How to Start the Conversation with a Friend Who Is Using

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It’s a tough situation to be in—you recognize the signs that a friend is using drugs, and you know you should speak up. However, no matter how much you understand the dangers of substance abuse, starting a conversation about seeking recovery can be tough. Your intention may be to offer a helping hand, but coming across to your friend as judgmental or in what could be perceived as offensive is a big risk. Here are a few tips and pointers to remember when planning to discuss substance abuse with a friend.

1. Educate yourself about substance abuse first.

Every individual with a substance abuse problem can have their own unique circumstances. If you’ve never experienced addiction or substance abuse personally, you may have a lot to learn. While you may never be able to stand in your friend’s shoes, gaining a better understanding of what they are going through gives you better insight.

2. Plan to talk to the person when they are sober or less intoxicated.

Pick a time to bring up the topic when your friend is sober. If you suspect the person is always intoxicated, do your best to pick a time when they are less intoxicated. For example, maybe you could try to speak to them early in the morning before they’ve had a chance to use.

3. Keep assumptions to yourself.

You may think you know how much someone is using or when, or even what they may be using. But do your best to keep your assumptions to yourself. Let your friend disclose the details that they feel comfortable sharing. If you mention something untrue, you could come off as being judgemental. It’s fine to ask questions, but don’t just assume your thoughts to be true.

4. Share your concerns without judgment or confrontational feelings.

This one is tough. You’re concerned about your friend’s well-being, and you may even be scared or hurt by their actions. However, you have to keep your emotions in check to have an effective conversation. Don’t blame, shame, or accuse. Come up with a few things you’re concerned about, such as:

  • I’ve noticed how different you’ve been lately.
  • I am a bit worried about you. Are you OK?
  • I don’t see you as often as I did, and I’m afraid you’re in danger.

Start your statements with “I” instead of “You” to help your friend understand that you are truly just concerned for them and not placing blame or accusing.

5. Let your friend know you’re there to talk and help seek recovery.

Most importantly, your goal should be to make your friend aware that you are open to discussion and willing to help them seek recovery. Let them know that you understand that making changes can take time. Possibly even ask if they’ve ever considered getting help.

According to data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 4.2 million people over the age of 12 received treatment for a substance abuse issue in 2019. While getting a conversation started may not be the cure-all for a friend with a substance abuse problem, this conversation often sets the stage for further action. If you need advice about helping a friend or loved one with alcohol or drugs, reach out to us at Serenity Recovery to speak with a recovery expert.

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