I’ve had many friends who have struggled with addiction. The first time a friend came to me for help, I remember feeling very unprepared. I questioned, “How do I support them? Am I being too pushy? Am I even able to help?” It can be a daunting task when a friend comes to you with something so important. Responding correctly is crucial for your friend to feel comfortable reaching out for help and in their own sobriety. I’ve compiled some tips that have helped me along the way, and I hope they can offer you some guidance as well.
1. Show your support
This may seem obvious, but it still needs to be said. If a friend comes to you to talk about their addiction or recovery, make sure to let them know you are there for them. Avoid minimizing their struggle with comments likes, “It can’t be that hard.” and let them know you understand this is an uphill battle. Also, make sure you don’t judge them with condescending remarks such as, “I can’t believe you are addicted to alcohol?!” That will not only push them away from you, but also push them away from seeking help in the future. If you or someone close to you has struggled with addiction, acknowledging a shared emotional experience can help your friend feel less ashamed or stigmatized. If you don’t have that shared experience, that’s perfectly okay! Don’t try and fake understanding, but letting your friend know that you are there for them and will help as much as you can, will show you support them.
Because of the stigma surrounding substance use and addiction, be respectful and don’t tell your other friends about their recovery status without their permission. Your friend may have only opened up to you! Make sure to ask before offering advice. Sometimes people just want to vent; they may not be asking for your advice and it can come off as pushy. Along with that, don’t micromanage your friend. They are an adult and capable of making their own decisions, so don’t overstep your boundaries. If they fall off the recovery horse, don’t shame them. Be supportive and if they want the help, get them back on track. Most importantly, know that their recovery is their top priority. If you are going out for your birthday, understand that your friend may not want to go, and let them know that it’s okay! Your friend has to do what is best for them, so try and be understanding.
3. Figure out guidelines
So, you’re throwing a party at your place and you want to invite your friend in recovery, but you aren’t sure if they will be uncomfortable with substances around. What do you do? Some people will be triggered by the presence of substances, but others may feel awkward if they know everyone is hiding or changing their routine for them. Some people may not want people talking about any substances around them while it may not bother others at all. The easiest way to get your answer is to just ask them!
4. Help them navigate social situations
When a person first starts recovery, many realize that social gatherings end up also including substance use. One of my favorite ways of supporting my friends while out on the town, is to be a solidarity buddy. Basically what that means is to be sober with them! It takes the spotlight off of your friend since they won’t be the only one not participating. If you see someone offering something to your friend, don’t feel awkward about diverting that conversation somewhere else. Your friend will appreciate not having to carry the whole weight of recovery by themselves. Another great way to help is to plan social activities in your group of friends that don’t include substance use. Instead of going out to the bar to watch Sunday football, you could plan a watch party at your house instead. Giving your friend ideas of what life is like without substances can be so helpful to their recovery.