Call us today
Alcohol and drug abuse are an unfortunate part of life for many Americans. Whether it’s from personal experience or from watching a friend or loved one struggle, millions of Americans are directly affected by drug and/or alcohol addiction each year.1
With the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse so high, there’s a chance that at some point you may suspect someone you know is struggling with addiction. So how do you know if someone might be addicted? Treatment professionals diagnose addiction, or what is more formally known as a substance use disorder, based on a set of characteristic signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes.
Such diagnostic criteria include:2
Diagnostic criteria aside, identifying the signs of alcohol and drug use and abuse is not always so straightforward. Trying to assess a potential problem requires honesty and candor. It also can require seeing the person often, so if you don’t live with your friend, it can be difficult to pick up on or confirm the more subtle signs that they need help.
It’s important to remember that only a mental health, substance abuse, or healthcare professional can accurately and thoroughly complete the diagnostic process.
“Enabling” is a word that is often heard in addiction treatment circles, but what does it mean? Enabling behaviors on your part may be helping your friend avoid the consequences of their substance abuse.3
You may be enabling your friend if you are:
Refusing to engage in enabling behavior can make it clear that you do not want to encourage or excuse their substance abuse. You can stop enabling by:
Enabling behaviors may be the first impulse when you are spending time with your friend, but if you are able to be mindful and avoid these actions, ultimately you may be able to help this person get better.
Watching someone you care about abuse substances can be painful, and it can also lead to feelings of helplessness. You cannot force someone to abstain from use and become sober. Likewise, you cannot force them into treatment against their will.
What you can do, however, is offer support, knowledge, and resources as you encourage them to seek help. Navigating the world of addiction recovery and treatment is difficult. By becoming informed, you can aid your friend in understanding where to go to get help when they’re ready.
Confrontational interventions like those seen on TV are not recommended.4 Rather, try to encourage your friend to visit a doctor. Conversations with professionals won’t be as loaded or emotional as those with friends or family.4
Some actions you can take to support your friend in finding the right treatment program include:
Luckily, a wide range of treatment options are available for those wanting to quit drinking or using drugs and maintain sobriety. Many experts in addiction treatment recommend having more than one resource in mind for the best chance of success. Some options for this include: 5
Addiction treatment can be quite successful. It often takes continual assessment, modification, and support, but achieving sobriety is possible.6
It’s also possible that your friend will come to recognize their substance abuse on their own and will look to you for help. If your friend asks for help finding treatment, you can:
It’s important to consider other factors as well, such as your friend’s insurance coverage, any co-occurring illnesses, and their support networks. When evaluating treatment programs, be sure to get outside opinions and to look into the treatment center’s reputation and certifications.
The fear of the high cost of treatment can be a potential barrier for some people seeking addiction services. You might help your friend or family member by educating yourself about what their health insurance covers, if they have it. This information can be learned by calling the “benefits” or “customer service” number on the back of their insurance card.
If your friend doesn’t have health insurance or their plan does not include addiction treatment, other options are available. For example:4
Less intensive treatment (for example, weekly outpatient treatment) is often less expensive than more intensive treatment (for example, inpatient treatment). Understanding the cost difference between treatment modalities is essential when trying to stick to a budget.
It’s common for those in addiction treatment to relapse and use again. In fact, it’s so common that many providers now understand relapse as a normal part of the treatment process.7
As such, if your loved one relapses, you can assure them that all their hard work is not lost.
You might encourage them to lean on their healthcare providers now more than ever to help understand the triggers that led them back to substance use. Relapse is not something to feel embarrassed about, but it is a time to reconnect and re-commit to treatment.
There are no simple answers for how to support a friend or family member in recovery, as every relationship is different. However, you can ask of them questions like:
Don’t be afraid to ask open-ended questions like this—and make sure you listen to the answers. You may find that touching base with your loved one regularly is helpful too. Needs and desires may change in different stages of recovery, leading to different ways you can be supportive.