I think someone I love might be struggling with substance abuse.
What should I say?
…or should I say anything at all?
In certain situations, it is difficult for us to know what to say or if we should say anything at all. Having a conversation with a friend about their loved one’s struggle with addiction is a situation in which many of us find ourselves uncomfortable and unprepared with what to say. I use the term “friend” to mean anyone in our lives that we care about – this could be a someone you see every day, a casual acquaintance, work colleague, schoolmate, neighbor, or even a distant relative. After all, if we cannot all call each other friends, then what are we to one another?
Just say something
Avoiding the conversation may be the easiest solution; however, saying something is usually better than saying nothing at all. After all, your friend has likely grown accustomed to the awkward silence that follows when she shares anything about her loved one. It is important to keep in mind that your friend is going through a difficult time; therefore, simply saying “I’m sorry you are going through this” is often enough.
From my point of view: When my daughter was in active addiction, I rarely shared what I was going through with anyone, primarily because I knew that they wouldn’t understand. I did not attend support groups or connect with others who were in my situation; therefore, I felt like I was alone with nobody to talk to. After my daughter passed away, I began sharing my story in an effort to help others realize that they are not alone. In doing so, I also realized that I was not alone and that although my grieving process was different than others, it was helpful beyond measure to know that there were others in the world that had experienced something like what I had gone through.
Don’t overthink it
Remembering that your friend is not concerned with what you say as much as she is appreciative of the fact that you are supportive of her. Being there for someone physically and emotionally says much more than any words ever could. Your friend likely feels isolated and overwhelmed and may also have feelings of bitterness and resentment. Being aware and sensitive of her feelings is really all that matters. “I am here for you” are five words that will always be appreciated by the person receiving them.
From my point of view: When I lost my daughter to an overdose, I received support from some of the most unexpected people in my life. It was those who immediately reached out to me in my time of need that I remember most, many of which did not and will never have a firsthand understanding of what I was going through. They did not pretend to understand, though. They simply offered their love and friendship, which meant more than to me than they will likely ever know.
Speak from the heart
Trying to understand how your friend feels may be impossible and is not expected or required for you to be supportive. Most people are facing some type of issue that they do not openly share with others, which forces them to hide their pain as well. Your purpose in speaking with your friend is to support her in her journey, whatever that may be, and to let her know that you care. Asking, “How can I help?” is a good way to show your support and demonstrate that you are there for your friend when she needs you.
From my point of view: When I meet people who are going through a difficult time in their lives, I have learned to meet them where they are and offer the support that will be most beneficial to their situation. I ask how they are feeling and what I can do to help. There is no one-size-fits-all way to support someone through their pain. Being open to understanding how a person feels and asking what you can do to help is one of the best ways to be a good friend.
How to be a good friend and show your support
DO: Ask your friend if she wants to talk about what she’s going through. Your friend needs to talk and doesn’t want to bear her burden alone. If she seems hesitant to talk, it’s because she isn’t sure what you can handle hearing, as the darkness is very deep. If she doesn’t want to talk today, ask her again another day.
DON’T: Don’t compare your problems to your friend’s problems you can honestly empathize with what she is going through. Refrain from saying things like, “It could be worse” or “It’s probably not as bad as you think.”
DO: Be on her side. Your friend already feels like she is partially to blame for her loved one’s addiction. She needs to know you support her, regardless of whether or not you agree with her. Be supportive and sensitive to her feelings.
DON’T: Don’t criticize or blame your friend or her loved one, regardless of circumstances.
DO: Do something to make her life easier and to show you’re thinking of her. Your friend is exhausted, mentally and physically, so give her a break, babysit her kids, help her pull weeds or plant flowers, bring her a casserole. Send flowers, a card, a pretty scarf, or a cupcake – it’s the thought that counts.
DON’T: Don’t avoid your friend just because you don’t know what to say or do. Be creative in ways to connect with her.
DO: Sincerely ask how she is. Remain neutral and encourage your friend to express her feelings openly and honestly. Show compassion even if you don’t personally understand her situation.
DON’T: Don’t judge your friend or tell her what you think she “should” feel or do. Don’t place blame or presume to know how she feels.
DO: Tell her if you know something or see red flags. Knowing the hard truth will not bring your friend more pain, it will give her freedom and clarity. Without knowing the truth, it is hard to know the right thing to do.
DON’T: Don’t hide information that could potentially harm your friend or her loved one. Don’t share personal information about your friend or her loved one with others unless you have her permission.
DO: Pray for her. Heartfelt prayer is powerful. Support your friend’s faith and religious beliefs to the extent that is comfortable for both of you.
DON’T: Don’t state or imply to your friend that what is happening in her life is “God’s Will” or that “everything happens for a reason.”