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When a friend is struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to know how to help. If you suspect that your friend has a problem with drugs or alcohol, you might begin by educating yourself on substance use disorders and how to access treatment.
This guide will help you learn more about the signs of addiction and provide tips on providing the best help possible.
Addiction is a chronic relapsing disease characterized by a loss of control and continued substance use despite negative consequences.1 It’s not up to you to diagnose your friend’s addiction—only a physician or other qualified clinician can do this—but it is helpful to know the warning signs.
Realize, however, that the signs are not always obvious, particularly in the early stages when it might be easier for your friend to hide or explain them away. It can also be hard to know if your friend’s drug use is progressing to the point where they need professional help when you don’t live with the person and/or you don’t see them every day.
Some of the signs that you may begin noticing in a friend who is developing a problem with substance use include:2
You may also notice changes in your friend such as:2
The criteria that professionals use to diagnose a substance use disorder (SUD) include:3
A person needs to want to get sober; you cannot force a friend to stop using drugs or alcohol. However, you can be supportive and encourage them to seek help.
You might be tempted to stage an intervention such as those you may have seen on TV, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that there is no evidence to support the use of confrontational interventions.4 Instead, try the following:4,5
You may want to do everything you can to help your friend, but be aware that there is often a fine line between helping and enabling. You may be trying to help by assuming your friend’s responsibilities when they’re too intoxicated or by lending them money, but doing so may be unintentionally reinforcing their substance use. Facing the consequences of their substance use may be what your friend needs to find the motivation to get help.6
It can be hard to break the habit of enabling, especially when you truly want to protect your friend and when you’ve been doing it for a long time. However, stopping enabling behavior as well as setting boundaries and establishing limits can go a long way in helping your friend begin to face some of the consequences of their continued substance use, which could ultimately help them in the long run.
Once you’ve decided what your boundaries are:7,8
If your friend has admitted that they need help, you can take a number of steps to assist them in finding treatment, such as:4
Some of the things to look for in a treatment program include:
Many insurance plans cover all or part of the cost of treatment, so your friend may be able to afford more than he realizes. If your friend has insurance, you could offer to call the number on his card to verify his benefits or you can do this with Laguna Treatment Hospitals free insurance benefits verification check.
If your friend does not have insurance or if their insurance doesn’t cover the entire fee, they can always consider alternative payment options. Recovery centers often offer loans or sliding scales (which are usually based on income or ability to pay), and many also offer scholarships to help defray the costs of treatment.
State-run programs may be more affordable for people who cannot afford private treatment. SAMHSA has a directory of Single State Agencies (SSA) for Substance Abuse Services, where you can find the contact information for your state’s governing substance abuse agency.
Treatment costs vary by type of treatment. The type of treatment your friend requires is based on their individual needs (i.e. people with more severe addictions may be best helped by inpatient treatment, while outpatient treatment is beneficial for people with less severe substance use disorders who have the support at home they need to stay sober).10
Inpatient treatment offers residential, round-the-clock care and tends to be more expensive than outpatient treatment, where people live at home and commute to a recovery center for treatment. The price of inpatient treatment also varies by length of stay; for example, long-term programs tend to cost more than shorter-term rehabilitation stays.11
Your friend may also need medical detox based on which substances they’ve been abusing. The prospect of withdrawal can be very nerve-wracking for many people who are thinking about quitting drugs. You can explain to your friend that medical detoxification programs like the one at Laguna Treatment Hospital are staffed with medical professionals who will provide high-quality care to keep them safe and alleviate their discomfort during this time.
Many people relapse while they are in recovery. Relapse rates are similar to those of other chronic health conditions, such as hypertension and asthma.1
If your friend relapses and feels hopeless, encourage them to continue their recovery. Explain that relapse isn’t an indication of failure, but it could be a sign that your friend needs some sort of adjustment. This could include participating in a different type of treatment program, remaining in the program for a longer period of time, or perhaps seeking assistance through recovery groups. Many therapies and aftercare programs are designed to prevent relapse and help people stay on the road to recovery.
Without enabling or judging, support your friend and let them know you want them to be happy. Let them know that you will help them get back into a treatment program if that’s what they decide to do.
You can support your friend’s sobriety in a number of ways, such as: