you’re doing anything other than pressuring them to fit your ideal. Communicate your feelings when asked for them. Communicate their situation when they ask for help. Be there and support them as a friend, not a lecturer.
Step 4: Treatment
The treatment that your friend chooses to go with may not have much to do with you, but it’s likely you’ll support them through it. If they are having treatment on their own in a program where you cannot be involved, consider helping them through that anyway. Here are some suggestions:
- Realise they need their privacy and may not want your physical presence around. Be there by their side via social media if necessary, just remind them that you are there.
- Do not reveal their treatment plan to their friends, colleagues or family – it is not your place to do so.
- Respect their secrets. Don’t push when they don’t want to talk about something and wait for them to approach you when it comes to discussing their addiction. They are not obligated to tell you everything, and you should respect that.
- Keep in mind that change is not going to be immediate. They may well get well only to fall right back off the wagon again. It doesn’t make your friend weak, because each time they get back on the wagon, they are showing their strength and that they do not want the addiction to win.
Be the best possible friend: be honest and real and loving. And you will be helping them the best way that you can.