How to approach a friend you think is struggling with addiction
May 5, 2016
No one takes a class on how to talk to a friend in trouble.
So when people are concerned about a family member or friend who might be struggling with an addiction, it’s sometimes difficult to know how to proceed.
Is a public intervention or one-on-one heartfelt conversation best? Should you discuss your concerns with another mutual friend, so you both can approach your friend in need? No clear blueprint exists.
It was recently reported that an addiction specialist arrived at Prince’s home the day the singer died. Friends reportedly had been concerned about his mental state and use of prescription painkillers.
Dr. Rachel Needle, a psychologist with the addiction recovery group Freedom From Addiction, offers some advice for approaching a friend you suspect is battling addiction.
The key, she said, is to approach with empathy and compassion. And focus the conversation toward yourself with what she calls “I statements.”
For example, she suggested, “‘I feel sad that I don’t get to spend as much time with you anymore. And I’m scared when I see you nodding off when we’re sitting at a meal at a restaurant together.'” This might be more effective than, “‘You nod off, and I know something’s wrong with you. I know you’re messed up right now,'” she said.
“Think how differently that comes across,” Needle said.
She says having that initial conversation will put stress on any relationship. “A friendship, it’s very hard on. It does change the dynamic,” but it’s important to let that person know that you’ve noticed the behavior, she said.
Often, addicts think they’re hiding their problem well. It could be helpful for someone who cares to speak up.
We’ve seen group interventions on TV, but Needle says a personal conversation with your friend or family member struggling with addiction should be first.
“I’m not saying that interventions are never an option,” she said. But “perhaps having a personal conversation with somebody, as a first line of defense, is a better option.”
She said you must also be prepared for the conversation not to lead to change or seeking help.
“They still may not change,” she said. “But, God forbid, something happens like this and you didn’t say something.”