How to Help a Friend in Active Addiction


By Ali Mariani

I guess I should start by saying that there is no right or wrong way to help a friend who is in active addiction. And, truth be told, what works for one person, doesn’t always work for another person. So I guess this isn’t so much of a “How-to” article as it is a “Suggestions” article. Anyhow, here are some of the things that I have learned from my own personal experiences.

  • Evaluate the severity and urgency of the situation. This may be challenging to do because you are not necessarily a therapist or an expert in addiction. However, if you can get a sense of the kind of substance abuse that your friend is struggling with, you can get a better idea about how much he or she may need help. If the situation is dangerous, you may want to involve family members and other professionals immediately.


  • Put aside your own judgments. This may sound rudimentary, but it can actually be really difficult to put into practice when you are close friends with someone. Addiction can bring up a lot of emotions in us; fear being one of the bigger ones. When we are afraid for our friend, it’s not uncommon to want to judge our friend for abusing drugs and alcohol. However, in order to be helpful, it is key to try to put aside these judgments and/or talk to a trusted friend or loved one about them.


  • Let your friend know that you are there for them if and when they are ready to get help.  This is key. Let your friend know that you are there for them and willing to go with them to get help. They may not be ready, but they will know where to turn to when they are ready.



  • Be careful not to push your own agenda. It may be crystal clear to you that your friend needs help, but they still may not be ready to go get it. If you try to push your own agenda for having your friend seek help, it’s likely that you may push your friend away. Anyone who feels forced to do something is going to resist. Instead, go with the resistance that your friend is feeling.




  • Do not be afraid to set your own boundaries. It may be very difficult for you to watch your friend in active addiction. It is OK to set boundaries, limiting the time that you spend with your friend. You have to take care of yourself first. You can’t help anybody if you are not helping yourself first.




  • Explore the different options with your friends. There are always options. When people feel like they have options and are in control of their own lives, they are more likely to comply. Explore the different options with your friend, because there are always a few. Discuss support groups, rehab options, Intensive Outpatient (IOP) and other therapeutic group options. Tall through financial concerns with your friend. Many people avoid treatment because they are worried about finances or insurance challenges.




  • Listen to your friend with an open ear. Co-occurring disorders are very common. Your friend may be struggling with substance abuse, but there may be other mental health challenges beneath the surface. Be present with your friend; listen to their concerns and struggles. This may be very helpful for your friend.




  • Take care of yourself and seek your own support. It can be very challenging to have a close friend and/or loved one struggle in active addiction. There are support groups designed to help people struggling with this: Alanon and Alateen. Seek your own professional therapist if you think it would help. Don’t be afraid to seek your own help.




  • Know that there is only so much you can do to help. This might be the most challenging part of having a friend or loved one in active addiction. At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do to help. Likely, you cannot force your friend to seek help though you might wish you could.  It’s ok. Take a deep breathe and know that you have done your part in helping.

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