If you notice friends or family members exhibiting dangerous drinking or drug habits, help them the way you would want them to help you: Be kind. Learn about substance abuse and alcoholism and the ways you can be supportive throughout your loved one’s recovery. If you are hurt or struggling to carry the weight of your loved one’s addiction, protect your own mental health and well-being. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you need it too.
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Seek the support you need to go forward.
Substance abuse may affect the mental and physical health of the user, but it can also affect the mental well-being of family members, friends, and classmates. Join a support group, such as Al-Anon or Alateen for the friends and family of people with drinking problems, Nar-Anon for friends and family of people with drug problems, or a therapy group. If you prefer more anonymity, consider a private counseling session or reaching out to online communities. However and wherever you choose, you can share your story with friends, family members, and strangers. Your recovery is important. Plus, the people with whom you surround yourself may have tips for conducting a successful intervention. Take care of yourself.
Read voraciously about the topic.
Knowledge is power, so read up on the substance(s) affecting your loved one or speak with a counselor or doctor. The more you learn and understand, the more empathetic you can be toward your loved one.
Accept what you cannot change.
It is a pillar of many 12-step programs, and it is important. You are in control of your own life, not someone else’s. Before you intervene, understand that your actions in speaking up are really just a compass. You can point someone in the right direction to seek help, but you cannot carry someone else to sobriety all by yourself. They have to step out of denial, recognize their own problem, and want to stop. You cannot do that for them. If they do not want to work with you to find treatment, you may need to involve a professional.
Intervene with kindness and understanding.
Television shows make a mockery of drug and alcohol interventions. Friends and families ask camera crews to surprise the loved ones that they suspect of problematic drug use. Putting your loved one in the spotlight is an inappropriate way to show your support; in fact, your loved one may feel alienated from you. Intervene for the right reasons: to save a life, to show that you care, to forgive but not to blame. As soon as you suspect that a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, help them seek help. Do not delay.
Speak up early in a private setting.
Substance abuse is easier to treat before it morphs into addiction and physical dependence. If you are concerned about someone’s substance habits, do not delay in reaching out to them. Do so in a comfortable place, such as a home or dorm room, rather than a bustling restaurant, mall, or park. You may wish to have a friend with you during the initial intervention, but take care not to overwhelm your loved one. There is no need to involve your entire college in the matter.
Offer privacy and discretion.
Speak up alone or with one or two other close friends. Express your support. Let your loved one know that you are only intervening because you care and worry about them; your actions come from a place of love. Offer to listen or to find and attend a meeting with them.
Prepare to be met with denial.
Most people who struggle with substance abuse also struggle to see it as a problem. Substance abuse is a disease that affects mental and physical health, so a person who is addicted may see their drinking or usage as a coping mechanism to deal with other symptoms. It is unlikely that your loved one will say, “Hey, I think you’re right” as soon as you mention their substance abuse. In fact, it is not uncommon for them to meet you with denial or try to blame you. Stay calm and try to have a conversation rather than give a speech. It may be helpful to make a list of talking points beforehand so that you can facilitate the conversation.
Reach out to other friends and family members.
Your support goes a long way toward helping your loved one recover, but the support of other friends and family members will increase the success of the intervention. Reach out to other friends and family members who may be concerned about your loved one. If you are concerned about a college friend, keep in mind that their family members back home may be shocked to hear about their loved one’s substance abuse. Set them up with literature or websites that you found useful, and ask them to approach your affected love one on their own. Sometimes it takes multiple voices to get through to somebody who has a problem.
Take a step back.
If your loved one refuses to seek help, you cannot control that decision. Even though you are worried, you will only make yourself sick if you helicopter over your loved one’s life. Do not give up hope for your loved one, but keep your distance when you notice their problems spilling into your life.
Seek help from a professional interventionist.
If your loved one is spiraling downward despite support from friends and family, you might want to employ a professional. They come in different forms. Interventionists and campus counselors can help, as can staff members at rehabilitation facilities. Alcoholics Anonymous also offers a free service called a 12th step call during which at least two sober AA members visit your loved one to talk about their journeys to recovery. Call your local AA chapter for more information.
Stay supportive throughout the entire process.
- Do not lend money. When you lend money to your friend or family member who has a drug habit, you are enabling them to continue their drug use. They may use your money to buy more alcohol or drugs. Similarly, if you lend out money, your loved one may never fully understand the consequences of their actions or take charge of their own financial situation. Your friend or loved one must learn that it is important to hold a job and use student loans appropriately. Otherwise, your money will fuel an addiction free of consequences.
- Do not preach. Despite your loved one’s substance abuse, you are not better or wiser than they are. Addiction is a disease, and preaching is not a cure. Refrain from giving long sermons. Instead, try to foster a conversation.
- Do not blame yourself. You are not responsible for making the decisions in someone else’s life. Some things are outside of your control, including the substance use of those around you. You are not at fault.
- Do not be gullible. Actions speak louder than words. Your loved one may promise to quit using, but what are they actually doing about it? Believe it when you see it, not when you hear about someone’s plans to stop or cut back.
- Do not make excuses. Substance abuse is substance abuse, nothing less.
- Do not cover for them. You cannot assume work, school, or familial obligations for someone else. Doing so only enables your loved one to continue their substance abuse. When you separate them from their responsibilities, you are teaching them that their decisions do not have consequences.
- Do not expect a person to stop using immediately. Addiction is a disease, but there is no cure-all pill. Stopping substance abuse requires willpower, patience, support, and time.
Page last updated: 12/2016